When I was younger I loooooved Kool-Aid. It wasn’t until college that I sadly discovered the evilness of Kool-Aid’s ingredients and gave it up. Luckily, soon after Kool-Aid and I broke up, I took a trip to Jamaica with a friend who’s father is Jamaican. They introduced me to sorrel drink. Fast forward to my twenties when I started spending lots of time in Central America and was offered a drink called rosa de jamiaca. Surprise! It was sorrell drink!
This delicious bright red sweet tropical beverage is what I nicknamed Nature’s Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid on a summer afternoon holds lots of nostalgia and familiarity and makes great intro when you’re seeking to get people to try new foods from the garden. Sorrel is a fun and easy plant to grow in warm weather and sorrel buds are the main ingredient in this healthy high vitamin C Kool-Aid replacement.
In this Wonder Wednesday photo essay let’s celebrate sorrel harvest season by learning to grow, harvest, and prepare Nature’s Kool-Aid! Every hot afternoon needs a sweet bright red refreshment and this one can be picked fresh from the garden and made by the children!
First in the spring after all danger of frost has passed find yourself a sorrel plant at a local nursery or order seeds. If you live in south Florida, you can plant and grow sorrel all year long! Find it by its Botanical name: Hibiscus sabdariffa or Common names: Roselle, Rosella, Indian Sorrel, Jamaica Sorrel, Jamaican Sorrel, Red Sorrel, Maleate, Vinagreira, Aced era de Guinea, Cabitutu, Rosa de Jamaica, Vinuela.
Plant it in an area with full sun and plenty of room as sorrel is more of a shrub size style plant. I’ve grown plants that got way taller than me! The plant itself is pretty self sufficient and you can pretty much let it go as long as it gets watered. It will grow through the summer and toward the very end, as the seasons turn to fall you will notice the buds, the flowers, and finally the red calyxes appear.
These are what you will harvest. This plant makes beautiful hibiscus looking flowers because sorrel and hibiscus are in the same family!
Remember to let a few calyxes go to seed so you can start your own plants from seed next year. Once you have harvested all the calyxes, over the period of about a month or so, the plant will die back and can be removed.
After each harvest, let them dry a couple days out on the counter or other dry place. This concentrates the sorrel a bit. If you have more buds than you want to consume in a week or so, dry them in a dehydrator and save them as you would any dry herb or tea.
You can pick the red parts off and compost the green seed pod in the center, or if you are with students and making tea right from the harvest don’t worry about it. Just use the whole calyx.
To make Nature’s Kool-Aid from your calyxes, first bring your water to a boil. My tea pot holds 6 cups, so this recipe will base around that measurement. You can easily make larger quantities in a big pot on the stove. You will actually be making a tea as your base from the buds. (Sorrel is the main ingredient in Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea!)
While the water is boiling, measure out 1 cup of sorrel per 6 cups of water. Place the buds into your tea pot’s infuser.
Pour the boiling water over them or just throw them into the big pot once the water is boiling, cover, and remove from heat.
Let the buds steep for 30 minutes to an hour, or more if you want it to be really strong. Really what you are looking for is a deep red color to the water. Of course taste it too. The infusion should have a bright tangy taste, not watery. The pot below is not done steeping yet.
Once steeped, remove the plants from the tea. They will be faded and jelly-ish. You may decide to strain the tea further at this point to remove all the little bits that have fallen off the buds, but I usually don’t bother.
Now it’s time to sweeten. I add 1 heaping teaspoon of organic fair trade sugar for each cup of water, so 6 heaping teaspoons for the 6 cups of tea I have made. The amount of sweetener you use is really up to you though. You can also use honey or agave, but you will definitely have to sweeten to your personal taste. It is delicious unsweetened, but then it’s not Nature’s Kool-Aid!
Once your sorrel tea is sweetened, pour it into glasses with ice and TaDa! You have Nature’s Kool-Aid! Easy as that!!
Have a variation on the recipe? Do you add lemon or something more “adult”?Share in the comments!
Share your Nature’s Kool-Aid parties on Instagram #wingswormsandwonder
Seeds to Sprout:
Add fresh ginger juice to your Nature’s Kool-Aid to spice it up a bit!
Want to make Nature’s Kool-Aid now, but don’t live in the tropics or want to wait to grow the plant? Check your local natural foods store, Latin, or Caribbean market for the dried buds.
Can’t find sorrel seeds or plants locally? Order some organic sorrel seeds here.