Cranberry Hibiscus – Hibiscus acetosella
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The word acetosella is of Latin origin and is derived from an old name for sorrel (Oxalis) which comes from the sour taste experienced when eating the young leaves of the plant. This ornamental is usually found in abandoned fields or open areas, marshes, and forest clearings. Cranberry hibiscus is a member of a perennial group known as hardy hibiscus. In contrast to the tropical hibiscus, hardy hibiscus can tolerate colder conditions, are more vigorous, longer lasting, and have larger flowers. In colder climates, Hibiscus acetosella is easily an annual, but is often regarded as a perennial elsewhere. During one season, the plant can grow 90–170 cm tall and 75 cm wide as a shrub-subshrub.
Cranberry hibiscus is cultivated in medium altitudes in areas of high rainfall although it does do fairly well in droughts. It requires moist soil with good drainage and a range of partial shade to full sun exposure. The plant does well in slightly acidic conditions with a soil pH between 6.1 and 6.5. Cranberry hibiscus tends to flower late in season when days are shorter. Flowers open for a few hours during the late fall to early winter at midday. Although the plant itself remains in bloom for a few weeks, once open, a flower remains so for just one day.
Cranberry hibiscus is mostly known for its slightly sour or pleasantly tart young leaves which are commonly used as a vegetable, either raw or cooked. In South America, the leaves are used sparingly in salads and stir-fries. Leaves are eaten in small quantities due to acid content and because they are mucilaginous. Cranberry hibiscus leaves also contribute to the décor of various dishes since they retain their color after being cooked.
Flowers are used to make teas or other drinks where they contribute color rather than taste. In Central America the flowers are combined with ice, sugar, lemon, or lime juice and water to make a purple lemonade.
The root is edible however thought of as fibrous and distasteful. Contrary to similar species such as the Hibiscus sabdariffa, the calyx or sepals of Hibiscus acetosella is non-fleshy and not eaten. In Angola a tea made from the leaves of cranberry hibiscus are used as a post-fever tonic and to treat anemia. The plant is also utilized to treat myalgias by crushing leaves into cold water to bathe children. The plant is thought to contain polyphenols, a compound that may combat inflammation and is commonly used to treat inflammatory diseases.