dried hibiscus calyces and the health benefits of hibiscus flowers

All About Hibiscus Flower | 14 Science-Backed Health Benefits & More

For thousands of years, hibiscus, also commonly called roselle, has long been loved as both a food and medicine in many parts of the world. And today, summertime just wouldn’t be the same without some bright, ruby-red, tart, and tangy hibiscus tea. Here are 14 health benefits of the hibiscus flower that give a whole new layer of meaning to flower power!

Meet Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Botanical Characteristics
The Deep Roots of Hibiscus Tea
14 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Hibiscus Flower Calyces
How to Use Hibiscus & Other Hibiscus FAQs

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hibiscus branch with ripe calyces and leaves

Meet Hibiscus Flower (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

  • Hibiscus is in the mallow family (Malvaceae), a family known for its moistening (ie. demulcent) qualities. (Hibiscus is related to okra, a vegetable both loved and not-so-loved for its mucilaginous qualities.)
  • There are several hundred species in the Hibiscus genus and many of them go by the same common name. However, Hibiscus sabdariffa is the species used most prominently in medicine. The Hibiscus species cannot be used interchangeably.
  • With such a long history of use that’s now spread all over the tropics and subtropics, it’s kind of hard to tell where hibiscus actually even came from! However, it’s thought that hibiscus originated in Africa.

Botanical Characteristics

First things first, while the flower of the hibiscus plant is breathtakingly beautiful, the flower is not the part of the plant used for medicine. It’s an incredibly common misnomer and it’s also easy to understand why.

But since we’re discussing its health benefits, I thought it was best to set the record straight, despite it being a semi-inconsequential botanical distinction.

It’s actually the calyx, not the flower petals, that is used in medicine. A calyx forms the protective enclosure around the flower bud before it opens. After the flower opens, the calyx separates into sepals and forms a whorl around the base of the petals.

Here are some other distinguishing botanical characteristics:

  • The flowers of Hibiscus sabdariffa are white to yellow and produce large calyces. And while we know the calyces to be vibrant ruby red color, they can actually vary from green to red to nearly black depending on the cultivar.
  • Hibiscus leaves are single-lobed when they are young. As the plant matures, the leaves become larger and typically have 3-5 lobes. These leaves are also edible and have nutritive and medicinal qualities just like the calyces.
  • Hibiscus sabdariffa is a perennial shrub that can reach heights up to 8 feet in the tropics. In cooler climates, it’s usually a bit smaller and is typically grown as an annual.
organic herbs and spices from mountain rose herbs

The Deep Roots of Hibiscus Tea

The deliciously tart, tangy, and thirst-quenching hibiscus tea is the most well-known use of hibiscus today that also has a deep history. In Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, hibiscus calyces have long been the star of a traditional beverage with many names.

This hibiscus beverage is called sorrel in Jamaica; agua de Jamaica, jugo de Jamaica, or rosa de Jamaica in Latin America; zobo in Nigeria; sobolo in Ghana; and bissap in Senegal. 

The recipe for this globe-trotting traditional beverage changes from place to place. Nonetheless, it’s always infused with the spirit of the people and the land.

A typical recipe consists of stewing hibiscus calyces with aromatic herbs and spices. Oftentimes these include cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, and/or mint. Some versions also include citruses like lemon or lime. And most are then sweetened with cane sugar or honey.

It can be served hot or cold, enlivened with wine or rum, and is typically served at Christmastime and through New Years’. For many, this traditional hibiscus beverage is a comforting taste of home.

hibiscus flowers, calyces, and leaves

14 Health Benefits of Hibiscus Flower Calyces

Antioxidant | Nutrition | Anemia | Blood Pressure
Skin & Hair Health | Hydration | Kidney Health
Liver Health | Cholesterol | Weight Management
Diabetes | Heart Health | Menstruation | Menopause

1. Hibiscus is Packed with Antioxidants

Cellular damage due to anything from exposure to environmental toxins, prescription medications, stress, anxiety, and even vigorous exercise can lead to signs of premature aging, inflammation, and a decreased resistance to disease. However, a diet rich in antioxidants can help to reduce this cellular damage.

Both the leaves and the calyces of the hibiscus are loaded with antioxidant compounds such as anthocyanins (also found in blueberries) and chlorogenic acids (also found in coffee).

Studies have shown that both hibiscus extract and tea may be helpful in reducing the harmful effects of cellular damage caused by free radicals.

2. Hibiscus as a Food

While we most often see the beautiful calyces on the grocery shelves, the leaves of the hibiscus plant are edible too. In subtropical regions of the world, the leaves of the hibiscus plant were cooked down and eaten as a vegetable, almost like a spicy spinach.

