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Plant identification guides:
Bush tucker food forest

Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


As with all medicinal applications of Australian bush foods, please do your due diligence and consult with First Nations or other Australian herbal specialists before utilising as a remedy for any condition.


Some parts of the plant may not be edible or some may need preparation before they are safe to eat or use in any way. We do our best to describe their traditional & modern uses. It is the reader’s responsibility to ensure they are fit for their intended use.


We can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.


Scientific name:

Other Names:

Hibiscus heterophylus

Native rosella, toilet paper bush


Malvaceae (same as okra, cotton and durian)


Basic info:

Hibiscus is a widespread genus of the family Malvaceae, consisting of 250 species, ranging from tropical to temperate regions. Of these species, 35 are native to Australia, and are largely restricted to the East Coast.

Hibiscus heterophyllus is a tall, fast-growing shrub which produces an abundance of flowers and edible fruits, attracting many native birds and insects. It has a natural range from the Lockhart River at the very tip of Queensland, down through eastern and central New South Wales, preferring warm, moist environments. While the natural population doesn't venture further south, it has been successfully cultivated in Canberra, and as far south as Melbourne.

There is much natural variation H. heterophyllus flowers, largely a result of the environment within which it grows. For example, in northern Queensland the flowers tend to be a bright yellow colour and begin in June, while further south they tend to be white and begin in December.

The leaves are up to 200 mm long by 100 mm wide and may be linear to oval shaped either entire or 3-lobed.

Flowers are large, up to 150 mm in diameter of typical hibiscus shape. In common with most Hibiscus species, the individual flowers last only 1-2 days but new flowers continue to open over a long period, generally from spring through to summer. Blooms are followed by hairy seed capsules containing a number of seeds.

Uses and Interesting Information:

The flower buds can be made into a jam and used raw in salads or boiled as a vegetable. It is rich in pectin and citric acid, has a pleasant acid flavour, and is an excellent ingredient for adding flavour.

Indeed, every part of this plant can be eaten (However, see “warning” below):

  • Young shoots are edible – raw or cooked and are pleasantly acid. They can be used raw mixed in salads, be steamed or boiled as a vegetable or added to soups. The very sour leaves make a good spinach substitute in Greek dishes and an excellent "spinach" pie. The boiled leaves lose their acidity.

  • Flowers and flower buds can be eaten, raw or cooked. The flavour of the flowers is very mild and it has been suggested that perhaps the best use for them is as a colourful edible ornament for a salad. Petals can also be eaten in salads and for jam. The flowers can be stuffed, made into fritters or made into tea and the buds pickled.

  • The roots can also be eaten raw or cooked, and have been likened to woody parsnips.


1.      It should be noted that although numerous references suggest that no hibiscus is known to be poisonous, Peter Hardwick has expressed concern in relation to Hibiscus heterophyllus. In the Australian Food Plants Study Group Newsletter of February 1995 it was reported that he suffered kidney damage from drinking H. heterophyllus tea over a few days and that discussions with Aborigines confirmed that they use this plant only sparingly as a medicinal plant, rather than to eat.[1]

2.      The hairs on the seed capsules can cause severe skin irritation to sensitive people, and need to be handled with care.]

Indigenous people traditionally used the fibre from the bark to make dilli bags (traditional bags used for transporting food), twine and hunting nets.

Author Jules Verne writes in his novel The Mysterious Island that “….nothing remained to be done but to find a plant fit to make the bow-string. This was the “Hibiscus heterophyllus” which furnishes fibres of such remarkable tenacity that they have been compared to the tendons of animals.”

The wood is a pale yellow colour, smooth texture, with an open grain. A tough wood and a good conductor of sound, it is probably suitable for making musical instruments. However, it is regarded as an inferior wood. It blackens with age, warps and splits greatly, is very porous, and has no figure.

Medicinal uses:

In India, Africa and Mexico, all above-ground parts of the roselle plant are valued in native medicine. Infusions of the leaves or calyces are regarded as diuretic, cholerectic, febrifugal and hypotensive, decreasing the viscosity of the blood and stimulating intestinal peristalsis. Pharmacognosists in Senegal recommend roselle extract for lowering blood pressure. In 1962, Sharaf confirmed the hypotensive activity of the calyces and found them antispasmodic, anthelmintic and antibacterial as well. In 1964, the aqueous extract was found effective against Ascaris gallinarum in poultry. Three years later, Sharaf and co-workers showed that both the aqueous extract and the coloring matter of the calyces are lethal to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. In experiments with domestic fowl, rosella extract decreased the rate of absorption of alcohol and so lessened its effect on the system. In Guatemala, roselle "ade" is a favourite remedy for the aftereffects of drunkenness.

In East Africa, the calyx infusion, called "Sudan tea", is taken to relieve coughs. Roselle juice, with salt, pepper, asafoetida and molasses, is taken as a remedy for biliousness.

The heated leaves are applied to cracks in the feet and on boils and ulcers to speed maturation. A lotion made from leaves is used on sores and wounds. The seeds are said to be diuretic and tonic in action and the brownish-yellow seed oil is claimed to heal sores on camels. In India, a decoction of the seeds is given to relieve dysuria, strangury and mild cases of dyspepsia and debility. Brazilians attribute stomachic, emollient and resolutive properties to the bitter roots.


History of Commercialisation

In 1892, there were 2 factories producing roselle jam in Queensland, Australia, and exporting considerable quantities to Europe. This was a short-lived enterprise. In 1909, there were no more than 4 acres (1.6 ha) of edible roselle in Queensland. A Mr. Neustadt of San Francisco imported seeds from Australia about 1895 and shared them with the California State Agricultural Experiment Station for test plantings and subsequent seed distribution. It was probably about the same time that Australian seeds reached Hawaii. In 1904, the Hawaiian Agricultural Experiment Station received seeds from Puerto Rico. In 1913 there was much interest in interplanting roselle with Ceara rubber (Manihot glaziovii Muell. Arg.) on the island of Maui and there were some plantations established also on the island of Hawaii, altogether totaling over 200 acres (81 ha). The anticipated jelly industry failed to materialize and promotional efforts were abandoned by 1929.



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