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  Hibiscus Flowers for Foods, Drinks, Health and Beauty  

NEW! Pharmacopeia of Flowers: Foods, Drinks, Health & Beauty

Hibiscus Tree Shrubs with FlowersHibiscus Flowers

Hibiscus |hīˈbiskəs| noun
a plant of the mallow family, grown in warm climates for its large brightly colored flowers or for products such as fiber or timber.
• Genus Hibiscus, family Malvaceae: many species, including the rose mallow.

ORIGIN Latin, from Greek hibiskos, which Dioscorides identified with the marsh mallow.

Hibiscus is an example of complete flowers. Hibiscus leaves are alternate, ovate to lanceolate, often with a toothed or lobed margin. Hibiscus flowers are large, conspicuous, trumpet-shaped, with five or more petals, color from white to pink, red, orange, purple or yellow, and from 4–18 cm broad. Flower color in certain species, such as H. mutabilis and H. tiliaceus, changes with age. Hibiscus fruit is a dry five-lobed capsule, containing several seeds in each lobe, which are released when the capsule dehisces (splits open) at maturity. It is of red and white colours.

Many species are grown for their showy flowers or used as landscape shrubs, and are used to attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

One species of Hibiscus, known as kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus), is extensively used in paper-making (competes with industrial hemp, GMO cotton, and now trees).


Hibiscus FoodsHibiscus Flower Foods

Dried hibiscus is edible, and is often a delicacy in Mexico. It can also be candied and used as a garnish.

The roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is used as a vegetable.

Certain species of hibiscus are also beginning to be used more widely as a natural source of food coloring (E163), and replacement of Red #3 / E127.

Many a hibiscus flower can go into salads and the like but most of them are virtually flavorless but they are pretty and add texture. I happen to like the False Roselle, Hibiscus acetosella, because beside the edible pink flower the leaves are edible as well, raw or cooked.  I use the young leaves for salads and stir fry. They keep their color. A close relative, Hibiscus sabdariffa is the real roselle and is also known as the "Florida Cranberry" or the "Cranberry Hibiscus." A tart juice can be made from its fat calyxes. Its blossoms are edible as well.

Hibiscus species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidopteran species, including Chionodes hibiscella, Hypercompe hambletoni, the nutmeg moth, and the turnip moth.


Hibiscus Flower Drinks & Beverages

Hibiscus tea made from hibiscus flowers is known by many names in many countries around the world and is served both hot and cold. Hibiscus beverage is well known for its color, tanginess and flavor.

Hibiscus TeaIt is known as bissap in West Africa, karkadé in Egypt and Sudan, flor de Jamaica in Mexico, "agua de Jamaica" in Honduras, gudhal (गुड़हल) in India and gongura in Brazil. Some refer to it as roselle, a common name for the hibiscus flower.

Hibiscus tea is a tisane or "herbal tea" consumed both hot and cold by people around the world. The drink is an infusion made from crimson or deep magenta-coloured calyces (sepals) of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower. It is also referred to as roselle (another common name for the hibiscus flower) or rosella (Australian), flor de Jamaica in Latin America, karkadé in Jordan, Egypt and Sudan, Chai Kujarat in Iraq, Chai Torsh in Iran, gumamela in the Philippines, bissap, tsoborodo or wonjo in West Africa, sorrel in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, red sorrel in the wider Caribbean, and other names in other regions, including the U.S., where it is sometimes known as simply Jamaica.

Hibiscus tea has a tart, cranberry-like flavor, and sugar is often added to sweeten the beverage. The tea contains vitamin C and minerals and is used traditionally as a mild medicine. In west Sudan a white hibiscus flower is favored for its bitter taste and is not for sale, but for the use of the owners family and their guests. Hibiscus tea contains 15-30% organic acids, including citric acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid. It also contains acidic polysaccharides and flavonoid glycosides, such as cyanidin and delphinidin, that give it its characteristic deep red colour.


Hibiscus Flower Health Benefits

Hibiscus Flower Health Benefits
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is considered to have a number of medical uses in Chinese herbology.

The tea is popular as a natural diuretic; it contains vitamin C and minerals, and is used traditionally as a mild medicine.

Dieters or people with kidney problems often take it without adding sugar for its beneficial properties and as a natural diuretic.

A 2008 USDA study shows consuming hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in a group of prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults. Three cups of tea daily resulted in an average drop of 8.1 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure, compared to a 1.3 mmHg drop in the volunteers who drank the placebo beverage. Study participants with higher blood pressure readings (129 or above) had a greater response to hibiscus tea: their systolic blood pressure went down by 13.2 mmHg.

