This year was my first year growing hibiscus sabdariffa from seed, which is known for its tart calyx for making tea and adding to food. (You may recall Celestial Seasoning’s Red Zinger tea?) So, I already taught you how to grow it from seed, and now let’s learn how to harvest hibiscus calyxes. Can’t you just smell the tea?
Note: This hibiscus should not be confused with the tropical hibiscuses that you buy at nurseries with the large gorgeous flowers. This plant has different leaves and much smaller flowers.
When to Harvest Hibiscus Calyxes:
First the flower will appear. It isn’t very big and you can easily miss it. Then you need to wait until the flower end looks dry and spent. Be sure to watch my video on how to harvest this plant. (Plus you will get a first hand look at how beautiful these plants are.)
Note, most of the flowers start from the middle to top middle of the plant. I thought this was completely odd.
So when do you know the calyx are ready for picking? My rule of thumb is if you can gently pull the flower and it comes out, then you can harvest the calyx. I found it takes 2 to 3 days for the flower to be spent. I noticed if the weather turned cooler, it took longer for the flower to dry up. (Watch the video if you are the visual type like me!)
Once you pull the flower out (which by the way is a lot of fun) simply snap off the calyx. If you miss one and they are too hard to snap, simply clip them.
If you pull the flower and it tears, then it isn’t ready to harvest. I tore my fair share of flowers. (Because I am totally impatient.)
The downside to tearing the flower is that it is harder to remove the flower when it is spent. You have to put your finger inside the calyx, and dig it out. The flower can be a little gooey.
Word of warning! The seed inside is the size of a pea. In fact it looks like a light colored pea. If the inside is a huge hard big mound, then you took the calyx before it was ready. I honestly don’t know if it alters the taste, but it is just a little more work to get the huge seed out. (I show the seed at the end of the video.)
Okay, back to once you harvest your calyxes. I simply stuck my finger in and knocked out the “pea” size seed. I kept a few and dried them in the house to see if I can germinate them next year. (Ah, another adventurer. I am such a garden adrenal junkie.)
I gather from the article by the late Julia Morton, Research Professor of Biology and Director of the Morton Collectanea, University of Miami, growers let the calyx in Florida simply dry on the stems. However, she did note, the more you pick, the more it flowers. And I am a picker!
A hard frost hit my garden twice and I didn’t think I could save the plants. I did take a few stems inside to see if I put them in water if they would bloom.
I probably gathered about 50 calyxes which I thought was lame for 4 plants. Calyx production in warm areas range from 3 to 4lbs (California) to 16 pounds (southern Florida.)
I extended my growing season another two weeks using cold weather row covers. There was a downside to using the row covers. The combination of the wind and weight of the covers caused several of the branches to break. So I lost many calyxes.
Next year I might plant them in huge planters and roll them inside each time below forty temperature threatens. The plants may not get as big, but I might be able to harvest more calyxes.
But, it was still fun growing it. I will be using the leaves more next year and perhaps keeping the plants in large pots to extend their growing season.
Or just maybe finally getting a greenhouse?
Join the Conversation:
Do you grow hibiscus sabdariffa? Any tips on how to harvest the hibiscus calyxes?
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