Hibiscus (Sturtevant, 1919)

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Sturtevant, Edible plants of the world, 1919
Hibiscus (Sturtevant, 1919)

Hibiscus cannabinus Linn.


Old World tropics. The stem yields a hemp-like fiber sometimes called Indian hemp, Deckaner hemp, or bastard jute. It is as much cultivated, says Drury, for the sake of its leaves as its fibers. The leaves serve as a sorrel spinach.

Hibiscus digitatus Cav.

Brazil and Guiana. The plant is used as a vegetable.

Hibiscus (Abelmoschus) esculentus Linn.


Tropical Africa. Okra has become distributed as a plant of cultivation from Khartum and Sennar throughout Egypt to Palestine and elsewhere. Schweinfurth found its seed pods a favorite vegetable in Nubia and the plant perfectly wild on the White Nile. About Constantinople, okra is largely cultivated and the leaves are used as a demulcent. In India, the capsule, familiarly known as the bendi-kai, is much esteemed for imparting a mucilaginous thickening to soups, and the young pods are often gathered green and pickled like capers; but Firminger states that, though of an agreeable flavor, the pods, on account of their slimy nature, are not generally in favor with Europeans. Its seeds form one of the best coffee substitutes known. In the south of France, okra is cultivated for its pods. It was carried from Africa to Brazil before 1658, reached Surinam before 1686 and is mentioned by Hughes for Barbados in 1750.

In the southern United States, okra has long been a favorite vegetable, the green pods being used when quite young, sliced in soups and similar dishes, to which they impart a thick, viscous or gummy consistency. The ripe seeds, washed and ground, are also said to furnish a palatable substitute for coffee. Okra is mentioned by Kalm, 1748, as growing in gardens in Philadelphia; is mentioned by Jefferson as cultivated in Virginia before 1781; and is included among garden vegetables by McMahon, 1806, and all succeeding writers on American gardening. The green seed pods are used in soups, or stewed and served like asparagus, or when cold made into a salad. The green pods may be preserved for winter use by cutting them in halves, stringing and drying them. The young leaves and pods are also occasionally dried, pulverized and stored in bottles for future use. The stalks of the plant are used for the manufacture of paper. This plant offers a highly esteemed vegetable in southern States and is quite frequently, but neither generally nor extensively, cultivated in northern gardens for use of the pods in soups and stews.

The Spanish Moors appear to have been well acquainted with this plant, which was known to them by the name of bamiyah. Abul-Abbas el-Nebati, a native of Seville, learned in plants, who visited Egypt in 1216, describes in unmistakable terms the form of the plant, its seeds and fruit, which last, he remarks, is eaten when young and tender with meal by the Egyptians. The references to this plant in the early botanies are not numerous and the synonymies offered are often incorrect. The following, however, are justified:

  • Trionum theophrasti. Rauwolf, in Ap. to Dalechamp, 31. 1857. Cum ic.
  • Alcea aegyptia Clusius Hist. 2:27, 1601. Cum ic.
  • Honorius bellus. In Clus., 1. c. 2:311.
  • Bamia alessandrina. Dur. C. Ap. 1617. Cum ic.
  • Quingombo. Marcg. Bras., 31, 1648, cum ic.; Piso. Bras. 211, 1658. Cum ic.
  • Malva rosea sive hortensis. Bauh. J. 2:951. 1651.
  • Ketmia americana annua flore albo, fructu non sulcato longissimo. Commelyn, Hort. Med. 150. 1701. Cum ic.

Of these, the last only, that of Commelyn, represents the type of pod of the varieties usually to be found in our gardens, but plants are occasionally to be found bearing pods which resemble those figured in the above list. There is little recorded, however, concerning variety, as in the regions where its culture is particularly affected there is a paucity of writers. Miller's Dictionary, 1807, mentions that there are different forms of pods in different varieties; in some, not thicker than a man's finger, and five or six inches long; in others, very thick, and not more than two or three inches long; in some, erect; in others, rather inclined. Lunan, in Jamaica, 1814, speaks of the pods being of different size and form in the varieties. In 1831, Don describes a species, the H. bammia Link., with very long pods. In 1863, Burr describes four varieties in American gardens; two dwarfs, one pendant-podded and one tall and white-podded. In 1885, at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station, varieties were grown under 11 different names and from these there were three distinct sorts only. Vilmorin, 1885, names but two sorts, the long-fruited and the round-fruited.

Hibiscus ficulneus Linn.

Tropics of Asia and Australia. This species is cultivated in Egypt as a vegetable.

Hibiscus furcatus Willd.

Old World tropics. This species of hibiscus is used as a vegetable.

Hibiscus hirtus Linn.

East Indies and Malay. This species furnishes a vegetable of Bengal and the East Indies.

Hibiscus maculatus Lam.

Santo Domingo. This plant is used for food purposes.

Hibiscus micranthus Linn. f.

African tropics and East Indies. It is used as a vegetable.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linn.


Old World tropics. This is a well-known ornament of our hot-houses. The people of India and China, prepare a kind of pickle from the petals of the flowers.

Hibiscus sabdariffa Linn.


Old World tropics. Two varieties, the red and white, are cultivated in most gardens of Jamaica for the flowers which are made, with the help of sugar, into very agreeable tarts and jellies, or fermented into a cooling beverage. Roselle is now cultivated in most gardens of India. The most delicious puddings and tarts, as well as a remarkably fine jelly, are made of the thick, succulent sepals which envelope the fruit. There are two kinds, the red and the white. In Malabar, jellies and tarts are made of the calyces and capsules freed from the seeds as also in Burma. In Unyoro and Ugani, interior Africa, it is cultivated for its bark, seeds and leaves. The bark makes beautiful but short cordage; the leaves make a spinach and the seeds are eaten roasted. Roselle is now rather commonly grown in Florida.

Hibiscus syriacus Linn.


Old World tropics. In China, the leaves are sometimes made into tea or eaten when young.

Hibiscus tiliaceus Linn.

The Tahitians suck the bark when the breadfruit harvest is unproductive, and the New Caledonians eat it.