This data supports the idea that drinking hibiscus tea in an amount readily incorporated into the diet may play a role in controlling blood pressure, although more research is required.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis has a number of medical uses in Chinese herbology. Lokapure their research indicates some potential in cosmetic skin care; for example, an extract from the flowers of Hibiscus rosa- sinensis has been shown to function as an anti-solar agent by absorbing ultraviolet radiation.

Hibiscus Flower Hybrids
In the Indian traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda, hibiscus, especially white hibiscus and red hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), is considered to have medicinal properties. The roots are used to make various concoctions believed to cure ailments such as cough, hair loss or hair greying. As a hair treatment, the flowers are boiled in oil along with other spices to make a medicated hair oil. The leaves and flowers are ground into a fine paste with a little water, and the resulting lathery paste is used as a shampoo plus conditioner.

Drinking hibiscus tea can lower blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes, prehypertension, or mild hypertension. The average systolic blood pressure for diabetics drinking hibiscus tea decreased from 134.8 mmHg (17.97 kPa) at the beginning of one study to 112.7 mmHg (15.03 kPa) at the end of the study, one month later. Drinking 3 cups of hibiscus tea daily for 6 weeks reduced systolic blood pressure by 7 mm Hg in prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive participants. In those with mean systolic blood pressure over 129 mm Hg, the reduction was nearly 14 mm Hg. Hibiscus flowers contain anthocyanins, which are believed to be active antihypertensive compounds, acting as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

The effects of drinking hibiscus tea are comparable to blood-pressure medication. A study published in 2007 compared Hibiscus sabdariffa L. to the drug lisinopril on people with hypertension. Hibiscus "decreased blood pressure (BP) from 146.48/97.77 to 129.89/85.96 mmHg, reaching an absolute reduction of 17.14/11.97 mmHg (11.58/12.21%, p < 0.05)." Blood pressure "reductions and therapeutic effectiveness were lower than those obtained with lisinopril (p < 0.05)." The authors concluded that hibiscus "exerted important antihypertensive effectiveness with a wide margin of tolerability and safety, while it also significantly reduced plasma ACE activity and demonstrated a tendency to reduce serum sodium (Na) concentrations without modifying potassium (K) levels." They attributed the blood pressure reducing effect of hibiscus to its diuretic effect and its ability to inhibit the angiotensin-converting enzyme through the presence of anthocyanins.

A 2004 study compared the effectiveness of hibiscus to the ACE-inhibiting drug captopril. The authors found that the "obtained data confirm that the H. sabdariffa extract, standardized on 9.6mg of total anthocyanins, and captopril 50 mg/day, did not show significant differences relative to hypotensive effect, antihypertensive effectiveness, and tolerability." However, at this point, there is no reliable evidence to support recommending hibiscus tea in the treatment of primary hypertension.

Hibiscus Flower
Blooming Hibiscus Flower
Open Hibiscus Flower
Hibiscus Flower


Hibiscus Flowers in International Cultures

In the United States, hibiscus tea was popularized by Celestial Seasonings as "Red Zinger" in 1972.

Hibiscus FlowersIn Italy, the tea, known as carcadè, is usually drunk cold and often sugared with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Introduced while Eritrea was an Italian colony (from 1860 to 1941), once its use was much more widespread. In other European countries, it is often an ingredient in mixed tisanes, (especially with malva flowers or rose hips in the mix, to enhance colouring), and as such, more commonly used than recognized.

In Jamaica, Trinidad and many other islands in the Caribbean, Hibiscus drink is known as sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa; not to be confused with Rumex acetosa, a species sharing the common name sorrel). Hibiscus drink is popular at Christmas time. Hibiscus is served cold, mixed with other herbs, roots, spices and cane sugar. Often Hibiscus is served mixed with rum or wine.

Roselle is typically boiled in an enamel-coated large stock pot as most West Indians believe the metal from aluminum, steel or copper pots will destroy the natural minerals and vitamins.

In Cambodia, a cold Hibiscus beverage can be prepared by first steeping the petals in hot water until the colors are leached from the petals, then adding lime juice (which turns the beverage from dark brown/red to a bright red), sweeteners (sugar/honey) and finally cold water/ice cubes.

In the Philippines, the gumamela (local name for hibiscus) is used by children as part of a bubble-making pastime. The flowers and leaves are crushed until the sticky juices come out. Hollow papaya stalks are then dipped into this and used as straws for blowing bubbles.

