Hibiscus sabdariffa (Karkade), is a large shrub native to Old World Tropics, growing 5-10 ft tall, but can also be kept as a small shrub 2-5 ft if desired. It prefers full sun and regular water, producing striking pink and red or crimson, vinous flowers throughout the year. This ethnomedical plant is also edible and is its mature plants are cold hardy at least to 30s F for a short time. Furthermore, this flood tolerant plant thrives in USDA Zone 9-11.
Throughout the tropics, this broadleaf evergreen is grown and primarily known for its flavorful calyces, the fleshy encasement of its seed pods. Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, Hibiscus sabdariffa yields a large number of fruits regardless of the variety, and can produce up to 15mg of vitamin C, 3.7g of dietary fiber, and 0.5g of protein per 100g consumed. This delicious treat has diuretic effects, and used in folk medicine to lower high blood pressure.
Despite its tropical origins, it is surprisingly easy to grow in colder climates and can be grown in pots due to its relatively small size. The plant prefers full sun, and in colder regions, it will need to be sheltered to ensure adequate sunlight during periods of colder weather. It will also require regular watering, typically once a day, so that it doesn't become too dry and stunted in growth. Once mature, it will become cold hardy enough to withstand short spells of frost, provided it is given adequate shelter and regular water.
One of common names of this plant is Jamaica Tea flower, "Agua de Flor de Jamaica", also called Agua de Jamaica and Rosa de Jamaica. The beverage is made from fresh juice or extracts. It is served chilled, and in Jamaica this drink is a tradition on Christmas, served with fruit cake or potato pudding.
In Panama both the flowers and the drink are called Saril (a derivative of the Jamaican word sorrel). In the United States, hibiscus tea was popularized as "Red Zinger". Flowers are used to make a cold or hot tea sweetened with sugar. There has been some medical studies which indicate that it lowers high blood pressure and also has diuretic effects. The flavor is on the tart side similar to a cranberry juice. In Mexico, it is also used for ice pops and sangria.
Agua de Jamaica/Hibiscus Flowers Drink Recipe:
1 cup of Jamaica Flowers, 3 cups of water, 4 cups of water to make 2 quarts of the final drink, 1/2 cup of sugar, Ice cubes. Place the flowers in a small pot with the 3 cups of water. Bring them to a boil. Boil them for about 2-3 minutes over medium-high heat. Set aside for at least 4 hours, you can also make this step overnight. Strain the liquid into a pitcher and add the 4 cups of water and sugar. You can adjust the added water if you feel it is to tart to your palate. Stir, add ice cubes and let it chill. Enjoy!