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Medicinal Plant of the Month: Swamp Rosemallow

Swamp Rosemallow

Get out and enjoy an evening stroll along the Art Trail during this muggiest month of the year!  😉


Swamp Rosemallow, in glorious pink.

While you’re out, take a moment to appreciate the beauty of our native Swamp Rosemallow, Hibiscus moscheutos. This show-stopper is an herbaceous perennial towering to a height of 7 feet with blooms as big as your face! The colors range from white to pink to red, depending on variety. This particular species of hibiscus is cold-hardy and grows excellently along stream banks and in rich boggy soils.

Io moth

Io moth

You could probably guess this plant plays an important ecological role in nourishing our ruby-throated hummingbirds, Archilochus colubris. Hibiscus plants double as a host to the Io moth. Grey hairstreak butterflies and many other beneficial insects frequent this plant as well.

Grey hairstreak butterfly

Grey hairstreak butterfly

Medicinally, hibiscus is used for a variety of ailments: acting as an antiviral, used to relieve menstrual cramps, steeped into a tea for cooling the body down in summer, to lower blood pressure … the list goes on …. Hibiscus is also an ingredient in many commercial herbal teas. In Indian tradition, the roots are made into various concoctions, while in Mexico, they favor the petals and create:

Aqua de Jamaica

  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups dried hibiscus petals (the redder the better!!)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup chopped piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar cones)
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar


hibiscus drinkPlace 6 cups of water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Stir in the hibiscus petals, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice. Reduce heat to medium-low, and gently simmer until the water has turned a deep red, 30 to 45 minutes.

Stir the chopped piloncillo into the hibiscus water until dissolved, then set aside to cool 15 minutes. After cooling, strain the warm liquid into a 1 gallon pitcher through a wire mesh strainer. Squeeze as much liquid from the petals as you can, then discard the petals. Stir in the white sugar until dissolved, then pour in enough cold water to fill the pitcher. Serve immediately or let stand overnight for best taste.

Needless to say, this is an awesome plant that would make an excellent addition to any garden (it doesn’t like to be dry though). Note:  When you’re plant shopping, please don’t mistake Swamp Rosemallow for its cousin–Rose of Sharon, H. syriacus—this guy is an aggressive self-seeding shrub and not recommended in our beautiful Ozark foothills! Thanks and as always–Happy Gardening!!

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