And the calyces also contain a wide variety of health-promoting phytonutrients such as anthocyanins and flavonoids that are incredibly beneficial in helping to decrease inflammation.

The calyces also contain vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, and calcium.

3. Hibiscus & Anemia

Because they contain iron, hibiscus calyces were traditionally used to help support healthy iron levels in those with anemia. Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world. Studies have shown that both hibiscus leaves and the calyces may be of benefit in improving iron deficiency anemia.

A 2017 study found that an extract of hibiscus given in combination with an iron supplement showed a significant increase in hemoglobin levels compared to an iron supplement given alone to pregnant women with anemia.

And a 2018 study in Ghana, found that eating hibiscus leaves a few times a week improved the iron status in women of child-bearing age and toddlers. This can help nourish them through the dry season when food is less available.

4. Hibiscus & Heart Health

Due to its high polyphenol and antioxidant content, hibiscus is a fantastically heart-healthy food that helps to protect the overall function of the heart. Hibiscus has also been used in the treatment of things such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, also helping to protect the cardiovascular system through these mechanisms.

5. Hibiscus & Skin & Hair Health

All the good things that make hibiscus such a medicinal and nutritive plant also make hibiscus great for skin and hair health. The high antioxidant content helps to prevent premature aging caused by chemicals, makeup, and UV rays from the sun. The skincare benefits of hibiscus tea alone are enough to make you want to drink more of this tangy and tart refreshment.

Its high vitamin C content helps with collagen production. An antioxidant in hibiscus called myrecetin can help to both decrease collagen degradation and decrease wrinkles by supporting skin elasticity.

Plus, it’s anti-inflammatory, naturally exfoliating, and incredibly hydrating – an incredible recipe for amazing skin.

6. Hibiscus & Hydration

And speaking of hydration, hibiscus tea is a delicious way to stay hydrated, especially during the sweltering heat of the summer. The more liquids you drink, the better hydrated you are.

It’s a sugar-free, caffeine-free alternative to plain ol’ water with amazing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and nutritional health benefits.

7. Hibiscus & Kidney Health

Hibiscus also has diuretic properties that help to keep the kidneys healthy and support your body’s natural detoxification processes. By encouraging the excretion of toxins, metabolic wastes, and excess fluids via urine, hibiscus helps to promote healthy kidney function.

The anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of hibiscus can also help to prevent UTIs. And a 2017 study suggests that hibiscus extract could also be used to help slow the progression of chronic kidney disease due to its high antioxidant content.

8. Hibiscus & Liver Health

The health of your liver is so incredibly important to your overall health and wellness. As our main detoxification organ through which all the toxins we’re exposed to everyday pass, it’s so important to take the best care of our liver!

Many studies have concluded that hibiscus has a liver-protecting effect. Again, the high antioxidant content of hibiscus is to thank for this. Hibiscus has also been shown to increase important liver enzymes crucial in our natural detoxification, decrease fatty liver, and reduce markers of liver damage.

9. Hibiscus & Cholesterol

Hibiscus tea could also be helpful if you’re looking to increase your good cholesterol levels. A 2013 study found that drinking hibiscus tea had a favorable effect on blood lipid profiles, including reduced total cholesterol and increased HDL, the healthy cholesterol. This beneficial effect on cholesterol levels is thought to also be due to the high antioxidant content of hibiscus.

10. Hibiscus & Weight Management

Obesity has been linked to more than 60 chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Even more, it’s estimated that over two-thirds of the population of the United States is either overweight or obese. It’s a health crisis with many roots and a multitude of antidotes, and hibiscus may be able to help.

A 2014 study found that hibiscus extract can not only help to prevent obesity but can also help to decrease abdominal fat and reduce non-alcoholic fatty liver disease due to its metabolic-regulating effects. With obesity’s association with major health problems, hibiscus may be an effective addition to weight management protocols.

11. Hibiscus & Diabetes

Drinking hibiscus tea may also be helpful in managing diabetes! It’s estimated that over 70% of those with diabetes also experience high blood pressure, causing further complications. Hibiscus tea has been shown to have a hypotensive effect, effectively helping to reduce blood sugar.

Several studies also show that hibiscus may help to reduce insulin resistance. This suggests that hibiscus tea could be an incredibly inexpensive and easily accessible addition to diabetes therapy.

12. Hibiscus & Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Hibiscus tea has long been considered effective in helping to reduce high blood pressure. And with hibiscus tea being so readily available and generally safe, it could be an important part of the nutritional therapies recommended for people with high blood pressure.

