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 27, 2022 4:40 pm July 27, 2021 5:56 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 round 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.
It can help manage 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)
Hibiscus fights germs
As mentioned above, many people round 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 such as viruses and bacteria.
Extracts of various parts of the plant seem to inhibit the growth of several types of bacteria. Among these are Bacillus anthracis and Staphylococcus albus, as well as the Campylobacter species.(1)
It also has an anti-bacterial effect on Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium which lives in our mouths.
A study on the wound healing effects of Hibiscus sabdariffa found that methanolic extracts of the plant ‘significantly enhanced the wound healing process.’(6)
Hibiscus health benefits for weight loss
As we’ve already seen, hibiscus can inhibit the action of certain enzymes in the body. Alongside helping to control your blood sugar levels, this means that hibiscus may also be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.
One enzyme in the body, amylase, helps you to break down carbohydrates. It is found in your saliva and is also produced by the pancreas.
HIbiscus seems to stop your body producing amylase as effectively, so, you can’t break down and digest as much carbohydrate.
The authors of one review of hibiscus’s health effects suggest that drinking a cup of hibiscus tea after eating might help with weight loss. They reasoned that you would be absorbing less carbohydrate from your food.(1)
One study found that hibiscus extract could reduce ‘body weight, lipid accumulation and total cholesterol metabolism’ in both humans and animals.(7)
It’s full of antioxidants
Antioxidants are natural compounds which help your body deal with the effects of free radicals. (Need an intro to free radicals? Check out our article all about antioxidants.)
You can find different types of antioxidants in lots of different foods, particularly in fresh fruit and vegetables. However, hibiscus also contains lots of them!
Specifically, scientists have identified that compounds such as polyphenolic acid, flavonoids and anthocyanins in hibiscus are all powerful antioxidants.(1)
An in-vitro study revealed that Hibiscus sabdariffa showed significant antioxidant potential.(8)
Why should you be interested in antioxidants? Put simply, they can help prevent free radicals from causing damage in your body. This might otherwise lead to premature cell damage and ageing.(1)
How to enjoy hibiscus health benefits
Hibiscus tastes delicious in a tea or cold drink. Even better, it’s easy to make your own at home.
Simply steep organic dried hibiscus leaves in hot water for around five minutes, or until the water is a brilliant poppy red.
Strain out the leaves and enjoy hot or cold. We particularly like it over ice on a hot day!
The flavour of hibiscus is rather tart (many people say it reminds them of cranberry). So, you may want to add a bit of sweetener such as raw honey or fruit juice.
Thanks to its fabulous colour, hibiscus tea is a great option for turning desserts, drinks and cocktails an arresting shade of red.
However you like to enjoy hibiscus, you can rest assured that this beautiful flower isn’t just good-looking; it’s looking after your body, too.
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