A Lovely Flower, but a Better Tea
The hibiscus flower is indeed one of the most stunning and cherished flowers there is. It has been around since the beginning of time, is found everywhere throughout the planet and goesby many names. It is called ‘rosella’ in Australia, ‘Flor de Jamaica’ in Latin America, ‘gumamela’ in the Philippines, ‘sorrel’ in Jamacia, ‘red sorrel’ in the Carribean and ‘wonjo’ in West Africa, to name a few. The flowers themselves are referred to a ‘calyces’ or buds and grow on small hibiscus trees which bear the brightly colored red flowers. The buds are rich in nutrients, Vitamin C, antioxidants and flavanoids (sound familiar?), and have a slightly fruity taste. They are dried and often referred to as’ Flor de Jamaica’ flowers and sold primarily in Health Food stores.
The most common usage of these dried flowers is, of course, in brewing hibiscus tea. The tea, which is made from the flowers of the Hibiscus Sabdariffa plant, is totally caffeine-free, and is enjoyed hot or cold. Cultures throughout the history have enjoyed this smooth, relaxing drink with a powerful bright red color, fragrant hibiscus flower aroma and that tangy, cranberry-like flavor. It is well documented that the ancient pharaohs of Egypt preferred to drink hibiscus tea, and it is still a major beverage in many parts of the world, particularly North Africa, where Sudanese weddings traditionally begin with a toast of hibiscus tea. In the Caribbean it is a traditional Christmas time drink called ‘sorrel’ made from the local hibiscus calyces or fruit buds; and even has a version combined with local beer to make a Holiday alcoholic beverage. In Jamaica, the hibiscus flowers are steeped with ginger and sugar, a little rum added, and a wonderful cold beverage is concocted. And in Thailand, it is a tea that is drunk to reduce cholesterol, and is also combined with Chinese teas to make a wine. So quite a versatile plant.
In the United States, hibiscus tea was made popular by the release of Celestial Seasoning’s “Red Zinger” in 1972, where it was blended with other herbal ingredients, but it was clearly the hibiscus flowers that produced the red coloring of the tea itself. The flowers blend well with virtually any other herbs and flowers to produce colorful and flavorful teas, and indeed you will find hibiscus dried flowers in virtually every commercial herbal tea blend in America. It is used to essentially smooth out and add color and flavor to any herbal blend.
Repeated medical studies have shown that there are indeed several medical benefits to drinking hibiscus tea, principally among these is its ability to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. A 2004 study showed it to be almost as effective at lowering blood pressure as a hypertension drug. That study, made up of 70 men and women with mild to moderate hypertension who were otherwise healthy, reduced the diastolic blood pressure (the second number of your everyday blood pressure reading) by at least 10 points, which virtually matched the drop what was observed in the control group receiving hypertension drugs instead. The hibiscus test participants were taking two cups of hibiscus tea every day before breakfast, which is certainly not all that much different from a normal tea drinker’s daily consumption. These results were confirmed by a similar separate test study performed in 2008, which found a drop of 7 points on average for the tea drinkers who were assigned to drink three cups a day for six weeks.
Another study in Taiwan showed that hibiscus tea lowered the cholesterol levels in test lab animals, and similar results were anticipated for humans. It has long been rumored to be effective at reducing cholesterol levels, and this study supports that.
Hibiscus tea is often touted as a weight loss aid. The tea contains a micro-content known as phaseolamin, which is supposedly responsible for the blocking of absorption of bad carbohydrates. But it is likewise in charge of keeping your hunger satisfied and keep you from craving more to eat. Thus, drinking 2-3 cups of hibiscus tea curbs your appetite, which certainly would be beneficial for thus with weight issues.
Most recently there has been renewed interest in the health benefits of the hibiscus plant. Pure forms of the dried hibiscus flowers are showing up as purely hibiscus ONLY teas. These, of course have all the benefits and that distinctive magenta-red color. The newest of them comes from Australia and is touting itself as “Heart Tea”. The trees are grown on small family farms and are pampered daily, much like the family tended coffee bean plants on the island of Kona that produces that exquisite Kona coffee. Production is limited due to this, and they are currently available only as tea bags. Bulk tea products will be a year or so in coming.
Most interestingly, the actual hibiscus calyces (buds) are also available and used for stunning visuals in drinks, cooking and decorating desserts. The marvelous thing about these flowers is that they are packed in syrup, so they remain total soft, and they are 100% completely edible. I have attached a photo of a calyce in a glass of champagne. It’s quite the treat to be able to eat such a healthy, tasty bright red flower once the champagne is gone. I recommend that you look for them to try them at your next party, it will be quite the conversation starter……and its good for you to boot!