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Hibiscus sabdariffa L.


Source: James A. Duke. 1983. Handbook of Energy Crops. unpublished.

  1. Uses
  2. Folk Medicine
  3. Chemistry
  4. Description
  5. Germplasm
  6. Distribution
  7. Ecology
  8. Cultivation
  9. Harvesting
  10. Yields and Economics
  11. Energy
  12. Biotic Factors
  13. References


Source of a red beverage known as jamaica in Mexico (said to contain citric acid and salts, serving as a diuretic). Calyx, called karkade in Switzerland, a name not too different from the Arabic. Karkade is used in jams, jellies, sauces, and wines. In the West indies and elsewhere in the Tropics the fleshy calyces are used fresh for making roselle wine, jelly, syrup, gelatin, refreshing beverages, pudding, and cakes, and dried roselle is used for tea, jelly, marmalade, ices, ice-cream, sherbets, butter, pies, sauces, tarts, and other desserts. Calyces are used in the West Indies to color and flavor rum. Tender leaves and stalks are eaten as salad and as a pot-herb and are used for seasoning curries. Seeds have been used as an aphrodisiac coffee substitute. Fruits are edible (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Perry cites one study showing roselle's usefulness in arteriosclerosis and as an intestinal antiseptic (Perry, 1980). Roselle is cultivated primarily for the bast fiber obtained from the stems. The fiber strands, up to 1.5 m long, are used for cordage and as a substitute for jute in the manufacture of burlap.

Folk Medicine

Reported to be antiseptic, aphrodisiac, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, digestive, diuretic, emollient, purgative, refrigerant, resolvent, sedative, stomachic, and tonic, roselle is a folk remedy for abscesses, bilious conditions, cancer, cough, debility, dyspepsia, dysuria, fever, hangover, heart ailments, hypertension, neurosis, scurvy, and strangury. The drink made by placing, the calyx in water, is said to be a folk remedy for cancer. Medicinally, leaves are emollient, and are much used in Guinea as a diuretic, refrigerant, and sedative; fruits are antiscorbutic; leaves, seeds, and ripe calyces are diuretic and antiscorbutic; and the succulent calyx, boiled in water, is used as a drink in bilious attacks; flowers contain gossypetin, anthocyanin, and glucoside hibiscin, which may have diuretic and choleretic effects, decreasing the viscosity of the blood, reducing blood pressure and stimulating intestinal peristalsis. In Burma, the seed are used for debility, the leaves as emollient. Taiwanese regard the seed as diuretic, laxative, and tonic. Philippines use the bitter root as an aperitive and tonic (Perry, 1980). Angolans use the mucilaginous leaves as an emollient and as a soothing cough remedy. Central Africans poultice the leaves on abscesses. Alcoholics might consider one item: simulated ingestion of the plant extract decreased the rate of absorption of alcohol, lessening the intensity of alcohol effects in chickens (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk).


