American University Explores Viability of Jamaican Sorrel as Crop for Florida Farmers

Jamaican Sorrel

The Florida Friendly Landscaping Program at the University of Florida has begun a two-year project focused on the potential of sorrel as a profitable crop for farmers in Florida. According to Norma Samuels, an urban horticulture agent in the program, researchers will evaluate how different sorrel varieties respond to the climate in Central Florida. Research trials will be conducted in conjunction with Whispering Oaks Winery and Bountiful Farms. Samuels hopes to publish the research findings so Florida farmers will have information about growing sorrel on a commercial basis. Kannon Siemer, whose parents own Whispering Oaks Wintery, is aiding in the collection of data for the winery.

Roselle, or Hibiscus sabdariffa, is a type of flowering plant in the Hibiscus family. It is native to Africa and spread to Asia and the West Indies in the 16th and 17th centuries, locations where it now grows abundantly. It is known by many names around the world, including “flor de Jamaica” in Central America. In the English-speaking Caribbean, it is known simply as sorrel or Jamaican sorrel.

Jamaican Sorrel - Christmas Drinks

It is grown in India chiefly for its stem fibers, which are used to make cordage. It is also used in folk remedies. In the United States and Europe, the red calyces or sepals, – the structures that protect a flower’s bud or act as support for its petals – are used as a red food coloring. Senegalese communities use its leaves like spinach and as flavorings in native cuisine. Brazilians use the roots to treat stomach ailments.

In Jamaica and the Caribbean, sorrel is the main ingredient in the refreshing sorrel beverage traditionally served at Christmas, but also enjoyed at other times throughout the year. Sorrel beverages are often served in the US by African Americans at family and social gatherings, including on Juneteenth, which it is enjoyed in honor of West African culture. The drink is made by boiling the calyces with the seed pods removed in water and then adding sugar. Cloves and bay leaves may also be added during its preparation. The red drink is then served chilled.

Sorrel is also used to make tea, jam, jelly, pies, chutney, and wine. The health benefits of sorrel have been widely acknowledged. The drink contains many vitamins, chiefly Vitamin C, and the plant also shows beneficial anti-inflammatory effects. It is also used as a treatment for bacterial infections, to alleviate pain, and to reduce swelling in the respiratory tract. It is also said to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Sorrel has also shown positive results in boosting the immune system and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Currently, the largest suppliers of sorrel are China and Thailand, which control much of the world’s supply. Jamaica, Mexico, Egypt, Senegal, Tanzania, and Mali also supply significant amounts of sorrel, but the crops are typically used domestically.

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Stephanie Korney