Chinese hibiscus is a tropical evergreen shrub or small tree belonging to the mallow family (Malvaeceae) along with hollyhock, cotton, okra, and cacao. It is a popular landscape plant in warm climates but is planted in pots and brought indoors for the winter in cool areas. The large shiny dark green leaves and brightly colored flowers three to eight inches across lend a tropical look to any garden. The flowers are abundantly produced all through the year in warm climates but each flower only lasts a few days. Hummingbirds and butterflies love them!
Hibiscus flowers have a mild tangy flavor and can be used in a variety of ways. They can be brewed into tea, used in salads, added to rice, included in chutney, and made into syrup and added to cake or frozen into popsicles with champagne. Hibiscus can be combined with chili to make a caramel sauce that can be incorporated into ice cream, brownies, frosting, or pie. Epicurus has a recipe for hibiscus enchiladas!
Harvest the flowers early in the morning remove the pistil and stamens from the center of the flower and separate the petals. Use the petals fresh or dry for future use. You can re-hydrate dried petals by soaking in warm water for about ten to fifteen minutes until they have plumped up. Six to twelve flowers yields one cup.