Discover the Edible Beauty of ‘Panama Red’ Hibiscus

It‘s always a delight to discover a plant that adds drama to the garden...

and to the dinner table as well. ‘Panama Red’ Hibiscus is the perfect example. It is bred for the hot and humid gardens of the South and is ideal for edible landscaping. Its striking burgundy-red, deeply cut foliage is as magnificent as that of any Japanese maple, and looks quite beautiful in a salad, too! Here are three ways you can enjoy the strikingly versatile ‘Panama Red’ Hibiscus.

In the Garden

With luxuriant foliage and a compact size of just four feet tall and two feet wide, ‘Panama Red’ Hibiscus is an excellent focal point for small spaces and containers. Add a touch of the tropics to any garden by pairing it with Lydia™ Tecoma or Queen Mum™ Agapanthus. Its carmine foliage also combines well with yellow and white blossoms and chartreuse foliage, such as that of ‘Sunshine’ Ligustrum. Although bred for its foliage, ‘Panama Red’ will bloom sporadically in crimson red. While these plants are exceptionally heat tolerant, they do need plenty of water. Keep soil evenly moist, and remember to water container plants daily in hot weather.

On the Table

Both the foliage and flowers of ‘Panama Red’ Hibiscus are edible. Young leaves have a tart, lemony flavor, are rich in vitamin C and thiamin, and may be eaten raw or cooked. Its red foliage also adds color and flavor to salads. Leaves retain their color, size and flavor when cooked, but become slightly mucilaginous. For this reason, it is best to cook hibiscus in small amounts for a short period of time. A common use for cooked hibiscus leaves is in stir-fries – just be sure to add the leaves toward the end of preparation.

At Tea Time

In Central America, hibiscus is used in brewing sun teas and refreshing lemonades. Two species of hibiscus are common in drinks – Hibiscus sabdariffa, whose calyces lend a tart flavor to infusions; and Hibiscus acetosella, whose petals are used primarily for color. ‘Panama Red’ belongs to the species Hibiscus acetosella. Its red flowers can be harvested to add color to drinks similar to the use of the red calyces of the closely-related Hibiscus sabdariffa. To brew a lovely red infusion, steep ‘Panama Red’ flower petals in boiling water. Add sugar, lemon or lime juice, and water to taste. Serve chilled over ice for a refreshing summer drink.

Note: Little research and testing have been conducted on the nutrition and safety of consuming hibiscus flowers and leaves. As with any herb, pregnant or breast-feeding women as well as children should use extra caution. People with diabetes and low blood pressure should use caution, as consumption of hibiscus may lower blood sugar and blood pressure. Also consider potential drug interactions before consuming herbals; hibiscus is known to interact with acetaminophen.