False Roselle

by Green Deane

in Antioxidants, Edible Raw, Flowers, Greens/Pot Herb, Plants, Salad, Vegetable


False Roselle Leaves Are Excellent In Salads and Stir-Fries. Photo by Green Deane

False Roselle Leaves Are Excellent In Salads and Stir-Fries. Photo by Green Deane

I can’t do a stir-fry without visiting a tree. Actually, the False Roselle is a shrub not a tree but the point is made. Its leaves have just the right color, taste and texture for stir-fries and salads.


Hibiscus acetosella blossom. Photo by Green Deane

There’s hardly a hibiscus that’s isn’t edible in some way. Several are better than others. The False Roselle, or Hibiscus acetosella (hye-BISS-kus uh-set-o-SEL-luh) is one of the best. Its dark red leaves are tart, sorrelesque. They harvest easily, chop up easily, don’t loose bulk, color or flavor when cooking.

The first thought most plant people have when they see a False Roselle is that it looks like a red maple. On closer inspection the leaves are a different shape, and the False Roselle is a darker red, but the resemblance is there, at least to northerners. Its pink flowers are edible as well, but they are more eye candy than a palate pleaser, being nearly tasteless. The flowers usually go in salads.

The True Roselle

One cannot mention the False Roselle without introducing the real Roselle, left.  Hibiscus sabdariffa (hye-BISS-kus sab-duh-RIF-fuh) is  also known as the “Florida Cranberry” the “Cranberry Hibiscus” and the Jamaican Sorrel.  A tart juice can be made from its fat calyxes and it’s something of a tradition in the West Indies. Many posters on the Internet get these two hibiscus mixed up, but there is no need for it. The False Roselle ( H. acetosella) has maple-esque red leaves — older with an undertone of green — whereas the Cranberry Hibiscus (H. sabdariffa) has lance-shaped, green leaves. They look quite different.

The shrubs can take a light freeze and will come back from roots in the spring. In cold climates they will have to be a potted plant. In my yard they tend to died after five or six years but are always reseeding and sprouting so it’s not much of an issue. Hibiscus means hibiscus or slimy or sticky, and acetosella means “a little sour.” Sabdariffa is a variation of the West Indian name.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile: False Roselle

IDENTIFICATION: Upright and shrubby,  leaves ovate to lobed, red to deep burgundy, to dark reddish green.  Flowers funnel shaped, usually pink but can be yellow or red. Some cultivars don’t flower. Mature plants can split and fall over.

TIME OF YEAR: Year round in warm climates

ENVIROMENT: Plenty of sun, water, good soil and heat. They don’t like it dry or wet.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Leaves raw or cooked, blossom raw or cooked though they tend to disappear when cooked.

If you would like to donate to Eat The Weeds please click here.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Chicken Little November 15, 2016 at 08:44

Hello, I know this isn’t your area of expertise, but figured I would check with you. Do you happen to know if False Roselle and Roselle are planted near one another, will they cross-pollinate and affect the quality of future seeds? Thanks again!


Chicken Little November 14, 2016 at 17:05

Have you/can you make tea out of the false roselle calyx as well? Or only the plump, roselle calyx? Thanks!


Green Deane November 14, 2016 at 17:13

You can make a tea out or either.


Corey Green September 30, 2016 at 20:09

Do you know what parts of the Rose of Sharon are edible?


Green Deane October 2, 2016 at 18:48

Blossoms. It is a hibiscus. I mention it in my hibiscus article.


Charzie September 17, 2015 at 00:40

I tried this for the first time tonight after finally cutting it back, really interesting! I just wasn’t sure what parts to eat…like which leaves, how big, etc., so just basically stripped all the leaves from it’s stem wherever it gave, and snapped off the growing tips. There was few toughish stems, but not too shabby! I think I am actually going to try whizzing it in the blender with water and make a drink out of it next time, nice and tart without being sour.


Merrie Walker April 29, 2014 at 15:37

New to Florida and its flora!
Do False Roselle’s have 2 different leaf shapes? I have 2 going on their second year that never grew the maple-like leaves but stayed with simple, ovate, obtuse tip, rounded base, crenate margin, deep red-burgundy color, but clearly had the beautiful pink hibiscus flowers…the interesting thing is the seedlings under the shrub have the beginnings of a palmate leave structure, and other seedlings by my compost area are starting out with ovate leaves?


Green Deane April 29, 2014 at 15:46

They can vary a lot, from maple-ish to deeply lobed.


jara December 3, 2013 at 11:50

I was just given one of these. Pruning: do I pinch back to make shrubby or let it grow into a standard?



Green Deane December 3, 2013 at 12:43

They can get very leggy. I think they leaf out more. look better, and are more managable when trimmed back.


tokyovegan August 19, 2013 at 08:07

I was so happy to find your post on false roselle. I moved to Okinawa several weeks ago–and as a mostly raw vegan–I have been very disappointed in the green leafy vegetables available. Due to the heat and high humidity, the intensity of the sun, the alkaline soil, and typhoons, very little grows here other than sugarcane. I have been eating a lot of purslane, and tonight, I tried false roselle in my salad for the first time. Do you happen to know the nutritional value?


FlGardener March 5, 2012 at 20:52

Great article on the False Roselle.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: