I am excited to share my new favorite medicinal plant – Hibiscus! Not only is the hibiscus flower beautiful, hibiscus medicine and hibiscus recipes are used world-wide for health and nutrition.
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Growing, harvesting, and using hibiscus offers so many benefits including:
- Long-lasting beauty in the garden
- Unique flavor for foods and beverages
Hibiscus is a beautiful tropical plant often used in landscaping. I was introduced to the hibiscus flower by my community herbalist mentor Krista at Forrest Green Farm. There are many varieties of hibiscus flower, the one I am referring to specifically is the Hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as Roselle. The roselle is now an important part of my apothecary and pantry. Let me share why I value this delightful plant, and the many ways we enjoy it.
Hibiscus is cultivated worldwide for food, fiber, medicine, and beauty. It grows upright on a long red and green stalk, and can be as tall as 4 to 7 feet. Roselle flowers are pale yellow with a deep red center, and dark red, fleshy calyx. It is the calyces that are harvested and used as food and medicine. Roselle is grown as an annual in my home state of Virginia, and I am able to harvest and save seeds. It is easy to grow, tolerant of most soils and water conditions, and an attractive addition to any garden.
The fleshy calyces are harvested in the fall and used in cooking, to make beverages, both hot and cold, in making jams and preserves, syrups, and added to foods for flavoring and color. I enjoy making a beautiful Hibiscus Cordial – it makes a lovely gift! (You can read about cordials and find the Hibiscus Cordial recipe on my post Herb Cordials – Simple Homemade Gifts.)
Health Benefits of Hibiscus
Hibiscus has a long history of medicinal use throughout Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and India. Traditional uses include:
- Supporting respiratory health
- Cooling and maintaining body temperature
- Mild laxative
- Removing intestinal parasites (antihelmintic)
Current research is examining the healing influence of hibiscus for:
- High blood pressure
- Reducing Cholesterol levels
- Cancer prevention
- Weight loss
- Maintaining Blood sugar levels
How Does Hibiscus Work?
Hibiscus is high in a class of plant chemicals called polyphenols. Polyphenols function in plants to:
- Prevent microbial infections
- Protect the plant against damage from UV rays
- Provide color (to attract pollinators)
- And much more
In humans polyphenols have the following effects:
- Powerful Antioxidant
- May slow the release of glucose into the blood stream after a meal
- Strong Anti-inflammatory
- Antimicrobial – bacteria, fungus, and virus
- Reduce risk and complication of cardiovascular disease
The polyphenols found in roselle hibiscus are similar to those found in blueberry, cranberry, blackberry, cherry, and dark purple grape varieties.
Recipes and Uses:
Roselle calyces are slightly tart, reminding me of a very mild cranberry flavor. They can be added to tea blends, added to soups, made into syrups, jams and jellies, used to add color to icings and as an edible decoration to foods.
I haven’t experimented beyond making hot and cold tea blends, but I am excited about all the possibilities. Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Soothing Hibiscus Fairy Tea
1 cup of water, boiled
1-2 fresh or dried roselle calyces *You can buy certified organic from Frontier Herbs
1 teaspoon your choice of: Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Catnip, or Peppermint
Pour the hot water over the tea blend and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Strain the herbs.
Sweeten to taste
Simple Iced Hibiscus Tea
Handful of fresh or dried roselle calyces
1 quart of water
Boil and allow to steep for 30 minutes or more (the longer you steep, the stronger the flavor and color)
Strain into a 2-quart jar or pitcher
Add a quart of fresh water
Add sweetener to taste
If you are interested in adding the wonderful hibiscus to your garden and kitchen, here are some resources to help you:
Herbalist Rosalee de la Foret has a Hibiscus Healing Cream Recipe that sounds wonderful!
Waterdog Farms has several recipes including a Hibiscus Limeade
Mountain Rose Herbs Blog has fun recipes including a Hibiscus Highball Cocktail, and a Hibiscus Berry Chia Tea.