The Benefits And Side Effects Of Hibiscus Tea Explained

Wild hibiscus growing.

The hibiscus flower is a paradox of large, delicate petals framing a proud stem. The beautiful hibiscus has secured itself as a status symbol across many different cultures. Some stories find themselves told and retold over time. The story of Cinderella, for example, exists in various forms within seven different cultures spanning multiple continents.

Nature too, tells its own story. The hibiscus is the national symbol of Haiti. Yet it’s also the national flower of many countries such as The Solomon Islands, Malaysia, South Korea, and Puerto Rico. Their commonality? The sun. Other than that, the meaning of this flower differs from culture to culture. So while you are maybe familiar with the hibiscus plant and hibiscus tea yourself, keep on reading. You’ll find out this plant’s cultural significance all over the globe. You’ll also discover the pros and cons of consuming hibiscus tea and just how hibiscus can affect you. 

What Is Hibiscus? Where Does Hibiscus Come From?

Yellow hibiscus flower.

The hibiscus flower.

The hibiscus plant is part of the mallow family and includes hundreds of plant species. Although hibiscus tea is popular in the United States, it is originally from Angola, Africa. The hibiscus plant then made its way to various countries such as Sudan, Egypt, Thailand, Mexico, and China. Hibiscus needs particular growing conditions, and yet it is found all over the world. Though people mostly cultivate it in tropical regions, it’s definitely had an impact on the world. There are different species of hibiscus, such as hibiscus sabdariffa or the hibiscus acetosella, which is also known as the cranberry hibiscus.

Hibiscus is used for a wide variety of purposes. There’s even one species of hibiscus, kenaf, which is used for making paper! Yet hibiscus is perhaps best known for its effects when consumed. Many cultures use hibiscus for the treatment of high blood pressure, liver diseases, and fevers. African folk medicine used it for its spasmolytic, antibacterial, cholagogic, diuretic, and anthelmintic properties, which we’ll get into later. It’s also rich in anthocyanins, and this is what gives it its coloring. 

In India, the red hibiscus is often found with depictions of the goddess Kali and it is used as an offering to her. The goddess is also depicted with a sword which sculpts order out of chaos and divides injustice from justice. This blossom has a strong connection with the uterus and menstrual issues. This further connects the plant to Kali as the ‘mother’ goddess. It’s the complete package of rebirth.

How Hibiscus Grows

In order to grow healthy hibiscus, you need to aggressively prune this high-maintenance plant. Pruning can seem counterintuitive. Sort of like when the hairdresser tells you to cut your hair so it will grow faster. How exactly does that work? But any seasoned gardener will tell you: it’s the only way to ensure healthy blooms in certain flowers. 

The hibiscus flowers are big sun chasers. These flowers need full sun exposure and grow in most well-drained soils. Having said that, they also need rich soil. Hence their love of the tropics. If you’re growing hibiscus at home, you’ll need to make sure to frequently water it and keep it in the sun. Your little pot baby will also require fertilization every month with a nutrient-rich fertilizer. Follow these tips and you should have a healthy hibiscus plant on your hands.

Hibiscus In World Cultures

Tahitian and Hawaiian cultures use the hibiscus flower as a code for girls out on the prowl…or not. If a woman wears the flower behind the left ear, it means she is married or has a boyfriend. So interested parties know to keep walking! If she wears the flower on the right side, she is single and ready to mingle. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it eliminates the possibility of an awkward misunderstanding. Hibiscus is the best wingman a woman can have.

Other cultures use this perennial as a fun pastime for children. How, you ask? In the Philippines, people crush the flowers and leaves to release the plant’s natural juices. They then use the sticky substance as…bubble solution to be blown through hollow papaya stalks. Finally, my two biggest loves are combined: bubbles and flowers.

In certain parts of South America, Central America and Mexico, hibiscus is made with ginger and boiling water as agua de Jamaica. In Africa it’s served cold or hot and goes by the name Karkadé.

Hibiscus tea can be had either cold or hot, and it has a tart flavor to it. The beverage also goes by the names roselle and sorrel. It is caffeine-free, so drinking it won’t stand in the way of you getting your precious sleep.

From deep symbolism to social status to genius children’s pastime, the hibiscus flower is clearly a cultural staple. But what about its healing properties?

What Are The Health Benefits Of Hibiscus?

Health benefits of hibiscus.

The Ancient Egyptians used hibiscus tea to lower body temperature, to treat heart and nerve diseases, and as a diuretic to increase urine production. In Africa, the herbal tea was used to treat constipation, cancer, liver disease, and cold symptoms. 

A study showed that hibiscus can help protect the liver from fatty buildup and improve liver steatosis. The same study showed that consuming hibiscus tea on a regular basis reduced high cholesterol by 8.3% to 14.4% after just 1 month.

Nowadays in Iran, drinking sour tea is still a common treatment for high blood pressure (helping to manage systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure) instead of needing to take hydrochlorothiazide. So there’s a theme here of blood movement and fluid movement in general, with a touch of muscle relaxant.

Studies found that the water extracts of the flowers have a relaxation effect on the uterus and lower the blood pressure. The flavonoids present in its rich color offer soothing antidepressant properties. So the tea can calm the nervous system, reducing anxiety and depression while alleviating menstrual pain and PMS related mood swings. 

