Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

Hibiscus in the garden

Hibiscus, unlike most plants, is classified as a “manmade” plant due to its cultivation and hybridization made by humans over multiple years dating all the way back to 1678. The plant originated on the Asian continent, most likely founded in India, but it is uncertain exactly where. Since its popularization, the hibiscus plant has become a staple “stove plant” in American homes, but it has also been incorporated into cultural and religious traditions in places such as Malaysia, Tahiti, Fiji, and Hawaii. Hibiscus was even adopted by the Territory of Hawaii as its official flower in 1923. Now, hibiscus is still used in its traditional fashions, but has also been incorporated into textile fashion trends, and commonly steeped to make tea.

Sow seeds indoors 12 weeks before last frost, or directly sow outdoors after last frost. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep and space seedlings 2-3 feet apart after germination. Hibiscus requires full or partial sun and moist soil. Hibiscus is a perennial that will bloom from early spring to late fall.

While the hibiscus flower is in full bloom, the plant is ready to be harvested. Harvest by removing the whole flower from the calyx which separates the plant from the flower and stem.

The flower petals and sepals of the hibiscus plant are primarily used to create dye, but the leaves have also been used to create a nice brown hue. Dark red hibiscus flowers are able to produce a rich red dye, whereas pink hibiscus flowers produce beautiful gold and tan dyes. There are multiple ways to create dye matter using hibiscus. The most popular is the hot water method, where the hibiscus is simmered in water for 30 minutes to extract the dye being careful not to get too hot, and the cold water method where covered dried flowers are soaked in cold water for 24 hours in the sun. Fabric should be mordanted when working with hibiscus.

Dye concentrate recipe:

8 grams dried hibiscus

24 ounces water

Simmer mordanted fabric in dyestuff for 1 hour at 140° Fahrenheit.

Let fabric soak in dye bath for 24 hours at room temperature, then strain and rinse.