Harvesting the Cranberry Hibiscus

     Earlier this spring my mother found these young plants at a garage sale, and they must have been priced well because she picked up one for me. It turned out the bargain annual happened to be the interesting and beautiful Hibiscus sabdariffa mentioned on the Florida Survival Gardening blog by David. No doubt the original seeds were from ECHO, as my mother lives not too far from there.

     I had no idea this plant could be so beautiful, unusual, useful, pest free, maintenance free...

     Today I am going to harvest the fruit. According to David, the round green bits are not the delicious part, but are where the seeds are stored. It's the red wrappers (or calyx) around the  round green fruit that is used for cooking and eating. This year recouping seeds is a high priority, since this is the only plant that I can source, and likely the only cranberry hibiscus growing in my county. It would be amazing to grow about 10 of these next year, as they like full sun. They do visibly wilt if you neglect to ensure hydration, but bounce back very easily and quickly. (I must have wilted it at least 5 times during the hot part of the summer.) Never would a tomato be this resilient.

       The leaves are edible, and I can tell you that the rabbits eat these leaves even before they eat their normal favorite weeds, Spanish Needle (Bidens alba). Although Hibiscus sabdariffa is tasty, none of the plants in the mallow family, or rose family, are particularly high in nitrogen (protein about 2 1/2%) - a consideration for overall rabbit dietary needs. I did eat a few of the leaves, which were very mild but did have a pretty tasty flavor, much better than Bidens, which is tart. These leaves would be good in a salad or on a sandwich (which is probably what I will be doing since the cold weather is here.)

     The seeds are higher in protein and very high in omega 6 fatty acids, and in quantity are valued as animal feed, particularly for chickens.

     This is the first and largest of probably two harvests from my one plant.

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