Connect with us

Thai Life

Gardening: Phuket’s tasty roselle

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: I recently launched a series intended to cover fruits, vegetables and herbs that, like the hoary old advertisement for a famous dark stout, “look good, taste good and do you good.”

Thailand is a huge repository of such goodies. And since we are on the topic of liquid refreshment, I am kicking off today’s offering with a member of the hibiscus family quite unrecognizable from the flamboyant varieties such as the rosa-sinensis, the coral-red, fringe-petalled schizopetalus or the rose-like mutabilis.

In fact, the white or yellow flowers of this relative are relatively insignificant. Instead, it is grown primarily for its leaves, and more particularly for its fleshy red calyxes (sepals) which are boiled and reduced to make sauces, jellies and, above all, drinkable concoctions which include a refreshing tea and a cool drink with a flavor reminiscent of cranberry or redcurrant.

While the young fruit can be boiled and eaten with nam prik, it is the calyx, and sometimes the petals, which forms the basis for the beverage that is often found in Thai fresh markets, displayed in large transparent containers which show off its vivid red color. To make it more acceptable to the Thai craving for ultra-sweet drinks, sugar and sometimes salt is added to the mix.

This shrub’s juice is now finding new employment as an additive in red wine produced in Thailand from grape concentrate, giving the mix a fruitiness it would otherwise not have. Don’t ask me how they up the alcohol level to compensate. The name? Roselle, or, to be more technical, H sabdariffa. In some parts of the globe, thanks to slightly astringent taste of the raw leaves, it is known as Jamaican sorrel.

A tallish, narrow plant with deeply lobed foliage which can reach six or seven feet in height, roselle will grow almost anywhere, sometimes colonizing waste ground with its characteristic purplish-red stems and branches.

Outside the rusting corrugated iron shacks of immigrant laborers, it is frequently found growing in clumps. It can be readily cultivated from seeds (available in packets) or from cuttings (the stems are made into a fiber called bast in Africa), and can even be employed to create a temporary hedge or barrier. The leaves are used to create a spicy version of spinach, and in Myanmar are added to traditional curry. In poor Asian communities worldwide it is a staple of people’s diets.

The drink is especially valuable for its role in quenching thirst, reducing body heat and, above all, helping to lower levels of cholesterol. The whole plant has been used for centuries as a folk medicine, serving as a diuretic, a laxative and even as a treatment for serious ailments such as cancer and cardiac problems.

Like the pumpkin, it is a rich source of vitamin A – most red fruits and vegetables, for example the tomato, are – as well as calcium and vitamin C. Most important, it contains one of the highest levels of antioxidants of any widely available food. I think the cooling drink is better without the salt and sugar, so make your own if you can…

No wonder H sabdariffa is becoming of considerable interest to the Western world, which is getting hooked on herbal remedies. The dried calyxes are now being exported to many countries. Malaysia even followed Thailand’s example in encouraging commercial plantings.

Thailand remains, along with China, one of the two leading producers of roselle. Witness the fact that here in Phuket, the dried calyces are often sold in local markets alongside the drink.

It is certainly here to stay. And remember, it not only looks and tastes good, it also does you good…

— Patrick Campbell


Want more from the Thaiger family?

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS for instant updates on your mobile
📧 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🔔 Subscribe to or Join our YouTube channel for daily video updates

Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Thaiger Talk Forums.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Thailand31 mins ago

Almost 8 million register for stimulus scheme, app briefly goes down

Best of43 mins ago

Top 5 best temples in Bangkok

Thailand59 mins ago

Good Morning Thailand | What’s happening in Pattaya, Phuket sandbox, reopening for tourism

Phuket Sandbox July 1st


Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in July - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages in June!

Sponsored by image

Coronavirus (Covid-19)1 hour ago

25 vaccination sites put on hold in Bangkok

Phuket2 hours ago

Ambulance crashes into a lightpole in Phuket

Thailand2 hours ago

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport task force cracks down on drug trafficking

ASEAN2 hours ago

Southeast Asia sees highest tally of Covid-19 infections in a single day

Chiang Rai3 hours ago

Chiang Rai: man robs a bank that’s inside a Tesco Lotus

Best of3 hours ago

Top 10 Private Villas in Thailand

Drugs3 hours ago

Over 1.5 kilos of heroin found hidden in notebooks at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Coronavirus (Covid-19)4 hours ago

Monday Covid Update: 3,355 new cases and 17 deaths

Best of4 hours ago

Top 5 Tax Firms in Thailand

Malaysia4 hours ago

Lockdown extended for another 2 weeks in Malaysia

Food4 hours ago

Top 10 Restaurant-Bars in Bangkok

Coronavirus (Covid-19)4 hours ago

Low immunity levels in some, despite 2 doses of AstraZeneca, Sinovac

Thailand3 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism3 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket3 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism4 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand4 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism4 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Southern floods, Face mask fines, Thai Air Asia woes | January 8