7 January 2008

Bush tucker

This is part of last year's rosella harvest.

Bush tucker is the aboriginal term for edible plants and animals. There are a few bush tucker foods in our area, we have lilly pilly, macadamia nuts, lemon myrtle and rosellas (Hibiscus heterophyllus). I'm sure there are more but I've never had the time to identify what grows near us.

This photo, taken this morning, shows an opening rosella flower with a couple of small red rosellas growing near it. These rosellas are only about a quarter of the size they will eventually grow.

Rosellas thrive here and we grow them every year for jam. I believe you can also eat the leaves as a kind of spinach but I've never tried it. This year we have planted a lot of rosella bushes as I want to make jam, tea and cordial using the rosella flowers. Hanno has had high blood pressure for many years and recent research at the Universiry of Queensland indicates rosellas may help reduce hypertension. My plan is to produce enough rosellas for the entire year so that Hanno may have rosella tea, cordial or jam every day.

Rosella jam boiling on the stove.

We've just had two weeks of rain and the half grown bushes were knocked around quite severely with the rain and wind. Side branches snapped off, as the bushes aren't very strong, and several of them have wilted. I hope we can save them.

I took this photo this morning. These bushes are still only small but are already producing edible fruit.

Rosellas grow in hot weather, so we plant our seeds in late September and plant the seedlings out in November. They like full sun and a fair bit of water. The fruits form after the pretty flowers fade. We grow the pink flower variety but there is also a yellow form.

If you live in a hot area, you should try growing rosellas. The jams and teas made from this bush are delicious. Do you eat any of your native foods? I'd love to know who is eating what and how easy your native foods are to find.

Recipes for rosella jam, cordial and tea. Rosella jam.



  1. Hi Rhonda
    I have never heard of Rosellas before but we do collect blackberries. There are a bit strong on their own but make good jam and crumbles and pies when cooked up with cooking apples. We also colelct Sloes, from the Hawthorn bushes, to make Sloe Gin. Sloe gin made when the Sloes are ripe is ready to drink at Christmas so I am sure this is what they were meant for! We also have chestnuts which are good roasted and other nuts if the squirrels dont beat you to it (ours do, they strip the nut tree overlooking our allotment before we even realise the nuts are nearing readiness). Seaweed is also collected in a few places, plus ofcourse cockles and mussles but not near us unfortuntely. I a,m sure I will think of loads more once I finish but thats all that springs to mind for the moment.

    Best Wishes


  2. Hello Rhonda,
    at a Christmas Cocktail party somebody had whole preserved Rosella Flowers. They were served in the bottom of a flute glass and topped with sparkling wine, very pretty, very nice. J

  3. Hi Rhonda Jean,
    I love your blog. Its on my daily list. There is so much snow here I am a tad envious of you folks down under. My hens will NOT touch the snow with their feet so if I want them to get out when it is warm, like today, 37 degree F I have to put hay on top of the snow. Mu hens are just starting to lay. (they are new ones) and I am so excited. Keep up the good work. Your writing is great. My blog is basically for my family, so they can keep up with my doings. Jan

  4. Hi Rhonda Jean :) I enjoyed this post! I would love to try your rosella recipes and will have to do some searching to find them here.

    We enjoy blackberries (in teas, jams, cobblers, ice creams, etc), and pecans (in so many, many dishes) - both are native and grow in our yard and beyond the pastures. Love to you! Q

  5. My Mum always made rosella Jam when we lived in Darwin, back many years ago. I can remember eatinmg the jam, but not the taste of it :)
    I presume we must have eated it all which is why she continued to make more. Not sure the bushes would grow in Adelaide, but then again given the hot & dry summers we are having they probably would!

  6. Hi Rhonda,

    Blueberries grow in abundance in the part of the world I am from. In the summer months I have gone into the bush to pick them -- they can be used on top of yogurt, into muffins, mixed with some banana and milk for a sweet breakfast treat or even turned into jam if you want to!

  7. Hi Rhonda, We have wild Blueberries and Raspberries which we make jams, jelly, pie fillings and freeze. Our climate will not grown Rosella, is there a taste similar to it you could name? Just curious :)

  8. Rhonda,
    What do rosellas taste like? Are they like a raspberry? A strawberry? Currants? A rose/floral taste? Sour? Sweet?
    Just curious... can't wait to plant mine!
    Happy New Year,

  9. Hi Rhonda,
    I would suggest a little more research before taking rosellas every day. I found this warning on doing some further reading. I don't know if this has been confirmed, or if the gentleman assumed his kidney damage was from the rosella tea when actually from something else. You know how people tend to blame the new thing in their life for whatever goes wrong.
    "WARNING. It should be noted that although numerous references suggest that no hibiscus is known to be poisonous, Peter Hardwick has expressed concern in relation to Hibiscus heterophyllus. In the Australian Food Plants Study Group Newsletter of February 1995 it was reported that he suffered kidney damage from drinking H. heterophyllus tea over a few days and that discussions with Aborigines confirmed that they use this plant only sparingly as a medicinal plant, rather than to eat."

