Eating native, eating rosella….

Not the bird.

Dr Dyno Keating, Director General of the World Vegetable Center ,was talking on Radio National this morning about the health benefits of eating indigenous plants during which he made reference to roselle, or rosella as it in known in Australia. The felt I had to qualify that I was not referring to the bird because I expect most Australians would take the term to mean a small agile multi-coloured parrot species (that features on an iconic food label). Yet rosella , the plant , was used by our colonial cooks to make jelly and jams (they did eat the bird as well: according to Nat Gould in Town and Bush: Australian native parrots made “excellent eating, and when young, make as good a pie as pigeons”*). There are several recipes that utilize rosella in Mrs Maclurcan’s Cookbook: A Collection of Practical Recipes Specially Suitable for Australia.

It is the so-called ‘fruit of the rosella used by colonial cooks such as Maclurcan is actually a calyx, or accessory fruit of Hibiscus sabdariffa) that looks more like a fleshy flower. While rosella is often described an Australian ‘native’ it is indigenous to Africa. It requires a tropical or semi-tropical climate to grow, which is why the Townsville based Maclurcan was familiar with it.

I become familiar with roselle in India where the plants leaves are commonly cooked and  eaten (see Eating India for more in this context) and my friend Joan Majthia makes a cordial from the calayx.

*Gould, Nat ( 1974). Town and Bush. Penguin Books: Ringwood, p.65 (originally published by George Routledge & Sons 1896)