GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.

Hibiscus Tea  a delicious and ‘magical’ tea made from the petals of the tropical red hibiscus – every garden around here seems to have one.

I first had hibiscus tea in Bali, but it is a tradition in many cultures.  I was watching Jamie Oliver’s American Roadtrip and he was with a Mexican chef that offered him hibiscus tea.  Jamie took one sip then got a wondrous look on his face and said something like “I don’t believe it – the last time I tasted this was when my grandmother gave it to me when I was a kid and I’ve been searching to put a name to that taste ever since”.
The flowers you use for this are the kind you wear behind your ear, in tropical climes, to let the opposite sex know whether you are available or not.  Don’t ask me which way is which – left or right?  That’s probably why I have been with the same bloke since I was 17 – the whole dating game defeats me.  I can’t even work out the flower behind the ear thing.
6 hibiscus flowers
1 1/2 litres boiled water
1 heaped tbs caster sugar
Juice of one lemon

1. Strip the petals and discard the rest of the flower.
2. Put in a jug with the sugar and a little cold water (to prevent it cracking when you add the hot water)
3. Add the boiled water – it will turn a sludgy purple colour.  Steep for one hour.
4. This is where the magic happens.  Remove the petals and as you add the lemon juice the liquid clears and turns a beautiful ‘sunset’ colour.  Children love doing this!

A refreshing glass of hibiscus tea with some homemade lemon verbena shortbread biscuits.

A LITTLE STORY:  I was working in Bali when I first tried this tea made from a bush that was growing in the garden where I was running workshops in organic gardening – it was also part of the demonstration dye garden for the Threads of Life textiles foundation – and I got to know staff and locals pretty well.  I thought I would leave a little present for them all and play a little horticultural trick at the same time.  Some plants are very easy to graft – hibiscus is one of them; so I scoured the backstreets of Ubud for different coloured hibiscus, took cuttings,  and grafted pieces of stem onto the red flowering one in this garden.  They wouldn’t have noticed it until a year or so later when it started flowering in many different colours.

You can try this with citrus and have two or three different varieties on the same tree.  It also works well with potted bougainvillea.  Plenty of good instructions on the web of how to do this.