    I'll be doing some further research myself.

    Regards, Kate (from Brisbane)

  10. Hi, it's Kate again.

    I've done some more searching on the web and that one incident is the only one I can find. Could have been a furphy or one of those one-off incidences in reaction to something else. Mr Hardwick is still involved in the bushfood industry and there seems to be nothing else mentioned by him about it, so I guess if you take into account all the use of it over the decades, it's probably safe. Hope I didn't scare you off your plans with my little panic attack.

    Regards, Kate (Brisbane)

  11. Hi Rhonda Jean

    I've just been reading about the flooding in Eastern Australia. I hope you are fine and not too affected by it, although I know the water will be a joy after the droughts.

    All the best to your Aussie readers too who have been affected by the flooding.

    I wish you all well,

  12. Ooh you have some rather nice bush tucker in your neck of the woods Rhonda! :-)

  13. We go morel (mushroom) hunting every year. They are delicious fried up with cornmeal coating. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morel

    I'm enjoying your blog tremendously. I read it daily.

  14. Hi RHonda Jean,
    I have an award for you,please drop by and pick it up.

  15. Morel hunting! I haven't done that in years....brings back lots of memories. We fried them with molasses I think. I never ate them but I did enjoy hunting for them as a kid. Thanks for reminding me ladyfromthewoods!

  16. What do rosellas taste like? I guess they like hotter temperatures than we get in Melbourne (though we are getting two more 40 degree plus days later this week (sob)). That jam is a really beautiful colour.

    We have just been away on holidays and met lots of members of the bird rosella family, not that I'd want to eat them!

  17. They look very neat! I have never heard of them before though, and I dont believe I have seen them in any of the markets around here.
    What kind of flavor do they give? What kind of nutritional benefits? We live in Texas so Im sure we could grow them!

  18. Rosellas have a tart taste that is tempered with the sugar in the jam or cordial. It's an unusual taste, it tastes of fruit, that's as close as I can come. They're very nice.

  19. oh how neat! I wish I could grow rosellas here.I'm sure in Florida/with the tropical weather that I surely could. hmm any tips on where to find seeds for this plant in the States?
    if so please email me..I'd like to grow it and make jelly too.
    I have had tea with hibiscus flavor in it before and its quite yummy.

  20. Hi Rhonda!

    I live in West Africa and roselle ice tea (which is called bissap here, and Jamaica in Latin America) is the national drink. It's also used in recipes calling for fresh cranberries. At a recent Christmas party, I had the most delicious dish made with fresh bissap. I thought you might enjoy the recipe:

    "Faux Cranberry Fluff"

    2-3 cups chopped fresh roselle flowers, ground/chopped with blender or food processor

    1 cup sugar

    2 cups miniature marshmallows

    Mix first three ingredients together and let stand overnight in fridge

    2 cups seedless grapes

    1 or 2 cups walnuts or pecans

    1 or 2 cups whipped cream

    Add and stir in the next morning.

  21. Hi Rhonda & Kate,

    I picked up your comments while surfing the net. You never know who is reading this stuff. My name is Peter Hardwick, the bushfood researcher referred to as the person who experienced kidney problems as a result of consuming tea made form Hibiscus heterophyllus leaves. I just want to confirm that the issue of toxicity with H.hterophyllus is very real and unresolved. The most likely culprit is oxalates. Oxalates in rhubarb leaves are the cause rhubarb leaf toxicity - (which can kill people by the way !). there has been a few tests on H.heterophyllus since which have not shown up significant quantities of oxalates (not the same population as the source of the material I used), but different populations can vary in chemistry, and hence in toxin levels. When there is a known example of toxicity - even if anecdotal - then be very wary. One population of H.heterophyllus coudl be safe, anothe rone not. By the way, the introduced commonly used rosella is a different plant.

  22. Hi Rhonda
    I saw this blog by chance; while searching for any article about rosella. I haven't read more than one article, but I love it here.
    I'm from Singapore and have been growing rosella and other organic vegies as a hobby for more than a year in a small plot that I rented from a private farm. Friends told me that I could make cordial from these fruits. I didn't even know that they are called rosella. Locals call these frits ribena because of the smilarity in colour.
    After straining the liquid, I tasted the cooked petals and decided to separate them from the pods and reboil them with more sugar, and, what do you know???? now I have a new stock of jam in my fridge. Can't imagine how excited I was at that time.
    Now I'm going to browse your blog for a better way to prepare the rosella cordial & jam. I intend to bottled them up as a gift to my family and friends.
    Thank you for sharing.


  23. I bought some Rosella seeds from Beautanicals website.

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