Cape Gazette
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Garden Journal

Jamaican Hibiscus may lower your blood pressure

By Paul Barbano | Sep 03, 2014

With over 67 million Americans suffering from high blood pressure, it’s nice to know that just physically gardening can lower your blood pressure.  Grab a cool tumbler of home-grown herbal tea and your blood pressure can drop again, if you know the secret herbal tea to grow and use.  Roselle Jamaican Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a quick-growing annual whose dark-red sepals form calyxes used in many popular herbal teas. In clinical studies, people who drank Roselle Hibiscus tea lowered their blood sodium levels, but not the potassium in their blood, lowering blood pressure by over 10 percent.  As a bonus, the tea also contains lots of vitamin C and anthocyanins.

These three- to four-foot-tall easy-to-grow annual plants can be planted directly in the ground or in large pots.  It blooms with small flowers that usually only last a single day, forming stunning bright red “fruits” which are really just a calyx, or fleshy.  These one- to two-inch calyxes are harvested for hibiscus tea as well as jelly.  Because the plant is naturally high in pectin you won’t need to add any pectin to your jelly.  You can even bake the calyxes into pies and desserts.

Be sure to remove any seeds from the calyxes before using them in cooking. Keep the flowers picked, and the plants will produce all summer right up until killed by frost. Each plant will yield one to two pounds of calyxes. Even the young tender leaves and branch tips are edible and make a nice citrusy addition to green salads.

Plant your Hibiscus sabdariffa indoors much as you would start tomato or pepper plants. Move the plants into the garden after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up.  These seedlings will soon get very large, so plant them three feet apart.  They make a nice, quick-growing hedge.  Roselle hibiscus will do well in a sunny spot with average, well- draining soil. Once established, they need very little water.  Like any flowering plant, soil too rich in nitrogen will result in lots of leaves and few flowers, so go easy on the fertilizer. Because roselle hibiscus is susceptible to root knot nematodes, you should be careful to not plant it in the same spot each year.

Seeds are widely available from mail-order companies such as Southern Exposure Seeds, P.O. Box 460, Mineral, VA 23117, phone: 540-894-9480, www.southernexposure.com or Baker Creek Heirloom Seed, 2278 Baker Creek Road, Mansfield, MO 65704, www.rareseeds.com. Plants are available form Logee’s, 141 North St., Danielson, CT 06239, 888-330-8038, or by special order from local nurseries.

To save your own seed for next year, let the calyxes dry completely on the plant.  The seeds will remain viable for two to three years. Whether you decide to drink your roselle or just grow it as an unusual conversation plant in the garden, it will soon become one of your garden favorites.  Sip a cool Jamaican Hibiscus iced tea and the citrus flavor with a taste like cranberry will soothe you on a hot summer day.

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