Sorrel (Caribbean red drink) – The Washington Post

Red Drink or Sorrel is a traditional sour, sweet and ginger drink served on June 16. It’s made with the hibiscus roselle flower, which is typically grown not for its beauty, but for its tart, cranberry flavor. It is not the same as the large-flowered variety found in many gardens. DC herbalist Sunyatta Amen, who created this recipe, recommends whole spices, with some dried options, but cautions against using powdered versions of these ingredients. To sweeten, she advises avoiding honey, which can dominate, but rather raw cane juice, raw turbinado sugar or agave. Always stir well before serving. “We garnish with a sprig of lightly rubbed mojito mint or African blue basil [which you can find in gardens or gardening shops] leaves to honor the ancestors who have gone before us,” she said. The spicy drink can be served hot or cold.

Active time: 20 minutes ; Total time: 1h40 including 15 minutes of maceration and 1h of cooling

Storage Notes: Refrigerate up to 1 week.

Or buy: Roselle hibiscus flowers can be found in tea shops, Asian, Caribbean, Latin and health food markets, and online. African blue basil leaves can be found in home gardens or garden stores.


8 – 12

Size tested: 8-12 servings; barely makes 1 gallon

  • 1 liter of water

  • 1/2 cup (about 1 ounce) dried roselle hibiscus flowers, cut or whole, or 1 cup fresh roselle flowers

  • 6 whole allspices, folded in parchment paper and lightly crushed by tapping with a heavy bottle or knife handle

  • 5 whole cloves

  • 3 green cardamom pods, folded in parchment paper and lightly crushed by tapping with a heavy bottle or the handle of a knife

  • 1/4 teaspoon green cardamom seeds

  • 1 whole star anise, split, or 11 whole fennel seeds

  • A cinnamon stick (1/2 inch)

  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger or 1/4 teaspoon dried ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • 1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds

  • A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

  • Fresh raw cane juice, turbinado or agave raw sugar, optional, to taste

  • Sprigs of fresh mint, preferably mojito or fresh basil leaves, preferably African or Thai blue basil, for serving (optional)


In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the water to a vigorous boil. Add hibiscus flowers, allspice, cloves, cardamom pods and seeds, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, peppercorns, coriander and chili flakes. Stir and bring back to a rolling boil for 15 minutes. The liquid will reduce a little.

Remove from the heat, cover and let steep for at least 15 and up to 30 minutes. The longer the drink infuses, the darker and tastier it will become. Mix well and strain the drink through a fine mesh strainer into a 1 gallon pitcher.

While the drink is still hot, add fresh raw cane juice, turbinado raw sugar or agave, if using, to taste, stirring until well blended or dissolved. (The amount of sweetener will vary depending on the type and your taste; start with a little and taste until it’s to your liking.)

Refrigerate until chilled, if served cold, at least 1 hour. Mix well before serving and pour into jars or mason jars filled with ice. Garnish with sprigs of mint, basil or African blue basil, if using. The drink can also be served hot, if you prefer.

Origin of the recipe

From herbalist Sunyatta Amen, owner of Calabash Tea & Tonic in Washington, DC

Tested by Ann Maloney.

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