It’s Decaf!

Since I live in Florida, I have the opportunity to grow various types of plants pretty much year-round. In the past year, I’ve started growing sugarcane, harvested one bunch of lackluster bananas, and started a raised bed vegetable garden that has given me as many as six okras. After all that work, imagine my surprise when I learned that I had shrubs already growing in the yard that I can make tea from! Wow!

The plant in question is a common ornamental yard plant in south Florida called hibiscus. It’s part of the mallow family (along with marshmallow and okra) and produces beautiful flowers that can be bred into almost any color, although most common varieties are red, orange, pink, or white. The plant is an important symbol of many Asian and Pacific countries including South Korea and Malaysia. Most of the plants I’ve seen here are used for show, but it turns out that using the flower’s petals to make a tea is a common drink in other parts of the world. The leaves can also be used to make tea, but I haven’t tried that out yet.

Step 1! Gather the flowers, either from the ground after they have fallen off of the plant, or cut fresh flowers off of the plant directly.

My hibiscus flowers only last for a few days on the plant, at which point they fall off. The flowers also close up at night, presumably to protect the interior of the flower from the elements. This is why they appear closed in the picture; they fall off the plant after closing for the last time. The petals can be opened and separated from the rest of the flower.

Step 2! Separate the petals.

At this point, I either make the tea right away or set the petals out in the house to dry so I can store them for later. This time I made fresh tea though!

Step 3! Put them in a pot.

I boil the water on the grill’s side burner. I’m not sure if this is more energy efficient than the electric stove in the house, but at least if I spill anything outside I don’t have to clean it up. I bring the water to a boil, add a whole bunch of sugar, then turn off the gas and add the petals to steep for about 15 minutes.

Step 4! Remove petals and drink.

The petals lose their color quickly and take on the appearance of boiled cabbage. This is fine! From here I either strain the petals out of the tea or scoop them out of the pot with a wooden spoon. I also like to chill it in the refrigerator for a couple hours (hot beverages haven’t really sat well with me since moving to Florida). I experimented with adding lime as well but didn’t really care for it.

So that’s it! There’s no caffeine in hibiscus, though, but apparently there are some health benefits and it also tastes pretty good. Score! After finding this out I added a few more bushes to my yard to make sure I have a fresh supply of petals at all times.

Photo: a flower on my hibiscus that I definitely plucked from the plant to make this batch of tea.

Hurricane Erika – Update

After maybe briefly making hurricane status (and causing a lot of panic in Florida) Hurricane Erika disappeared after tracking a little too far west and hitting mountains in Hispaniola and Cuba. We did get a bunch of rain and wind (and I got to surf on my new Meyerhoffer board!) but luckily I didn’t have to test out my new storm shutters on my old house.

I did get a chance to participate in the hurricane panic, though. I went to the grocery store to get 10 gallon jugs of water about six days before the projected landfall. (Recommendations say each person needs about 1-2 gallons of water a day. Don’t forget you have to flush the toilet too!) The grocery store was cleaned out, as everyone stocked up on bread and milk. It reminded me a little bit of growing up in the Carolinas when a snow storm was forecasted. We’d maybe get an inch of snow and everyone would panic and storm the grocery store (pun intended). The hurricane threat in Florida is a little more real than the snow threat in the Carolinas, though.

I also went to Home Depot to help a friend of mine buy plywood about four days before the projected landfall. He’s been renovating a house from scratch, and getting hurricane shutters (justifiably) wasn’t on the top of his to-do list until recently. I think we bought 22 sheets of plywood, but we had to wait in line to get them.

Probably the worst thing that happened to me this weekend was sitting on the side of the road for 45 minutes because my surfing friend locked his key in the car after we got out of the ocean. Oh well! At least we only live a mile or so from the beach. No harm done!

Hurricane season isn’t quite over yet, thought, so we’re not quite out of the woods for the year. Due to the El Nino we’re having, however, we’re not forecast to get very many storms this year. Good for my house, bad for my surfing! But each time we get a scare, it’s a good reminder that we could lose anything at any time. Even if we’re not in Florida during hurricane season.

Photo: Tropical Storm Erika’s actual track, showing a path over some substantial mountains, then turning into a tropical depression, then a tropical wave, then a brief rainstorm. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.