In other news, did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women? Sorry to drop that on you, but it is a fact. Another fact is that the studies into hibiscus have found direct correlations between hibiscus tea and heart health. The plant also holds protocatechuic acid, which contains antitumor and antioxidant properties (helping to fight free radicals and relieve oxidative stress). The polyphenols in hibiscus are also good at helping to ward off cancer.

Hibiscus For Weight Loss And Fitness Explained

Other than heart, metabolic and liver health, the plant extract lowers the absorption of starch and glucose, potentially aiding in weight loss. Hibiscus blocks the production of amylase, which generally tells our body to hold on to unnecessary carbs and starches. For this reason, you’ll find it in a lot of weight loss products and diets. That’s great and all, but why not go straight to the source? More recent studies have also found that the flower has a positive effect on the metabolism as a whole and consequently on body weight and a person’s body mass index (BMI). 

Athletes actually use iced hibiscus tea for its ability to cool down the body very fast. Forget icing your outsides, cool your insides and boost your metabolism at the same time. Gatorade and chemicals or hibiscus tea bags and antioxidants? Is there even a question?

Hibiscus tea can also aid in reducing blood fat levels, which translates into better cholesterol levels and a lower risk of heart disease.

Hibiscus Tea Benefits Explained

Hibiscus tea.

By drinking hibiscus tea you can enjoy many benefits.

When steeped, hibiscus tea has major healing properties. The Sudanese soak the tea in cold water for days to release all the goodness of the hibiscus calyces (the cup-shaped centers of the flowers).

After the flower has bloomed, and the petals fall, the calyces turn into pods. Like floral oysters, the calyx holds the seed of the flower. Calyces are often the main ingredients in herbal drinks containing hibiscus.

Hibiscus tea goes by many names. Agua de flor de Jamaica, or Rosa De Jamaica, as it is known in Mexico, Central America, South America, and of course, the Caribbean. You prepare it by steeping the calyces of the flower with ginger. To dress it up a bit, add a little clove and cinnamon. And on special occasions like Christmas, add some rum as well.

The acids found in the tea are from the same family of acids found in grapes and specifically wine. The acids malic, tartaric, and citric help to boost your immune system, promote better skin, as well as lower blood pressure and cholesterol. They can also help manage inflammation, making hibiscus tea a great anti-inflammatory tool, and improve digestive issues.

If you drink hibiscus tea, you will experience diuretic and choleretic effects. This means that the tea is capable of controlling blood viscosity by reducing blood pressure and enhancing digestion.

Lastly, hibiscus tea contains Vitamin C, yet another reason to love it.

The Side Effects Of Hibiscus Tea

Overall, you do not have to worry- hibiscus is your friend.

Consumed in large doses, hibiscus extract can cause liver damage. Yet it is generally safe when you consume it orally in food or medicinal form and in standard amounts. There aren’t any major side effects of it, but there are certain medical situations which warrant you being careful about consuming hibiscus tea.

For instance, hibiscus may be unsafe when consumed as a medicine in pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding. Again, the side effects are rare, but they might involve constipation, headache, ringing in the ears, or painful urination.

Also, since hibiscus might lower blood sugar levels, those with diabetes should be cautious when ingesting it. If you do have hibiscus, you might need to discuss tweaking your medication dosage with your doctor. But be especially careful if you are planning on going in for surgery at any point in the future, as hibiscus can make blood sugar regulation difficult for your body both before and after surgery. Therefore, you should stop using hibiscus two weeks before surgery in order to play it safe.

In addition to potentially lowering blood sugar levels, it turns out that hibiscus might also lower blood pressure. While this can be a good thing for some, you should be careful if you are on blood pressure medication or if you already have low blood pressure, as you don’t want it to dip to a dangerous level.

Individuals who take chloroquine, a malaria medication, should stay away from hibiscus. Yet regardless of what your medical situation is, if you’re on any medications you should tell your physician if you plan on consuming hibiscus. This will help to prevent possible side effects and make sure that the hibiscus does not negatively interact with the medication.

How To Make Hibiscus Tea

Woman sitting with legs bent and holding a mug.

Sit back and enjoy some hibiscus tea.

Maybe you’ve made tea plenty of times before. But when it comes to getting ready to enjoy all that the wonderful hibiscus plant has to offer, you want to make sure you do it right. When purchasing the dried herb, make sure you are getting the real deal. Some dried hibiscus may contain added black tea or other teas that might detract from the pure herbal hibiscus goodness. So watch out!

For 3 cups of hot water, add ½ a cup of dried hibiscus or 3 fresh flowers. Let it steep for 10 minutes, and finally, add sweetener, ginger and/or lime to taste. Then sit back, relax and enjoy your delicious hibiscus tea.

Conclusion

There are many ways to enjoy the health benefits of hibiscus tea. Whether you prefer to drink it as iced tea or as hot tea, this drink is for you. Hibiscus is usually blended with both black tea and green tea. Its refreshing, tart taste can be enhanced with cloves and cinnamon, and even rum can make it the tropical Christmas drink of choice. That being said, combining it with rum will negatively affect your blood pressure. So if you have blood pressure issues, you may want to refrain from doing that. 

There are other medical situations which warrant being careful with hibiscus as well. But overall, it is safe to use and it can deliver tons of benefits.

The symbolism of hibiscus is only barely outshone by its healing properties. So if you are looking for a meditation, a date, or a staple for a healthy body, surround yourself with hibiscus!