This is a very special time in the Caribbean! A Caribbean Christmas is all about SORREL! Sorrel with a shot of liquor (wine or rum), or sorrel straight up (cold, over ice or sipped ceremoniously as a hot tea).
Now I’m not taking about your run-of-the-mill garden vegetable – leafy green sorrel – aka ‘common sorrell’, ‘Rumex acetosa’ or ‘spinach dock’ which is a perennial herb and can be cooked or eaten like any regular leafy green vegetable. No my Friend! We must not confuse common sorrel (no disrespect intended with the descriptive ‘common’) with the Darling of the Caribbean: Jamaican sorrel which – specifically - we are referring to the flowering petals (calyx) of the woody Roselle plant, Hibiscus sabdariffa aka ‘Roselle hibiscus’ aka ‘Flor de Jamaica’, aka ‘Florida cranberry’. Interestingly enough, “Jamaican Sorrel” is not indigenous to Jamaica or only used in Jamaica. It has its origins in Central and West Africa but is grown all around the world including Asia. Pretty much most, if not all, of the Caribbean/West Indies drink sorrel or use its parts (leaves, calyces, seeds) in some recipe or herbal remedy. Matter of fact, I was on a medical mission trip to Guatemala, staying in the old town of La Antigua, and part of the ritual of a holistic spa retreat I afforded myself involved the ritual of drinking hot sorrel (and they actually called it ‘Flor de Jamaica’) after a Mayan massage and healing session. Let me tell you, I was EUPHORIC!
Pretty much all parts of sorrel can be used for its varied benefits. You can roast the seeds, brew it like coffee, or grind it up and sprinkle over salads or in soup. You can pick the young leaves off the twiggy stem and steam them as you would any regular greens, or cook with chicken and fish, and – my favorite: use the red calyces to make your sorrel drink, simmered down to make preserves/chutney, or blended in to your Christmas cake batter for a yummy Christmas ‘black cake’ (another Caribbean atradition).
I am known for repurposing plant parts, believing in giving back to Mother Earth, so – true story: I went to the local flea market and bought some fresh bundles of sorrel bush with the intent to make a Vietnamese soup with the leaves, and randomly decided to stick the stems back into my veggie garden bed to see if I could propagate them that way instead of buying dried sorrel flowers at the store or online. Let me tell you, I had a jungle of a sorrel bush that year, because it took off and flourished like a weed, giving me pounds of fresh sorrel petals to the delight of my family and friends as well as the BasTurd squirrels that also binged on the petals (I have videos to prove the day they became my arch-enemy!).
Culturally, sorrel has widespread use, including here in the US where it is drunk as a beverage at Juneteenth celebrations to pay homage to our African ancestry. In Chinese Medicine, Roselle hibiscus is known as Luo Shen Hua and is also drunk as a tea for all its health benefits (laobanniang.com) with properties that “Resolve Phlegm and Food Stagnation and Regulate the Liver”. The petals are used to make red food coloring or dyes, the root has been used as a laxative/purgative, and fibers from the stem of the plant are used to make twine, netting or sacks. Below are few of the reported health benefits found in sorrel, but again – the caveat is: This does not constitute medical advice and information provided is for educational purposes only.
º Helps with weight loss, boosts red blood cells and prevents anemia;
º Contains anthocyanins, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants that help fight cancer;
º Lowers blood pressure, reduces cholesterol and helps prevent heart disease;
º Loaded with Vitamin C so helps fight colds;
º Hot tea brewed from the leaves relieves menstrual cramps.
And I will end this with some recipe suggestions for you to consider if you want to include sorrel in your diet:
a) Steep the red petals with warming spices of your choice: ginger, cloves, allspice berries, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise; strain and sweeten to taste then serve hot or cold; with or without your liquor of choice (Caribbean rum or red wine preferably :-)
b) After steeping your sorrel, don’t throw those petals away! Pick out all the spices you added then drain liquids off the petals, add a little sugar &/or jazz it up with a few dashes of hot pepper and simmer slowly over very low heat until it thickens up and you have the consistency of a chutney or preserves (I never add pectin as pectin is found in the flower itself).
c) If you can get the fresh plant, get ones with young tender leaves and cook down as an Asian/Indian/African stew with chicken or fish or toss fresh in your salads.
And as we say in Jamaica: “Christmas a nuh Christmas unless yuh drink some sorrel!” (“Christmas is not Christmas until you drink some sorrel!”). Cheers and a very good holiday to you!
In good health,
Michelle Blackwood: HealthierSteps.com, 6/26/2022
ifas.ufl.edu; Gardening Solutions
Cardiovascular health: Lucy Elis; Nutrition Reviews, Volume 80, Issue 6, June 2022, Pages 1723–1737
Cooking with Roselle: James H. Beattie; UNT Digital Library
Cancers: BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019; 19: 98. Christopher Ngyuen et al.
Weight loss: Food Function. 2014 Apr; 5(4):734-9. Hong Chou-Chang.
This information is educational in nature only, and is NOT intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition. The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended as diagnosis, treatment, or prescription of any kind. The decision to use, or not to use, any information is the sole responsibility of the reader.