Sorrel is synonymous with Christmas in the Caribbean. The seasonal plant produces a refreshing sorrel drink that is a favorite during the Christmas season.
Where Did Sorrel Come From
Like many popular plants grown in the Caribbean region, sorrel has its origins in West Africa. Known as Roselle, or less by its scientific name ‘Hibiscus sabdariffa’, sorrel is a species of the Hibiscus family. It bears annually, maturing in about six months and growing to about 7–8 ft. There are different types of sorrel grown in the region, however, the deep red fruit of the Roselle is the most common variety found in the Caribbean.
How To Make Sorrel Drink
One of the main uses of the sorrel plant is to make a homemade beverage. This is usually done in the months of November, December, and January when the fruit is ripe and ready for harvesting. Making sorrel drink is a Christmas tradition in most Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, St. Lucia, Grenada, Montserrat, Dominica, Antigua, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. The fruit itself is fairly inexpensive and can usually be found in abundance at local markets. The dried fruit can last for months to be used all year round.
The sorrel drink is prepared by steeping the outer skin of the red fruit in hot water. This can be done with the fresh or dried sorrel fruit and produces a rich red liquid. Over the years, different Caribbean countries have added their own cultural flavorings to give the sorrel drink a taste unique to that country. In Jamaica, for instance, the sorrel drink is brewed with varying strengths of ginger producing a perky flavor ranging from mild to spicy. Occasionally, a dash of rum may be added to preserve the drink. Cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves are added in Trinidad and Tobago. If sweetness is desired, sorrel requires copious amounts of sugar to sweeten. The drink is served chilled.
Popular Time To Have Sorrel Drink
In Caribbean homes, sorrel drink at Christmas is like pumpkin pie to Americans at Thanksgiving. Hardly a meal is served without it, and guests are usually welcomed with a chilled glass of sorrel drink accompanied by a hearty slice of fruitcake. Of course, the sorrel drink is also served at hotels and restaurants and is quite easy to find for those who want to experience the taste of a Caribbean Christmas. Sorrel drink is also used to make jams and jellies that are available for purchase year round.
Medicinal Benefits of Sorrel Plant
Aside from food and drink, sorrel has many other uses. Research recently confirmed what African and Asian people have known for years – that the sorrel plant has many medicinal benefits. Studies conducted by the Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica revealed that sorrel can eradicate certain types of cancer cells.
The sorrel plant contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, calcium, niacin, riboflavin and a group of compounds called flavonoids. Flavonoids are responsible for the deep red color and are known to act as a powerful antioxidant which eliminates disease-causing free radicals from the body. Scientists also believe that the flavonoids in sorrel may be a useful deterrent against certain types of cancers and help to boost the immune system.
The sorrel plant is also thought to contain antihypertensive properties. Traditional healers in some Asian countries and in Latin America have used the Hibiscus, specifically Roselle, as a diuretic, a mild laxative, and as a treatment for some cardiac and nerve diseases.