The results of a 2014 study suggest that daily consumption of hibiscus tea may be effective in reducing blood pressure in pre- and mild-hypertensive adults. Another 2014 study found that the extract of hibiscus was also effective in reducing blood pressure in both humans and rats.

13. Hibiscus & Menstruation

One 2020 study found that supplementation with hibiscus tea helped to improve irregular menstruation by helping to better regulate hormones.

It’s also important to note that because hibiscus may help to encourage blood flow to the uterus, it’s typically contraindicated during pregnancy.

14. Hibiscus & Menopause

Due to its phytoestrogen (plant chemicals that mimic estrogen) content, studies have shown that hibiscus can have an estrogenic effect and can actually help to reduce the symptoms of menopause. And while hibiscus is not a proven replacement for hormone therapy, supplementing with hibiscus through menopause could be a low-risk addition to treatment protocols aimed at reducing the unpleasant symptoms of menopause.

the food and medicinal uses of hibiscus sabdariffa

Check out These Other Edible Flowers with Major Health Benefits:

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Hibiscus FAQs

How do you use hibiscus flowers?

Hibiscus flowers have many uses, making it really easy to reap their nutritive and medicinal benefits. Here are some of the many ways to use hibiscus flowers:

  • Make a tart and tangy, caffeine-free, and super refreshing iced herbal tea.
  • Let them infuse into wine for a summertime sangria.
  • Make a tart and tangy hibiscus BBQ sauce for your summertime backyard fun.
  • Make a hibiscus simple syrup to sweeten your mint iced tea, lemonade, sparkling water, and cocktails.
  • Add hibiscus flowers to your homemade elderberry syrup to amp up the immune benefits with hibiscus’ high antioxidant and vitamin C content. Or try adding hibiscus to your homemade cough drops or immune-boosting fire cider.
  • Go savory and make these Hibiscus Flower Quesadillas.
  • Use powdered hibiscus flowers as a natural tint in DIY lip balms or cheek tints.
  • Add fresh or rehydrated hibiscus flowers to your baked goods. Try this vegan Hibiscus Banana Bread.
  • Make herbal sugars or even herbal salts by stirring powdered hibiscus together with fine grain sea salt or cane sugar.

Is it safe to drink hibiscus tea everyday?

While hibiscus is generally safe for all, there may be some side effects with excessive consumption. While enjoying a glass or two a day shouldn’t come with any adverse health effects, some studies have shown that extremely high doses of hibiscus tea may have a toxic effect on the liver.

And due to hibiscus’ effect on blood pressure, overconsumption may also cause dizziness or fatigue in some people. If you are already taking prescription medications for blood pressure, it may be best to avoid hibiscus.

While you’re unlikely to experience any adverse health effects if enjoying only a glass or two of hibiscus tea a day, all of our bodies are different.

Always use medicinal herbs and spices with caution (or avoid them altogether) if you are pregnant, nursing, and/or taking prescription medications. Be sure to consult with a licensed practitioner or practicing clinical herbalist before introducing new herbs to your diet.

Is it okay to drink hibiscus tea at night and before bed?

Yes, hibiscus tea is okay to drink before bed and may actually help you sleep better! Due to hibiscus’ ability to help lower blood pressure, a glass of hibiscus tea before bed may act as a mild sedative that can not only help you sleep better, but may also help to reduce stress and anxiety.

Where can I find hibiscus flowers?

Dried hibiscus flowers are generally very easy to find. You can often find dried hibiscus calyces in most regular groceries with an ethnic food section, in the same place where you might find packages of dried chilis or corn husks for making tamales.

However, for the highest quality hibiscus, purchase from local growers (or grow them yourself) or buy online from reputable herb companies. I purchase all my dried herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs. Their herbs and spices are consistently high quality, organically grown and/or ethically harvested, and fair-trade when applicable.

Mountain Rose Herbs offers the following hibiscus products:

Does hibiscus help tighten skin?

Hibiscus has many skin benefits too! It’s hydrating, may help to reduce collagen degradation, increase collagen production, and improve skin elasticity. All of these may help to create a firmer and tighter appearance to the skin.

Can hibiscus tea actually cause hallucinations?

While there are several anecdotes of people getting drunk on hibiscus tea, there is no evidence to support that hibiscus can cause hallucinations. Hibiscus is generally safe for all and the likely explanation for these stories is due to the hypotensive (blood pressure lowering) effects of hibiscus. When our blood pressure drops dangerously low, we may experience dizziness and fatigue that may be confused with being drunk or high.

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14 health benefits of hibiscus flower, botanical characteristics, nutritional benefits, and more

DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.

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