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The lovely hibiscus continues to be the darling of my gardens!   Although the intoxicating aroma of the dramatic white ginger lily (Hedychium coronarium) steals my heart each rainy season,  and the aroma of the ylang ylang stops me in my tracks, the hibiscus holds my admiration and respect.   Thriving in hot climates,  a mature plant adorns the landscape with a daily offering of flowers.  Ranging from the classic five-petaled red flower to soothing peach-colored ones to frilly doubles, they adorn gardens and mark property lines throughout Latin America.

Many people are surprised that the hibiscus flowers and leaves are edible.   Added to salads, their delicate texture and colorful petals enhance the culinary experience.   Not only beautiful, they are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.   A double handful of fresh red blossoms added to a pot of steaming water produces a magical tea!   After half an hour, remove the blossoms, add sugar or honey to taste and serve warm or chilled.  Pour the deep burgundy liquid into a clear or white glass, then watch the magic when lemon is added to the mezcla!   I often pair hibiscus with the juice of maracuya (passion fruit) to make a zinger of a tea that is great alone or served with tequila or pisco for a refreshing cocktail.

Hibiscus tea is a slight diuretic and anti spasmodic;   It eases menstrual cramps and often lessens the severity of difficult periods.   Research suggests that it helps reduce cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, helps with weight control and fights carcinogens.

Hibiscus buds are delicious when added last minute to a mix of sauteed vegetables.     Marie Groff, of Pennsylvania and Costa Rica cleverly stuffs the blossoms and serves them as appetizers!  Add fresh blossoms to a papaya smoothie and watch the colors intensify!   The lovely hibiscus marches to the front of the class when she presides over a seafood gumbo.     When you’re ready to tackle a more-demanding recipe, round up a few handfuls of hibiscus flowers and start cooking!

HIBISCUS GUMBO

Hibiscus and okra are cousins.  After making many batches of fresh hibiscus tea, I realized that hibiscus and okra had many of the same traits.  My roots are very deeply rooted in the Mississippi Delta, so okra was a comfort food that I missed.

“Hmmm,”  I thought.  “I wonder if hibiscus flowers could be a substitute for okra?”

The answer is a great big, “YES!” – and the flowers are much easier to prepare than the okra!

Making the roux is often stated as the hardest part of making a good gumbo.   Making a roux isn’t difficult, it’s just time consuming!  It’s not for the impatient.  After  many hours of slowly coaxing the flour and oil mixture into a rich velvety-brown roux, the rest of the gumbo is fairly easy to make.

Items needed:  Flour, oil, onions, green peppers, jalapenos, parsley, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, salt, pepper, water, and of course, hibiscus flowers!

Enjoy!   Z

Hibiscus Gumbo Pictorial - Original Recipe by Lisa Brunetti

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