From paper to artistic and religious symbolism, the plants of the hibiscus family have a wide range of uses around the world.
Our favourite use for this versatile plant is (of course) as tea. And with good reason - aside from producing a delightfully tangy beverage, the calyces of the Hibiscus sabdariffa plant are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and have some pretty amazing health benefits.
Heart Disease Prevention
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, hibiscus tea is well-known to reduce blood pressure, which is associated with heart disease. Studies have found that hibiscus contributed to lowering both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Along with reducing blood pressure, hibiscus has also been found to lower blood fat levels in people with conditions such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Those who drink hibiscus tea may see a reduction in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (i.e. bad cholesterol) and an increase in HDL cholesterol (i.e. good cholesterol).
Antioxidants & Polyphenols
Hibiscus is rich in polyphenols, compounds that possess anti-cancer properties. Like green and black tea, it is packed with antioxidants, helping to fight free radicals and reduce the damage and disease that these create.
High in Vitamin C, hibiscus can help to boost and stimulate your immune system, prevent cold or flu, and increase the rate of iron absorption.
Uses from Around the World
We are not the only ones crazy for this nutritious brew - people around the world enjoy hibiscus (known as roselle in some places) in their drinks in a variety of ways.
Nigeria (and West Africa)
A drink known as Zobo is popular in Nigeria. This refreshing beverage is made by boiling hibiscus with fruit (usually pineapple or watermelon) and ginger, before straining, cooling and serving over ice. Hibiscus is also flavoured with mint or other aromatics in other parts of West Africa.
Egypt and Sudan
Karkade is a popular drink in North Africa, particularly in Egypt and Sudan, and is made by cold-brewing hibiscus over night with sugar and lemon or lime. It is served either as is or over ice. In Lebanon a similar drink is popular, with the addition of toasted pine nuts.
In American Soul Food culture, 'red drink' is an important staple. Stemming from West African customs, red drink is a range of beverages that are, as the name suggests, red. Hibiscus was traditionally used as the colourant, and nowadays acts as a mark of an authentic soul food joint.
Hibiscus drinks are found throughout the Caribbean, and are made by boiling hibiscus (known as sorrel) and sweetening with sugar before serving chilled. It is often flavoured with clove and cinnamon, and is popular at Christmas time. In Jamaica, the drink is often also flavoured with rum and/or ginger.