Edible Landscape Plants
Eat the leaves of a hibiscus? I was so intrigued by the exhibit on Summer Salads at our Polk County Master Gardeners’ Backyard Garden Festival and Plant Sale this past weekend that I asked a friend who called me from the plant sale area to look for two of the display suggestions – a small Cranberry Hibiscus (I got the last one) and a couple of Okinawan Spinach plants.
Although I’ve never sampled any hibiscus teas, I understand they are great antioxidants and loaded with vitamin C. And adding hibiscus leaves to a salad sounds like something I might like to try; color enhancement is very appealing.
Be careful though if you’re thinking about growing your own medicinal herbs – not all hibiscuses are edible. False Roselle, Maroon mallow, Red-Shield hibiscus and Cranberry hibiscus are all different names for H. acetosella. Native to Africa, it thrives in warm tropical climates. It is a short-lived flowering perennial in the landscape and its leaves look much like that of a northern red maple. During the fall and winter, small pink or maroon flowers appear between the reddish leaves and soon disappear. Unless you’re looking for them, they will be missed. Its young leaves may be added to salads for color or cooked with rice or vegetables. The leaves have a citrus-like flavor, that some describe as sweet.
False Roselle (Cranberry hibiscus) is sometimes used for teas, but from what I’ve read, the most common variety used for teas is Roselle (H. sabdariffa), which is often called Florida Cranberry – gets confusing doesn’t it? This closely related shrub is often referred to as true Roselle (H.sabdariffa var. altissima) and has non-edible parts. Avoid H. sabdariffa and make sure you are consuming H. acetosella.
If you’re interested in reading for yourself about the nutritional benefits of Cranberry hibiscus, check out this website: http://www.livestrong.com/article/346372-nutrition-information-on-cranberry-hibiscus/. I might also suggest you navigate around the Live Strong site while you’re there – excellent resource for weight monitoring and other nutritional information about foods. Setting up your own tracking account is free and easy.
Left unpruned, the Cranberry hibiscus could grow to a height of 10 feet. Once mine starts growing, I will probably keep it trimmed in the 3 – 6 foot range. I may even try to give it an umbrella shape like my other variegated favorites. The University of Florida Extension Service website indicates this hibiscus variety does well in sandy soil, and further reports that it is nematode and pest resistant. That makes this an excellent shrub choice for Florida gardeners!
In researching these two new additions to Nana’s Garden, I was relieved I could find no cautions for consuming Okinawan spinach. It is grown commercially as a vegetable in China and very adaptable to Florida’s climate, thriving in full sun or partial shade. It forms a dense, non-vining ground cover but it also makes an attractive potted plant.
These two plants were ready for the ground, so Nana found a perfect spot in the corner nursery. I want to use these as my parent plants for more cuttings. (And maybe I’ll eat some of the leaves once I have a crop established.) Like the spinach I buy on a regular basis, Okinawan can be cooked or added to salads. It is said to have excellent properties to help lower cholesterol.
What I really like about this hardy perennial is the beauty of shiny green leaves on top with a deep purple underneath. Another bonus is that Okinawan spinach attracts butterflies, not sure what kind here in Florida. In Hawaii, though, it is a host plant for the Kamehameha butterfly. Offhand, does anyone know what type of butterfly I might hope to see?
Nana is very pleased with these new plant additions!
Glenda Mink, a self-taught copycat who learns from others, is employed full-time outside the home, averaging a 50-hour work week. She also co-operates her oldest son’s successful publishing company evenings and weekends, along with soulmate Wonderful Wally. Nana to two teenage grandchildren, Cameron and CayLeigh, she describes herself as an “expert on nothing,” but hopes readers will find inspiration and a few good ideas from re-invented projects for use around home and garden.
Nana has been gardening in Florida since moving here in 1978 from the Midwest. Before becoming a certified Florida Master Gardener in January, she was left on her own to trial and error to which she confesses plenty. Nana hopes to be helpful to Polk County homeowners with the wealth of information available through the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Services. Send your questions and pictures to The Master Gardeners, Polk County Extension Service, PO Box 9005, Drawer HS03, Bartow, FL 33830. Or e-mail questions to email@example.com. For horticultural information, please visit these websites http://polkmastergardener.ifas.ufl.edu/, http://polkhort.ifas.ufl.edu/, and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/
“What to Do . . . Musings, e-Tips and Ideas” is Nana’s currently under development website that will include content from weekly Nana’s Home and Garden columns and much more.