The red hibiscus flower is traditionally worn by Tahitian women. A single flower, tucked behind the ear, is used to indicate the wearer's availability for marriage.

8 Original Hibiscus Species

Hibiscus Flower Ancestors

About the 8 Original Hibiscus Species + New Hybrids

Between 1700 and 1900, Mauritius was a key island involved in spreading hibiscus around the world. Many ships called in the port on their way to and from the ports of India, China, and Europe. Mauritius itself was the natural location of 3 of the 8 cross-compatible species of hibiscus. In addition, an Irish surgeon and naturalist, Charles Telfair, settled on Mauritius with his wife Annabella in 1810 when the British occupied Mauritius. Telfair hybridized hibiscus for the next 20 years and kept a written record of his efforts. We don't know how many of these early hybrids made their way onto ships and thus around the world, but it is likely that many of them did.

Hibiscus Rosa-SinensisHibiscus Rosa-Sinensis

This one is a little confusing because you will often see the entire group of ornamental, tropical hibiscus that are so common in the southern U.S. referred to as named varieties of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. This is not entirely accurate, as ornamental hibiscus are really all hybrid crosses of any of these eight original native species hibiscus. So even though modern hibiscus are all called varieties of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, the truth is that they're all a mix of several species. But Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is actually the correct name of one of the original species plants.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis was first discovered in China or perhaps India. Botanists are not really certain, since no wild stands of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis have been found growing anywhere. Wherever it originated, it was brought back to Europe by explorers in the 1700s. Carl Linnaeus, who gave us the Latin based taxonomy of plants that became the standard, collected at least one specimen of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and gave it that name in 1753 when he released his famous books, "Species Plantarum" (Species of Plants). He described a red double flower in that first naming of hibiscus.

Hibiscus Lilliflorus

This species of hibiscus is native to the Mascarene Islands off the east coast of Africa. One of these islands, Mauritius, has been an important seaport for centuries. Back in the 1700s and 1800s it was a major stopping point for ships sailing around the southern tip of Africa on their way to or from India and China. Mauritius was controlled by several European countries at different times in its history, but during the English rule in the 1800s, it was discovered that Hibiscus lilliflorus, native to Mauritius, could be cross-pollinated with Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and new, fertile hybrids would result.

Hibiscus SchizopetalusHibiscus Schizopetalus

This species was discovered on Madagascar, a large island located between Mauritius and the east coast of Africa. Since its discovery, the unique flowers have caused this species to become highly desired by plant collectors, and it is now found in private and public gardens around the world. Schizopetalus means "split petals" and describes the unique and delicate look of the flowers of this hibiscus.

Hibiscus Fragilis

This species was also discovered on the island of Mauritius, but is almost extinct in the wild. Only a few dozen plants of it are known to still be growing on the island, but botanical gardens such as the Kew Gardens in England have made efforts to save it from extinction.

Hibiscus Genevieve

This is the third species of hibiscus to be discovered on Mauritius. It is said to have pink single flowers, but we have so far been unable to obtain seeds of a plant of this species. If we do we will have more to say about it.

Hibiscus Arnottianus

This species was discovered all the way around the world from Africa, growing on the Hawaiian Islands. The flowers are white, and the bush is well branched though less tall and upright than the African hibiscus species. Once Hibiscus arnottianus was spread among the various islands, the species formed various sub-species as they evolved on the separate islands. These sub-species, though very similar, vary slightly one from the other. Today it is rather difficult to determine if one has a particular sub-species, so many are collected, traded or sold as Hibiscus arnottianus without making the distinction.

Hibiscus Storckii

This species was discovered and named by a botanist visiting the island of Fiji back in the 1800s. Expeditions to the island since then have not located any surviving examples of this species of hibiscus still growing on Fiji. The flowers are light pink, and the bush is said to be small with cascading branches. Kew Botanical Gardens in England received cuttings of this species directly from the botanist who discovered it and fortunately has been able to grow it continually ever since.

Hibiscus Kokio

This species is another that was discovered growing in the Hawaiian Islands. It is a smaller, less vigorous hibiscus, making small red flowers. We doubt that this species has played much of a role in the development of the modern ornamental hibiscus, but are still researching this question.

Acapulco Gold Hibiscus Valentine's Day Hibiscus Exotic Tropical Hibiscus
Key Largo Hibiscus Kerala Hibiscus from India Molten Lava Hibiscus



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