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December 22, 2015

Jamaican Sorrel, Permaculture Needs & Yields Analysis, Removing Jamaican Flowers to Make Christmas Sorrel

At this time of year, ‘sorrel’ (juice) is very popular in the Caribbean / West Indies because it is the official Christmas drink. Since starting a permaculture design plan for a friend’s 3-acre farm, I started to create a permaculture needs & yields analysis for various tropical plants and thought of creating a similar entry for Jamaican sorrel. Below is the information I have so far. I will be happy for additional information for this (Jamaican sorrel) profile and any other similar or noteworthy tropical plants that will work nicely in a permaculture design plan.

Other Names: Hibiscus sabdariffa (botanical name), Rosella, Indian Sorrel, Jamaica Sorrel, Jamaican Sorrel, Red Sorrel, Maleate, Vinagreira, Aced era de Guinea, Cabitutu, Rosa de Jamaica­, Vinuela

My Permaculture Needs & Yields Analysis for Jamaican Sorrel

Happy to hear how you use this plant in your permaculture design.
·   Tropical climate. It can grow to elevations of 1,250 meters above sea level (but is not very frost tolerant). Warm and sunny location.
·   Generally tolerant of different soil types, except that it does not thrive in dry soil conditions. The oil needs to be constantly moist. Ideal pH between 4.5 and 8.
·   Tolerant of strong winds, flooding, stagnant water
·   Propagation by seed. (See how to collect Jamaican sorrel seeds)
·   For cropping, grow 3 plants together on mounds that are 6 inches high and 2 feet in diameter. If you are going to put more than one 3-plant cluster together, space each mound roughly 3 to 6 feet apart.
·   Mulching with a 2-inch layer of manure is used in native Jamaica to protect the plant from root pests and of course to suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture. Ensure the manure does not touch the stems.
·   Juice, tea (from the flower red petals and calyx that are most often sun dried beforehand)
·   Non toxic medicinal: To reduce hypertension, provide antioxidative protection against free radical damage, as an anti-inflammatory for chronic inflammatory conditions (that include eczema and rheumatoid arthritis), to prevent cancer cell formation, to prevent liver damage (in fact, it is usually a key component of rum punch to also control hangovers), to inhibit hardening of the arteries, to block the digestion and absorption of starch (and therefore good for weight loss regimes), to treat coughs, colds and fevers.
·   Annual that grows up to 6 or more feet. As an annual, it completes its complete life cycle, ie germinates, flowers and fruits within a year before dying. However, Caribbean farmers report being able to extend the production of this plant to 3 years through a particular technique. They harvest with a pair of clean scissors that they dip in milk between cuts. They swear by this method. I have not yet gathered sufficient information to understand the science but would be happy for anyone’s comments.

Removing Jamaican Sorrel Flowers to Make Christmas Sorrel

This is how my West Indian Wwoof farmer showed me how to remove Jamaican sorrel flowers to make Christmas sorrel juice. Here is a closeup of the end result.

When the flowers did not look too happy, especially like the one to the right of the image above, we chose to use them only for the seeds (and not the petals for making Jamaican sorrel juice)
Start by making a longitudinal incision between 2 petals. Since the skin is very thin, press very gently as the knife will quickly make contact with the hard pod of seeds that rest directly under the plump petals.
Allow the knife to stop short of the center point where the petals make contact with the stem.
Make a shallow incision in a somewhat circular direction around the center point of the bottom of the flower. As you can see from the image below, the circle is by no means perfect.
Gently pry open the slit you made earlier between 2 petals.
Do this until you reach the circular incision at the bottom of the flower. Gently pull away the each petal one at a time as you rotate the flower. This takes a little patience at first, especially if you want the flower petals to remain connected to each other after you remove them from the pod of seeds. Continue until you have separated the entire set of petals from the pod of seeds.

Each of these pods contains several Jamaican sorrel seeds. They must be left to dry before the Jamaican sorrel seeds are harvested.
In the mean time, I will discuss how to use Jamaican sorrel flowers to make the famous Christmas sorrel drink.

How to make Jamaican sorrel Christmas juice
I am at an altitude of roughly 340m. It has been getting very wet and cold ... well, at least, by Caribbean standards. I even wear 2 - 3 layers of shirts and heavy long jeans in my all wood and glass, mostly open air mountain cabin to manage through windy nights. Needless to say, these conditions may make it a little more challenging to dry sorrel in the traditional method below. So, out of curiosity, I cheated by using fresh, undried leaves. It was fine. However, having already enjoyed Jamaican sorrel juice the traditional West Indian way (below), I can attest to the benefit of the traditional method. It is much more delicious and potent. It is therefore worth the wait.
1.      Remove the red petals and calyx from the seed.

2.      Dry the flowers. Typically, this is done in hot sunny spaces. However, you may use a dehydrator (pictured below). Once fully dried, store the sorrel leaves in an airtight container.

3.      Steep in roughly 6 times its weight in hot water overnight. As a popular option, do so with ground ginger

4.      Strain off the liquid and compost the solids

5.      Sweeten to taste

6.      Refrigerate between uses

I will discuss the matter of drying the seeds for propagation in the next post. I do not actually celebrate Christmas. However, if you do, this drink is a must if you plan on celebrating the Caribbean way. Enjoy! 

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