Hibiscus sabdariffa is an erect shrub with smooth red, cylindrical stems and green maple-shaped leaves. It can grow to a height of about two metres.
The flowers have a blood red centre. They do not last long, opening light yellow in the morning and turning a gorgeous pink as they wither off by mid-day. The fruit is a fleshy, juicy, dark red calyx consisting of five large sepals enclosing a green seed capsule. Each capsule contains three to four brown kidney-shaped seeds. The capsule turns from green to brown and splits open when mature.
The cultivar, H. sabdariffa var. sabdariffa race ruber, is grown for the calyxes we use in making roselle drinks. Another cultivar H. sabdariffa var. altisimer is grown commercially for the production of jute-fibre in India.
Despite its short life (about a year or less) as an annual, it is very productive. A healthy plant can easily produce about 250 calyxes per annum. If you have five to seven mature plants, you can harvest the fruit every fortnightly and have enough to give neighbours and friends.
Young shoots and leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. In any case roselle is already known as a health drink due to its high contents of vitamin C and anthocyanins (antioxidants). Vitamin C and anthocyanins found in roselle juice or tea drink are good for our health and can increase the level of resistance of our body to diseases. In some countries roselle is becoming increasingly popular for health purposes, for example its leaves and fruits are claimed to be effective in controlling high blood pressure.