Like so many others, we had a quiet new year at home. To be honest, we tend to favour quiet new years at home so I can not claim this is due to keeping ourselves safe in these Covid times. Neither can I be trumpeting the usual happy new year greetings. With Omicron knocking on our border doors, I feel all we can do is hope that 2022 will be better for us all than 2021. To those of you with Omicron already swirling all around you, may you stay safe and well – or at least recover quickly and completely if it catches you. This is a year of modest hopes and expectations.
If you look closely, you will notice the red flowers in our glasses of bubbly. These came in a small jar, labelled ‘Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup’, part of a Christmas package of goodies from our Sydney daughter. These are new to us although, looking on the internet, I am guessing more urban readers who lead sophisticated lives which involve cocktail bars and upmarket restaurants may have met them before. My local supermarket – Waitara New World – does not run to stocking wild hibiscus flowers in syrup, being more utility in character.
Being a gardener, I had to look up these wild hibiscus. Hibiscus sabdariffa, common name roselle, is native to West Africa but now widely distributed across the tropical and subtropical world. It was popular in the West Indies by the 1500s and in Asia by the 1600s. It is the calyx of the flower – in other words, the cup part that holds the petals of the flower – that is gracing our drinks but its early popularity will have nothing to do with drinking bubbly or cocktails. It is one of those enormously versatile plants. The calyxes are eaten both fresh and preserved in sweet and savoury dishes, the stems and leaves used as vegetables and seasoning, both cooked and raw, in Africa the oily seeds are also consumed while in Asia, the plant is harvested commercially for the fibre that is extracted from the stems. But wait there is more. It is a traditional herbal remedy that contains anti-oxidants, used to treat many ailments from cancer to heart problems.
When the petals are still attached to the calyx, the plant looks just like a typical hibiscus with the darker centre containing the stamens, surrounded by a single set of petals, mostly white, flushed pink or pink but there are red forms.
I do not think our eleven calyxes in a jar of syrup are going to cure any of our ailments but they are deliciously fruity to eat after consuming the drink.
On another topic, I usually photograph the towering Trichocereus pachanoi against a blue sky. But as the evening draws in, the flowers open fully and the scent hangs heavy in the air even several metres from the plant. Night-scented flowers are usually an indicator that the plant is pollinated by moths.
Go well. Stay safe.