Hibiscus heterophyllus was recorded in the Brisbane area in 1824 by Allan Cunningham, in 1828 by Charles Fraser and again in 1844 by Ludwig Leichhardt. Describing the vegetation along the Brisbane River, Cunningham noted that Hibiscus heterophyllus was very frequent on the immediate bank "clothed with a profusion" of flowers.
Leichhardt noted that the plant was to be found all over the colony and that its strong bark made excellent natural rope. Not only is this a showy plant but as Leichhardt recorded it is also a useful plant.
Traditional Aboriginal uses are listed as young shoots, leaves and roots eaten without preparation (WARNING - see below); flowers were eaten raw or cooked; the fibre was used to make dilli bags - the fibre is strong and prepared by maceration; also made into hunting nets.
During the Colonial Period, the buds were cooked and made into jam. Buds can be eaten without cooking in salads or boiled as a vegetable. The petals can be eaten in salads. 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 .
Although profuse, the flowers last only a day but if they are wanted for use at night, they can be picked as they begin to unfurl in the morning, then stored in the refrigerator crisper and if taken out in the late afternoon, will open and stay fresh until about mid-night. The flowers can be stuffed, made into fritters or made into tea and the buds pickled.
Young shoots (WARNING-see below) of Hibiscus also 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 roots can also be eaten raw or cooked.
Hibiscus heterophyllus has been described as a versatile vegetable, with buds that can be stewed as rosellas, leaves tasting like sorrel and roots like woody parsnips. For information on culinary uses see Wild Lime by Juleigh Robins, Allen & Unwin, 1996, page 40.
WARNING. 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.
Form: Shrub to 5 Metres High
Aspect: Full Sun / Semi-Shade
Soil/Conditions: Adaptable / Well-Drained
H. heterophyllus can be cut back by 1/3 after flowering to promote a more bushy habit.
Host Plant for the Hibiscus Harlequin Beetle.
NOTE - Living plants must be collected (by appointment) - postage not available