What is Hibiscus?
By Emilie Holmes
The beautiful, semi-tropical plant, also known as roselle, red sorrel or flor de Jamaica, originates in Egypt, but can now be found growing in warm climates around the world, from India to Africa, and even the United States. There are multiple species of the Hibiscus plant, but it is the Hibiscus Sabdariffa L. that is most commonly used for tea, thanks to its edible seed pods or ‘calyxes’. The leaves and flowers can be consumed, but it is the ruby-red calyxes that are enjoyed in many countries and cultures across the globe, not only as a refreshment in the form of a red-berry-like drink, but also as a medicine, thanks to the multitude of health benefits they provide.
It is worth mentioning that although we refer to all of our herbal teas as 'teas', Hibiscus, as well as all other herbs, do not actually originate from the tea plant, Camelia Sinensis, so they should technically be referred to as infusions or tisanes. You can read more about why herbal teas aren't really teas here.
What Hibiscus tea tastes like
The whole, dried seed pods, when infused in boiling water, produce a fruity, yet unusually tart tea. In fact in some cultures it is known as ‘sour tea’, with its flavour profile most often likened to the sharp, acidic profile of a cranberry. Although many enjoy the invigorating effect of the natural zing, Hibiscus is often served with honey for added sweetness.
The health benefits of Hibiscus tea
Hibiscus has been celebrated for its health benefits for decades. In fact, in Africa, a pulp made from the leaves was at one time even applied to the skin to heal wounds. However, today it is most well known for its numerous nutritional benefits, best consumed in tea form. Thanks to its potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, Hibiscus has been linked to benefits such as lowering cholesterol, fighting disease, regulating blood sugar, lowering blood pressure and even reducing anxiety and depression. It is also high in ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, which boosts and stimulates the immune system, making it your go-to tea for the winter months to ensure you don’t catch a cold or flu.
How best to enjoy Hibiscus tea
Hibiscus is an incredibly versatile tea, enjoyed both hot and cold. In many cultures it serves as a fruity base for other ingredients. For example, in Jamaica, a traditional Christmas drink is made by steeping the calyxes with fresh ginger, before adding sugar, cloves, cinnamon and even a little rum. Meanwhile in Africa it is often cold-brewed, then served on ice with fresh mint or ginger as a customary welcome drink. In winter, we love the invigorating effect of its natural zing, with nothing else added, but on a hot day there is little more refreshing than a cold-brewed Hibiscus, served on ice with a little maple syrup to sweeten and a sprig of fresh mint.
To learn more about herbal teas, you can read our article: Why herbal tea isn't really a tea