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Hibiscus

Summer is slowly approaching, and for many of us, hibiscus tea is an indicator that it has arrived. Turns out this beautiful flower has many health benefits, and we should start consuming it year-round.

The hibiscus plant is a tropical plant that has over 300 species, and is a part of the Malvaceae family, along with cocoa, okra, and cotton—it’s in good company!  The kind we drink is Hibiscus sabdariffa. If you never had it, the taste of the tea is bright, tart, and astringent. Naturally caffeine-free, it’s good to drink all day long. Hibiscus is enjoyed all over the world—in West Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, to name a few large swaths of people.

I did a search for Hibiscus on nutritionfacts.org, and Dr. Greger has several articles and videos on hibiscus. According to some studies, hibiscus has the following benefits:

  • Hibiscus gets its brilliant color from anthocyanin phytonutrients—which is one of the components that make this flower good for you. Hibiscus tea has more antioxidants per serving than matcha tea.
  • It appears to have anti-inflammatory properties.
  • It has been found to lower uric acid.
  • It has improved cholesterol and triglyceridelevels in prediabetics and diabetics.
  • It also appears to inhibit the growth of human cancer cells in a petri dish.
  • Daily use may significantly lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. As effective as prescription drugs, without the side effects!

Caution
It’s not all hibiscus and roses—it has a dark side as well. Hibiscus is not safe for pregnancy—it’s been found be to an abortifacient. It’s not safe for infants under six months, nor for those with renal/kidney issues. About a third of people develop a chronic dry cough from drinking it. Hibiscus may affect drug levels, so always talk to your doctor. It can also (just like any acidic beverage) wear down enamel. Be sure to either drink your tea through a straw or swish with water afterwards to reduce erosion. Hibiscus has a high manganese content. To avoid toxic levels of this mineral, limit yourself to one quart per day (per 150 lbs of body weight).

Ready to dive in?
I always prefer using bulk teas—they are fresher than bagged, and you control the waste and strength. Of course you can use bagged. Just follow the instructions on the package. When using bulk hibiscus, start with two heaping teaspoons of dried hibiscus to one cup water. Pour the boiling water over the flowers, cover and let steep for 10 minutes. If you want it stronger, add more flowers rather than letting it steep longer. Enjoy it hot or cold, sweetened or not. Try it blended with other herbs and fruits. Here are some recipe ideas:

Hibiscus Blend Tea
Adapted from frontiercoop.com

  • 4 c. water
  • 4 tsp. hibiscus
  • 1 tsp. spearmint
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon

Directions: Boil water and pour over remaining ingredients. Steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Sweeten with honey or agave. Good hot or cold.

Agua de Jamaica
Adapted from chowhound.com

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 1/2 c. hibiscus flowers
  • 1 1/2 c. sugar (or to taste)
  • 1/2 in ginger, thinly sliced or grated
  • 2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions: Combine water and ginger in a large pot and bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir in hibiscus and sugar, let steep for 10 minutes. Strain through a mesh or cheesecloth, stir in lime juice and refrigerate to cool. Serve over ice. 

Hibiscus-Infused Vinegar

  • 1 c. of white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. of hibiscus flowers (can use more if desired)

Directions: Heat the vinegar to warm, but not boiling. Pour the vinegar into your jar of choice (Ball jars are great) over the hibiscus flowers. Put the lid on and let it infuse for about two weeks, out of direct sunlight. Be sure to shake the jar every few days. After two weeks, strain out the flowers using cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Feel free to add a flower back in for presentation purposes. Will keep for about 5 months.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Hibiscus Vinegar
Adapted From earthydelightsblog.com

  • 2-3 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. basil leaves, thinly sliced.
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 8 oz fresh goat cheese
  • 1/4 c. hibiscus vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sea salt to taste

Directions: Slice the tomatoes thickly and arrange on plates. Slice the goat cheese into 8 equal rounds and divide between the plates. Scatter the basil leaves and shallot rings evenly, sprinkle the salt and pepper, and then drizzle with the vinegar and oil. Let stand for 15-20 minutes to let flavors meld. Serves 2. Enjoy!

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