Hibiscus: A Healthy Beverage From Flower to Cup
Hibiscus is a stunning flower that can be brewed into a delicious tea that doubles as a healthy elixir. Hibiscus has been used in herbal medicine to treat everything from nerve disease to the common cold. Today, meta-analysis and randomized trials have confirmed some of the health benefits of this vibrant tea.
Learn more about the hibiscus plant and how it's brewed into a delicious tea with this guide. We'll introduce you to the beloved plant and show you the potential benefits backed by research.
What Is Hibiscus?
Hibiscus is a flowering plant that belongs to the Malvaceae family, which includes dozens of species of mallow. There are more than 200 species of hibiscus that are cultivated across the globe from the United States to Asia and Africa. The species include both perennial hibiscus plants, shrubs, and small trees as well as annual hibiscus tropical plants. Some of the most commonly cultivated hibiscus species include Hibiscus sabdariffa and Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.
Most hardy hibiscus plants prefer the tropical and subtropical climates. They thrive in full sun—about 6 hours of sunlight is best—and when planted in moist soil. The tropical hibiscus plant has become synonymous with warm, vacation destinations including the Hawaiian islands and Florida.
Hibiscus plants are also commonly known as rose mallow and Rose of Sharon. They are characterized by colorful flowers that can range from deep maroon red flowers to vibrant orange hues and pink flowers. The flowers bloom through late summer and can produce multiple blooms when given proper amounts of plant food.
How to Make Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea is made by infusing fresh or dried hibiscus flowers in boiling water. Hibiscus tea is known in Central America as Agua de Jamaica, in Africa as zobo or bissap, and in the Caribbean as roselle or sorrel.
The infusion produces a sour tea with tart flavors and a delightful floral aroma. The flavor is often described as similar to cranberries. Hibiscus tea is often brewed with a dash of sugar to add contrasting dimension to the tart flavor of the flowers. The red hibiscus flowers create a maroon-colored tea that is vibrant and emits a scented aroma.
To make hibiscus tea, bring water to a rapid boil in a large pot on the stove. Add in a handful of dried hibiscus flowers and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain the flowers using a fine mesh strainer and pour into tea cups. Garnish with a slice of lemon and sweeten using raw honey or cane sugar as desired.
Benefits and Uses of Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea contains large amounts of vitamin C, which helps to boost immune health. A Pakistani study found that hibiscus extract may have an immunomodulatory effect in animals (1). While the results haven't been replicated in human studies yet, the high concentration of vitamin C indicates that hibiscus may help boost immunity and fight off bacterial infections.
Drinking hibiscus tea may help to lower blood pressure when consumed consistently over long periods of time. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology studied the effect of sour tea in the treatment of hypertension. The study consisted of 54 patients who were divided randomly into an experimental group and a control group. The results showed a significant decrease in high blood pressure 15 days after intervention (2).
Fights Free Radicals
Hibiscus tea is chock full of antioxidants that help prevent damage caused by free radicals (3). Free radicals are damaged, uncharged cells that bond with healthy cells and speed up the process of oxidative stress, which has been linked to premature aging and neurodegenerative diseases.
May Aid Cholesterol
Hibiscus tea has long been a staple of Indian herbal medicine such as Ayurveda. It's commonly used to treat heart conditions and the hallmarks of heart disease. One randomized clinical trial examined the effects of hibiscus on cholesterol in 90 hypertensive patients. Researchers found that hibiscus tea helped to increase good HDL cholesterol levels—a protective agent against cardiovascular disease (4).
May Eliminate Head Lice
According to WebMD, a small study found that a combination of hibiscus and herbal ointments helped to eliminate lice (5). Researchers aren't sure about the exact mechanism, but the concoction may help to suffocate the lice or deter them from taking hold.
Adverse Effects of Hibiscus
Hibiscus plants may cause allergies for people who are sensitive to mallow plants. Do not drink this tea if you are allergic to plants in the hibiscus family and discontinue use if you experience symptoms including sneezing, throat irritation, or a rash.
Hibiscus tea may interact with some medications including acetaminophen according to Eur J Drug Metab Pharmacokinet (6). Always talk to your doctor before drinking herbal teas if you are taking any prescription medications. Some hibiscus species have shown a higher risk of drug interactions so it's a good idea to know which type of hibiscus tea you are consuming.
A study published in Phytotherapy Research found that Hibiscus sabdariffa may interfere with the uptake of Diclofenac—a medication used to treat migraines, pain, and arthritis (7). Avoid drinking hibiscus tea if you take this medication.
Use During Pregnancy
One of the potential side effects of hibiscus is an increased risk of miscarriage. Hibiscus may increase estrogen activity and promote menstruation leading to complications if you are pregnant. Most experts recommend avoiding hibiscus tea when pregnant and nursing.
Go Vibrant With Hibiscus
Hibiscus plants add a colorful addition to your garden or tea party spread. The tea is quick and easy to brew and can be consumed hot or cold depending on your preferences. Sip to your health and enjoy the beautiful color of hibiscus tea today!