Turn your drinks and recipes a dazzling shade of poppy red, enjoy a tangy, sharp-sweet flavour and nurture your body at the same time. Let's take a look at hibiscus health benefits.April 19, 2023 2:37 pm April 17, 2023 12:58 pm
What is hibiscus?
While hibiscus is a common feature in many gardens around the world, the term ‘hibiscus’ actually refers to a genus of flowers. That means there are several hundred different types of flower which fall into the hibiscus family.
Perhaps the most well-known is Hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as roselle. This variety has a delicate flower with rounded petals. It is protected by a spiky red outer casing called the calyx. This, and other varieties, is generally used to make teas and tisanes, and to treat various ailments in traditional medicine.
Originally, Hibiscus sabdariffa comes from West Africa. If you are green-fingered, it is possible to grow it in the USA and Europe. That said, if you live in a cooler climate you’ll probably be better off growing these flowers in your greenhouse, as they are particularly sensitive to frost.
The hibiscus variety we stock at Erbology is Hibiscus syriacus.
Many cultures around the world make use of Hibiscus sabdariffa. In India, Myanmar and Vietnam the leaves and stems of the plant are eaten as a vegetable. The leaves have a flavour which is a bit like spinach when cooked.
In many parts of the world, including Nigeria, the buds are used to make jams, jellies and preserves. However, the most popular way to consume hibiscus is in a drink.
In warm climates such as parts of Africa and the Caribbean, hibiscus is used to make cold soft drinks. Many people like to add extra flavourings such as mint, spices, syrup or sugar. This tradition has migrated up to the States, too. There, it’s easy to find ‘hibiscus coolers’ made with fruit juice.
In Europe we know hibiscus best as a herbal tea. You can make tea using only hibiscus, or you can find it in herbal tea blends.
Whether in a cool or hot drink, the calyces of the plant release a dazzling bright red colour into the water, making hibiscus a popular ingredient in cocktails too!
Hibiscus in traditional medicine
Hibiscus has more to offer than just a beautiful colour, however.
The plant has been used for generations in traditional medicine. While the exact uses vary slightly from region to region, there are common patterns in the ways hibiscus is used.(1)
For example, according to many traditional practitioners, hibiscus has a mild laxative effect. It can also encourage you to pass more urine.
Further, hibiscus may have benefits for your skin. Many people use it to treat wounds such as cracks and sores and dry skin.
Meanwhile, some cultures use hibiscus to treat coughs and aid sleep.
In India, the leaves are applied as a poultice on wounds and abscesses to help them heal.
As you can see, there are trends in the use of hibiscus which suggest healing, soothing and cleansing properties. Now, let’s take a look at what modern scientific research has to say on the matter.
Hibiscus health benefits for blood pressure
A clinical trial looked at whether drinking hibiscus tea could reduce blood pressure in patients with pre- or mild hypertension (high blood pressure).(2) The researchers discovered that the participants who drank hibiscus tea had lower systolic blood pressure at the end of the study.
We should mention that hibiscus tea did not have a significant effect on diastolic and mean arterial blood pressure. However, the authors of the study concluded that hibiscus tea was a potentially effective treatment for mild high blood pressure in adults.
Meanwhile, a different study with 390 participants found that Hibiscus sabdiffera did have a significant effect on both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The authors of the study called for further research to confirm their findings.(3)
A scientific review of studies into hibiscus and its effects on blood pressure noted that hibiscus tea was as effective at lowering blood pressure as Captopril, a popular medication.(4) Once more, the authors suggested that more research was needed.
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"Many people around the world use hibiscus as a traditional remedy for healing wounds. This could be down to hibiscus’s ability to fight off disease-causing germs."
Hibiscus may lower your cholesterol
As we get older, many of us become more aware not only of our blood pressure but of our cholesterol levels. The two can be closely interlinked, as the build-up of fatty deposits in our arteries can be a cause of hypertension.
The same literature review which looked at hibiscus and blood pressure also looked at whether hibiscus could lower cholesterol levels.
Over half of the reviewed studies showed that hibiscus had a beneficial effect on the amount of lipids (fats) in the blood, including reducing overall cholesterol levels.(4) However, the authors did note that they didn’t think the methodology of all the studies was up to scratch.
A separate literature review looked at the effects of hibiscus on metabolic syndrome. This is the term for a combination of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure in one patient. The review found that hibiscus ‘often improved’ the levels of total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.(5)
It may seem logical to think that hibiscus’s effects on blood pressure are down to its ability to reduce cholesterol levels. However, scientists don’t yet fully understand the mechanisms behind these promising study results.
Hibiscus health benefits for your blood sugar levels
More good news for your circulatory system! It seems that hibiscus can help you to manage your blood sugar levels.
The literature review mentioned above also found that hibiscus reduced blood glucose levels. In fact, it turned out to be ‘equally or more effective’ than medication in terms of blood glucose and insulin sensitivity – two key biomarkers for metabolic syndrome.(5)
Another study found that hibiscus was able to inhibit two enzymes which help you break down carbohydrates into simple sugar. This means that sugar from your food enters your bloodstream at a slower rate after you eat, reducing blood sugar spikes (postprandial hyperglycaemia).(1)