The Traditional Uses of Sorrel in Jamaica
By Rochelle Clarke
Sorrel is a European herb plant with arrow-shaped leaves, red flowers, and stems. Its name is derived from the old French word surele. Like many popular plants grown in the Caribbean region, sorrel has its origins in West Africa. Also known as Roselle, or less by its scientific name Hibiscus sabdariffa, sorrel is a species of the Hibiscus family.
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. Sorrel was planted in most gardens on the island of Jamaica. The plant grows to at least six feet tall, takes a period of one year to bloom, and dies after it is harvested. The crop is sold in many shops, supermarkets and markets islandwide.
Traditionally, sorrel is used in Jamaica for a variety of purposes. It is considered to be a medicinal plant as it contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Sorrel is commonly taken orally for the treatment of sinusitis, bronchitis, high cholesterol levels, managing high blood pressure, and enhancing the function of the liver. It is also a high source of Vitamin C. Additionally; sorrel is used to make jams, soups, teas and drinks.
The sorrel drink is prepared by adding ginger and spices. It is washed, then placed in a large container with grated ginger, orange peel, and cloves. Boiling water is poured in the container and the contents are left for hours to infuse. It is thereafter strained and sweetened to taste. The addition of rum or red wine is optional. For preservation, it is bottled with a some grains of rice. The drink is dark red, a bit sour, with a raspberry-like flavour. It has remained the most popular drink in Jamaica and the Caribbean at large, especially at Christmas time. When visiting friends or relatives during the festive season, visitors expect to be served a cool drink of sorrel. This has become a part of our Jamaican culture.
INGREDIENTS FOR SORREL DRINK:
- 1 pound sorrel
- 2 quarts boiling water
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 piece of ginger
- 8-12 pimento grains
- Rum/wine (optional)
- A few rice grains or barley
Sorrel and ginger
- Marcelle, M. (1978). Sorrel: A truly Jamaican tradition. Jamaica Journal, 11(3
& 4): 60-61.
- Murphy, W. (2014). Jamaican Sorrel Drink Recipe. Retrieved from
- Barzey, U. (2014). Sorrel Drink, a Caribbean Favourite During the Christmas
Season. Retrieved from
Date posted: February 4, 2019