Per 100 g, the fruit contains 49 calories, 84.5% H2O, 1.9 g protein, 0.1 g fat, 12.3 g total carbohydrate, 2.3 g fiber, 1.2 g ash, 1.72 mg Ca, 57 mg P, 2.9 mg Fe, 300 mg b-carotene equivalent, and 14 mg ascorbic acid. Per 100 g, the leaf is reported to contain 43 calories, 85.6% H2O, 3.3 g protein,0.3 g fat, 9.2 g total carbohydrate, 1.6 g fiber, 1.6 g ash, 213 mg Ca, 93 mg P, 4.8 mg Fe, 4135 mg b-carotene equivalent, 0.17 mg thiamine, 0.45 mg riboflavin, 1.2 mg niacin, and 54 mg ascorbic acid. The inflorescence, per 100 g, is reported to contain 44 calories, 86.2% H2O, 1.6 g protein,O.l g fat, 11.1 g total carbohydrate, 2.5 g fiber, 1.0 g ash, 160 mg Ca, 60 mg P, 3.8 mg Fe, 285 mg b-carotene equivalent, 0.04 mg thiamine, 0.6 mg riboflavin, 0.5 mg niacin, and 14 mg ascorbic acid (Duke and Atchley, 1984). Seeds contain 7.6% moisture, 24.0% crude protein, 22.3% fat, 15.3% fiber, 23.8% N-free extract, 7.0% ash, 0.3% Ca, 0.6% P, and 0.4% S. Seed extracted with ether contained 0.7% fat, 29.0% protein, and 32.9% N-free extract (Samy, 1980 Zeits Ernahungwiss. 19:47.) Component acids of the seed lipids were 2.1% myristic-, 35.2% palmitic-, 2.0% palmitoleic-, 3.4% stearic-, 34.0% oleic-, 14.4% linoleic-, and 3 unusual HBr-reacting fatty acids (cis-12, 13-epoxy-cis-9-octadecenoic (12,13-epoxoleic) 4.5%; sterculic, 2.9%; and malvalic, 1.3%) Ahmad et al. (J. Sci. Food & Agric. 4: 424. 1979). Salama and Ibrahim (Planta Medica 36: 221. 1979) report on the sterols in the seed oil, 61.3% b-sitosterol, 16.5% campasterol, 5.1% cholesterol, and 3.2% ergosterol (said to be rare in vegetable oil but the most common mycosterol in most fungi, including yeast). Seed has properties similar to those of cotton seed oil, and is used as a substitute for crude castor oil. Karkade (dried-flowers minus-ovary) contains 13% of a mixture of citric and malic acid, two anthocyanins gossipetin (hydroxyflavone) and hibiscin, and 0.004–0.005% ascorbic acid. Petals yield the flavonal glucoside hibiscritin, which yields a crystalline aglycone—hibiscetin (C15H10O9). Flowers contain phytosterols. The dried flower contains ca 15.3% hibiscic acid (C6H6O7). Root contains saponins and tartaric acid. Calyces contain 6.7% proteins by fresh weight and 7.9% by dry weight. Aspartic acid is the most common amino acid. Dried fruits also contain vitamin C and Ca oxalate; dry petals contain flavonol glucoside hibiscitrin.


Erect, mostly branched, annual; stem to 3.5 m tall, variously colored dark green to red; leaves alternate, glabrous, long-petiolate, palmately divided into 3–7 lobes, with serrate margins; flowers large, short-peduncled, red to yellow with dark center; capsules 5 cm long, 5.3 cm wide; root a deep penetrating taproot. Fl. summer.


Reported from the Indochina-Indonesia to African Centers of Diversity, roselle, or cvs thereof, is reported to tolerate high pH, laterite, low pH, nematodes, and virus. Several cultivars are known, the best known are: 'Victor', 'Rico' and 'Archer'. Of the botanical varieties: var. sabdariffa, has red or pale yellow inflated edible calyces, but poor fiber; var. altissima Webster is grown for its fiber, but has inedible calyces. (n = 18; 4n = 72, a tetraploid)


Native to Old World Tropics, probably in the East Indies; now cultivated throughout the tropics.


Suitable for tropical climates with well-distributed rainfall of 1500–2000 mm yearly, from sea-level to about 600 m altitude. Tolerates a warmer and more humid climate than kenaf, but is more susceptible to damage from frost and fog. Plant exhibits marked photoperiodism, not flowering at shortening days of 13.5 hours, but flowering at 11 hours. In United States plants do not flower until short days of late fall or early winter. Since flowering is not necessary for fiber production, long light days for 3–4 months is the critical factor. Roselle requires a permeable soil, a friable sandy loam with humus being preferable; however, it will adapt to a variety of soils. It is not shade tolerant and must be kept weed-free. It will tolerate floods, heavy winds or stagnant water. Ranging from Warm Temperate Moist through Tropical Wet to Very Dry Forest Life Zones, roselle is reported to tolerate annual precipitation of 6.4 to 42.9 dm (mean of 213 cases = 17.14) annual temperature of 12.5 to 27.5°C (mean of 213 cases = 23.11) and pH of 4.5 to 8.0 (mean of 119 cases = 6.1). (Duke, 1978, 1979)


