Hibiscus’ Many Uses and Benefits
Hibiscus sabdariffa is a tropical plant native to North & East Africa and South East Asia and is noted for its large and colourful flowers. As such, the plant is now cultivated in tropical and non-tropical regions throughout the world. Because of its distribution, hibiscus may be referred to as Flor de Jamaica (Mexico), Wanjo (West Africa), Sorrel (Caribbean) and most commonly elsewhere as Roselle.
Botanically speaking, it is only the hibiscus sabdariffa that produces the edible products. The edible part of the sabdariffa used to make wine, juice or tea (actually, an infusion) look like reddish dried-up buds. In fact, they’re not flowers but calyces. It’s the calyx, the red, fleshy covering enclosing the flower’s seed pod, which is used for flavouring, cooking, food colouring and of course hibiscus wine. The flower of this variety of sabdariffa is yellow, white or light pink.
Hibiscus sabdariffa is an annual or perennial herb or woody-based subshrub of the Malvaceae family growing to 2–2.5 m (7–8 ft) tall. The leaves are deeply three- to five-lobed, 8–15 cm (3–6 in) long, arranged alternately on the stems.
The flowers are 8–10 cm (3–4 in) in diameter, white to pale yellow with a dark red spot at the base of each petal, and have a stout fleshy calyx at the base, 1–2 cm (0.39–0.79 in) wide, enlarging to 3–3.5 cm (1.2–1.4 in), fleshy and bright red as the fruit matures. It takes about six months to mature.
The genus and common name hibiscus is from the Latin hibiscum, later hibiscus, meaning “marshmallow plant”.
Hibiscus can be drunk hot or cold. As iced tea, the infusion is known to satiate thirst quite effectively. It is often recommended as an alternative to artificially made commercial “sport drinks” that are marketed to physically active individuals. Hibiscus tea’s ability to cool the body is well documented by cultures that include it in their diet or medicinal practices. This benefit is probably associated with the diuretic properties of hibiscus, a property that helps in the excretion of excess fluids from the body.
High Blood Pressure
Hibiscus is an antioxidant. It has properties that prevents the oxidation of low-density lipoproteins; a substance in our blood that if increased beyond normal quantities may cause high blood pressure.
The body produces an enzyme known as amylase which functions to break down complex sugar and starch molecules in food. When a person consumes too much carbohydrate-rich food (full of sugar and starch) that individual is most likely going to gain weight. Hibiscus contains a substance that can inhibit the production of amylase. A person regularly drinking hibiscus tea can thus prevent too much absorption of carbohydrates and consequently not gain excess weight.
Cough and Colds
Fresh hibiscus flowers contain around 6.7 mg of ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C, which is one of the more essential nutrients needed by the body. Along with this significantly beneficial substance, hibiscus is known to have anti-inflammatory and mild anti-bacterial properties. Thus hibiscus drinks are often used as a supplement to help treat coughs and colds. Because of its cooling effect, it is especially effective in reducing the discomfort of fevers that may accompany such ailments.
Besides containing a significant amount of ascorbic acid, hibiscus is made of the following nutritional substances: 1.145 g of protein, 2.61 g of fat, 12.0 g of fiber, 1,263 mg of calcium, 273.2 mg of phosphorus, 8.98 mg of iron, 0.029 mg of carotene, 0.117 mg of thiamine, 0.277 mg of riboflavin and 3.765 m of niacin. Given all this, it can be said that hibiscus drinks can also serve as an excellent food supplement and an aid to boost the body’s immune system.