A Jamaican Holiday Tradition

A festive drink made by steeping hibiscus flowers, sorrel is a holiday favorite throughout the Caribbean. Making this burgundy treat is a Christmas tradition in many Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, St. Lucia, Grenada, Montserrat, Dominica, Antigua, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago. Variations of the drink have spread far and wide and different versions of the beverage can be found in various African countries and Mexico too, referred to as agua de Jamaica, Red Tea, Roselle, Red Drink, Bissap, Sudanese Tea, and more.

America has eggnog and hot toddy recipes around the holidays, while islanders prefer this customary beverage that is enjoyed many ways—spiked or sans alcohol; hot or cold; fresh or aged.

Holiday Tradition

Sorrel is the Jamaican name for a type of hibiscus flower known as the Roselle. The dried sepals (the outer parts) of the hibiscus flower create a versatile and colorful red liquid when infused with hot water. The juice of the sepals is quite tart (like the taste of cranberries) on its own and that is why it’s mixed with sweeteners and other flavors. In the Caribbean, sorrel became a Christmastime tradition in part because the roselle hibiscus plant, in the past, was available only during that time of year. Today, the plant is cultivated year-round, but even still, sorrel-making remains a Christmas practice and the popular island drink is served at holiday family celebrations and gatherings most commonly. So, if you’re ever wondering about what to do in Jamaica during the holidays, seek out an opportunity to make and indulge in sorrel.

The Best Part

Besides being able to keep for several weeks, sorrel’s health benefits are plentiful. Consumption of sorrel (minus copious amounts of sugar and alcohol) can help lower high blood pressure and its diuretic properties are said to be beneficial for kidney health. Sorrel is high in vitamin C and has the power to help stave off cold and flu viruses. It is also believed that having a few glasses of sorrel during that time of the month can help ease cramping.

What's Your Flavor

Different regions throughout the Caribbean and beyond give sorrel its own spin—adding ginger ale, sugar, wine, rum, and other herbs and spices. Cinnamon, cloves, and bay leaves are added in Trinidad and Tobago’s tincture, and some Jamaicans add cinnamon to their sorrel brews. The sorrel drink is usually prepared long before Christmas Day with one of the first steps being to steep the outer skin of the red fruit in hot water. This can be done with fresh or dried flowers—this produces a rich red liquid expressive of the color of Christmas. Making and tasting this Jamaican indulgence is nearly just as coveted as going on an excursion in Jamaica considering sorrel-making is a cultural expedition of sorts!

Is your mouth watering yet? We would be remiss not to leave you with a recipe. So, here you go!

A Simple Jamaican Christmas Sorrel Recipe

Spice things up with a beloved West Indies favorite: zesty split pea fritters made from a split pea batter and seasoned with different spices and a hot pepper.


  • 3 cups sorrel (hibiscus) flowers/buds
  • ¾ pound peel-on ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 2 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup red wine (optional)
  • ½ cup white or dark rum (optional)
  • Ground cinnamon sprinkle (optional)
  • Water


  1. Prepare: Rinse sorrel in cold water thoroughly; peel and grate ginger; roughly crush allspice berries.
  2. In a large pot, mix 3 quarts water with sorrel, ginger, cloves, and crushed allspice, and boil until the sorrel begins to plump and swell (about 8 minutes).
  3. Once cooled, steep the mixture in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
  4. After 3 days (or as little as 8 hours of steeping), strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer in a large pitcher. Be sure to press on the solids to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  5. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add sugar. Continue boiling until sugar dissolves. This is your homemade simple syrup!
  6. Stir simple syrup into the strained sorrel, ½ cup at a time, until desired sweetness level is achieved.
  7. Add rum and wine (optional) and chill until ready to drink. Serve over ice.

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