Soil preparation should be deep, about 20 cm, and thorough. Seed, 11–22 kg/ha depending upon the soil, is drilled about 15 cm by 15 cm at beginning of rainy season, mid-April in India, planting to a depth of about 0.5 cm. Broadcasting is not recommended because of uneven stand, land, and hence lack of uniformity in fiber. When grown for its fiber, it is planted closely to produce long stems with little foilage. Weeding for first month is important. Fertilization practices vary widely. Roselle responds favorably to applications of nitrogen, and 45 kg/ha is a safe level in India, applied in the form of compost or mineral fertilizer in conjunction with a small quantity of phosphate. In Java green manure (Mimosa invisa) is p;owed under before it starts to 5 mature seeds. Also in Java the following fertilizer rates are recommended for roselle: 80 kg N/ha, 36–54 kg P2O5/ha and 75–100 kg K2O/ha. Rotations are sometimes used, the roselle, requiring several months to grow, making the land unavailable for other crops. The practice is recommended since the root-knot nematode, Heterodera radicicola, is a pest. A sequence of a legume green-manure crop, then roselle and then corn is suggested. For home gardens of roselle, seeds are sown directly in rows about May 15. After germination, seedlings are thinned to stand 1 m apart. For larger plantings, seeds are sown in protected seedbeds and the seedlings transplanted to 1.3–2.6 m apart in rows 2–3.3 m apart. Applications of stable manure or commercial fertilizers are beneficial. Plants are subject to injury by root-knot nematodes and should not be planted on land infested with these pests.


For the calyces of fruits, about 3 weeks after tile onset of flowering, the first fruits are ready for picking. The fruit consists of the large reddish calyces surrounding the small seed pods. Capsules are easily separated, but need not be removed before cooking. For fiber, from planting to harvest is about 3–4 months, 10 months in Indonesia. Fiber quality is best if harvested just at flowering time. Stems are cut off at ground level, tied in bundles and retted until the fiber is freed from the wood. Then it is washed and dried in the sun. A skilled worker can strip 36–45 kg dry clean fiber daily in this practice. Retting is by-passed if a decorticating machine is used.

Yields and Economics

Calyx production ranges from ca 1.5 kg (Calif.) to 2 kg (Puerto Rico) to 7.5 kg/plant in South Floridia. In Hawaii, roselle intercropped with yielded 16,000 kg/ha, 19,000 kg when planted alone. Dual purpose plantings can yield 17,000 kg of herbage in 3 cutiings and later 6,300kg of calyces (Morton, 1975). Average fiber production is 1,700 kg/ha with as much as 3,500 kg/ha reported (Malaya). The amount of fiber in the stalks is about 5%. In Indonesia land rent is for ten months at rate of 42,000 Rp./ha and 100 workers/ha/month are required. Field workers are paid 60 Rp/day (July 1971). The FOB export price to Brussels recently was 106 British pounds per long ton. Indonesians have no problems selling all the roselle gunny bags they can make.


As a multiple-use species, roselle is often mentioned as an energy candidate, yielding fiber, beverage, edible foliage, and an oil seed. If it is grown for fiber, much biomass remains as residue. Crane (1949) calculates that the extracted fiber represents only 1.3–7.9% of the stalk material, suggesting residues at least 10 times more massive than the fiber. (It is not clear whether Crane's percentages are based on dry matter or wet matter.) Crane generalizes that fiber yields run ca 1600 kg/ha with yields in West Africa closer to 650 kg/ha, 2100 kg/ha in Sri Lanka, 1500 in Java, and experimental yields of 1200 to 3400 kg/ha in Malaya. Residue yields (biomass) should be more than ten times higher.

Biotic Factors

Roselle is attacked by several fungi: Aecidium garckeanum, A. hibiscisurattense, Alternaria macrospora, Cercospora abelmoschi, C. malaysensis, Corynespora cassiicola, Cylindrocladium scoparium, Diplodia hibiscina, Fusarium decemcellulare, F. sarcochroum, F. solani, F. vasinfectum, Guignardia hibisci-sabdariffae, Irenopsis molleriana, Leveillula taurica, Microsphaera euphorbiae, Phoma sabdariffae, Phymatotrichum omnivorum, Phytophthora parasitica, Ph. terretris, Pythium perniciosum, Rhizocotonia solani, Sclerotinia fuckeliana, S. sclerotiorum, Sclerotium rolfsii. Plants attacked by leaf-spot disease are treated by spray applications of fungicides for control. Roselle plants are also attacked by several viruses: Leaf curl, Cotton leaf curl and Yellow vein mosaic. The bacterium, Bacillus solanacearum, has been isolated from roselle. They are very seriously attacked by root-knot nematodes: Meloidogyne arenaria, M. incognita acrita and M. javanica. Among the insect pests which attack roselle are: Anomis erosa, Chaetocnema spp., Cosmophila erosa, Dysdercus cingulatus, D. poecilus, Drosicha townsendi, Nistora gemella, Phenacoccus hirsutus, Pseudococcus filamentosus and Tectocoris diophthalmus.


Complete list of references for Duke, Handbook of Energy Crops
Last update Wednesday, January 7, 1998 by aw