Our 2023 EFN seed catalogue is now online! 100+ new varieties. Over 40 different growers and foragers from across the country. A million thanks to all who make this possible, especially our amazing seed-house crew!
Now here's an interesting plant! Abelmoschus manihot is a close relative of okra, but it's grown primarily for its nutritious and delicious greens. "Aibika" is the name used in New Guinea for this globally popular mallow, and it has somehow become the main common name for this species in English, according to most sources. But since that name really only feels appropriate for varieties from New Guinea, we're referring to this Japanese strain as "sunset hibiscus" (another common name for the species). Abelmoschus manihot can produce an astounding 150 tons of leaves per acre, making it perhaps the most productive leaf crop on earth (an excellent, highly productive, enormous cabbage might yield 50 tons per acre). This variety came into the USDA's collection in early 1973, donated by a Dr. H. Kuwada from Kagawa University in Kagawa, Japan, on the island of Shikoku. We assume it was a locally used variety from somewhere in Japan, but its origins before it came into Dr. Kuwada's hands are currently obscure. It has smoother, larger leaves than the other Abelmoschus manihot we currently offer, the Korean Silkflower.
Native to southeast Asia, Abelmoschus manihot is now widely grown in tropical regions around the world, particularly from Africa to the Pacific Islands. It is cultivated primarily as a leaf vegetable, but the young flower buds are also eaten. The leaves are edible raw, or steamed, boiled, baked, stir-fried, etc. They are flavorful and mucilaginous, with thickening properties much like okra in soup, and are also highly nutritious, rich in vitamins and minerals. Young pods may be eaten as a vegetable, and there's some talk about the dried pods being ground into flour. In Japan and Korea the roots of Abelmoschus manihot are used in a special traditional paper-making process. The stalks may also be used for fiber, but this is less common among cultivated varieties. And the seeds are rich in a high-oleic acid edible oil.
There's a great deal of diversity of forms in this species, with leaves ranging from round or heart-shaped, to maple-like, to spindly and star-shaped like cannabis. We are looking forward to trying out more diversity in future years. It makes attractive, large, yellowish flowers reminiscent of okra flowers and other hibiscus cousins, but showier than okra. Even if not eaten, this plant has immense ornamental value. It grows very easily and readily from seed. It also flowers profusely and sets prolific amounts of its oil-rich seeds.
We recommend this plant for lovers of okra especially.
These seeds were grown by our friend Lina Bird of Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, with seeds Nate got from the USDA.
GROWING TIPS: Sunset hibiscus is very easy to grow. Simply direct-sow seeds half-an-inch to an inch deep in a well-prepared bed after all danger of frost has passed. Or start in flats a few weeks before last frost. If grown as a vegetable crop, plants should be spaced at least two feet apart or more so they have plenty of room to get big.