I first discovered the joys of hibiscus tea while traveling through Mexico and Central America late last year. After the first sip, I was instantly in love. The deep ruby hues of the drink itself, followed by the rich, natural sweetness and slightly sour aftertaste made for a wonderfully refreshing drink amidst the sweaty crowds of Playa Del Carmen, Mexico or the colonial chaos of Antigua, Guatemala.
Despite it’s seeming innocence and wondrously refreshing taste, experience has taught me to automatically distrust any food or drink I know nothing about, and this new red drink was no exception. While I could see that the bright, iridescent hummingbirds gave a big thumbs up to the hibiscus flower (their long beaks and even longer tongues giving them the advantage over other pollinating insects), the question was whether or not it was fit for human consumption.
After some preliminary research, however, I was delighted to find that hibiscus tea, in it’s purest form, has a wide range of health benefits. Some store-bought varieties of hibiscus tea (known as “jamaica” in Mexico and Central America — pronounced “ha-mye-kah”) may have added sweeteners. Instead, buy the straight powdered form of this nutritious flower, or even the whole dried flowers themselves, to work real wonders on your health.
Hibiscus tea, otherwise known as “sour tea” in Iran and other areas of western Asia, can be traced back to ancient Angola. As the process of globalization took hold, it began to spread throughout the rest of the world, with Egyptians prizing it for its ability to maintain normal body temperature and encourage fluid balance. In other North African countries, the tea has been used for supporting upper respiratory health and to promote healthy skin. In Europe, hibiscus is often turned to for promoting circulation and alleviating the odd bout of constipation.
If the boiled extract from one specific plant can achieve such global appreciation, clearly it’s something worth drinking. Here are a few of the reasons why you should jump on the bandwagon.
1. Treat high blood pressure
An increasing body of scientific evidence is pointing towards hibiscus as a powerful tool for improving heart health. Studies show that daily consumption of hibiscus tea may benefit people with elevated blood pressure, with one six-week study indicating that hibiscus tea had a greater effect on lowering systolic blood pressure than the control group. Research indicates that hibiscus may be a beneficial drink for those with mildly high blood pressure, pre-hypertension or even type 2 diabetes.
2. Lower cholesterol
The high concentrations of antioxidants in hibiscus, which make it such an effective food for lowering blood pressure, also result in a surprisingly powerful tool for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Several studies have shown that regular consumption of hibiscus can help to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind). It thereby improves the ratio of HDL (“healthy”) cholesterol to LDL cholesterol in the body and helps to protect against heart disease and blood vessel damage.
In 2010, researchers conducted a large study of 222 adults, around one-third of which suffered from metabolic syndrome. They were randomly assigned to three groups — healthy diet, hibiscus, and healthy diet with hibiscus. While the study designer’s concept of a “healthy diet” remains to be determined, the study found that those suffering from metabolic syndrome had significantly reduced blood glucose, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The study also determined that regular consumption of hibiscus also resulted in a measurable improvement in insulin sensitivity. The study hypothesized that the anthocyanins in hibiscus help to regulate adipocyte function, which promotes both prevention and treatment of metabolic syndrome.
3. Protect the liver
Those antioxidants in hibiscus which we seem to keep going back to have done it again, this time with regards to the health of your liver. These days, chronic exposure to both environmental toxins and food-based toxins mean most people’s livers are struggling to absorb and remove the toxins flowing steadily into our bodies. A study published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology indicated that the antioxidant anthocyanins in hibiscus had an anti-inflammatory effect on liver lesions in rats, along with reduced oxidative damage. While this effect doesn’t seem to have been modeled on humans yet, it suggests that drinking hibiscus can significantly lower your risk of liver disease, and also give it a helping hand in its fight against toxins.
4. Relieve anxiety and depression
The healing abilities of hibiscus also appear to extend to the central nervous system. A 2012 study found that the flavonoids and antioxidants in hibiscus have a strong antidepressant effect on the brain and that it has therapeutic potential in the treatment of central nervous system disorders due to its dopaminergic, noradrenergic and serotonergic mechanisms. Fancy words, but the message is clear — drinking hibiscus has a positive effect on your brain and mood.
— Liivi Hess
As always, in order to get the most benefits out of your hibiscus tea, look out for organic or spray-free hibiscus products!