Abelmoschus manihot (formerly known as Hibiscus manihot)
Origin: tropical Asia
Plant: Sept – Feb
Harvest: Jan – May
Propagation: By cuttings taken in Spring & Summer
A perennial that can grow to 2+ metres, aibika benefits from pruning at the beginning of each growing season to make the plant bush out. It is a hardy plant and prefers a sunny aspect with rich, moist, well- drained soil and protection from frosts.
The two main types grown on the Sunshine Coast have either finger-like leaves or a tri-lobe form. Aibikas are heavy feeders, so, to ensure constant leaf production, regular fertilising during the growing season is essential. Propagation is by cuttings taken in Spring and Summer or by seed saved from the yellow hibiscus-type flower. Grasshoppers are very fond of aibika, so a good deterrent is to interplant aibika with perennial bush basil.
Aibika is very attractive planted in groups or as a hedge in the garden, where it provides a cool microclimate under its large leaves. Consider growing a ground cover of peanuts under (for nitrogen fixing), with a tomato or bean growing up the aibika’s trunk and you have a productive nitrogen-fixing guild with food on the way.
Aibika is very nutritious, with plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron and can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.
Tropical greens – pick young leaves and add in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking, or use the leaves sparingly in a salad as they contain mucilage and can make your finished dish quite slimy if too many are added. Older leaves will definitely need to be cooked to remove the mucilage. Large leaves can be used as wraps and to make dolmades. The flowers are also edible and can be eaten either raw or cooked.