Hibiscus flowers are now available in Flatbush Caribbean markets.
Fresh hibiscus flowers are seasonally being sold in the lush vegetable markets that line Flatbush Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The blossoms are damp and leathery in texture, and the deep red color is striking.
These flowers form the base for a beverage popular in the Caribbean, but nowhere more so than in Jamaica, where the drink is called “sorrel.” In West Africa, “bissap” is the name, and it also goes by “rosemallow” and “flor de Jamaica.” The tart flowers also are responsible for the flavor and color of Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger tea — the name gives you an indication of the power of the flower.
Sorrel, the beverage (not to be confused with the herb of the same name), is generally available throughout the year, but most popular during the Christmas season, mainly for its Santa-red color and versatility in cocktail preparation. It mixes with just about anything, but rum is the best. Garnished with a small candy cane, mint leaves, a lime wedge, or a stick of cinnamon bark, it can also be served warm. Not that you care, but hibiscus — the flower of the Hibiscus sabdariffa shrub — is also rich in vitamin C, to stave off that early winter cold, and it’s also said to reduce blood pressure.
To make the tea, boil eight to 12 hibiscus flowers in four cups of water for five minutes, then allow to cool. Remove flowers. The flowers are that potent! Add sugar or honey to taste.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 18, 2010