Hibiscus Sabdariffa (Malvaceae) H. Rosa-Sinensis

Hibiscus is native to Africa but can be cultivated in North America and South-East Asia. They belong to the Mallow family and are also known as roselle, sour tea, or red sorrel.  They can tolerate frost as long as there is adequate moisture, and it prefers full sun with well-drained soil.  There are more than two hundred species of deciduous trees and shrubs in the hibiscus genus.  The hibiscus is an erect evergreen shrub, growing to a maximum of 10m in the wild.  The taller species can grow to about nine feet in height.  The oval-shaped leaves are palmately veined or lobed, glossy dark green colour, and usually three to five inches long.  The stems are typically round and smooth.  The entire plant is covered with fine grey hair.  

The flowers are big and attractive and can be white, pink, red, or purple. Red flowers are most commonly cultivated for medical purposes and are available as dietary supplements. All parts of the plant, that is above the ground, are edible but the part used most often is the calyx (the outer base of the flower). When the flower becomes enlarged they can be consumed as fiber, or for the healing properties; they contain flavonoids and anthocyanins (blue, red, and purple pigments found in plants). When the flower dies, the calyces become big, red, and juicy. They have a similar structure to rosehips. The calyces are commonly used for brewing teas and added to food for flavour and colour.

Hibiscus In History

The true origin of hibiscus is unknown but It seems that it may have come from India.  It is believed that people from India spread hibiscus south and into the Pacific Islands.  The earliest cultivation is believed to come from China, and European travelers were so intrigued by this tropical plant that they brought it back to their homes.  They became known as “stove plants” as they survived best by the stove during the winter months.

Hibiscus has been used as a medicinal remedy by different cultures for centuries.  African healing practices date back to the dawn of history to ancient Egypt where red calyces were used by soaking hibiscus in water till it turned sour.  They would use the tea to treat measles in young children, and to help cool down the body during the hot weather.  It was also used to treat constipation and liver diseases.  Pulp was made from the leaves and applied to the skin to heal wounds.  In Chinese folk medicine, hibiscus tea was used to treat liver disorders and high blood pressure whilst ancient Egypt used it to bring down a fever.  In Iran drinking hibiscus tea is still a common treatment for high blood pressure.


Folk names for hibiscus were Kharkady (Arabic), Graxa, Gumamela, Shoeflower and Tulipan.  In  ancient times, hibiscus flowers were used in folk magic to evoke lust, love, and divination.  The flowers of the red hibiscus were brewed into a strong tea that was drunk for its lust-inducing powers.  This was forbidden for women in Egypt for the very same reason.  The blossoms have also been used in love incenses and sachets.  They were placed in wreaths in marriage ceremonies in the tropics.  

Fun Facts

1. Hibiscus means “plant that is consecrated to the ibis”, a bird held sacred in ancient Egypt.

2. Hibiscus also means feminine beauty and youthfulness.

3. Hibiscus can bloom in a variety of colours; yellow is known for good fortune, pink for friendship, purple for intellectual insight and red for love and passion.

4. Hibiscus is Hawaii’s state flower and when worn by young women behind their left ear means she is married or in a relationship.  If the flower is worn on the right, she is single and available for a relationship.

5. Hibiscus is the national flower for Malaysia.

5. The red hibiscus is the flower of the Hindu goddess, Kali and hibiscus are used as an offering to her and Lord Ganesha in Hindu worship.

6. The juice of the hibiscus petals and flowers was used as a dye by the Chinese and Indians to darken eyebrows and hair.

7. Malays used the flowers in exorcism for epidemics and diseases.

8. In Malaya and Indonesia, the flower petals were used to produce a black dye for shoe polishing;  the reason why hibiscus is also known as “shoe flower”.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Hibiscus?

Hibiscus makes a refreshing, pleasant-tasting tea that is cooling and mildly sedative.  It can soothe hot and feverish conditions.  The calyces are gently tonic and will ease colds, coughs, and chest problems.  They also aid digestion and gently stimulate appetite.  Both the calyces and flowers act to reduce cholesterol levels.  All parts of the hibiscus are demulcent, mildly soothing sore or inflamed mucus membranes within the digestive and respiratory tracts.  Various clinical studies have shown that hibiscus helps to lower high blood pressure.

High Blood Pressure

Scientific interest in Hibiscus has grown in the last several years with some published research studies, especially in the area of dyslipidemia and hypertension. A six weeks study was carried out by Diane McKay from Tufts University in Boston showing three cups of herbal tea containing hibiscus each day lowered blood pressure.  The study was carried out on 65 healthy men and women with elevated blood pressure at the American Health Association (AHA).  The result showed that drinking hibiscus tea blends lowered systolic blood pressure.  There was an average drop of 7 points in comparison to the 1-point drop for the placebo group.

Another study was carried out on 46 people with stage one hypertension.  They were divided into 2 groups and given the same lifestyle and dietary advice for controlling blood pressure.  The case group was given 2 cups of hibiscus tea for 1 month.  The result showed that there was a reduction in systolic blood pressure in both groups but in the case group the drop was significantly higher.  The drop in blood pressure in the controlled group could have been due to reducing weight, decreasing sodium, increasing potassium, and exercise.  

Can hibiscus tea reduce high blood pressure?

Clinical trials revealed that hibiscus can lower hypertension but more research needs to be carried out.


How does cancer develop in the body?

It all begins in the cells of the body.  In a healthy body there is a state of equilibrium between cell birth and death, but when old cells don’t die and new cells are produced – when not needed, the extra cells bundle up together to form a tumor.  There several factors resulting in the disharmony of the internal cellular system and one of them is oxidative stress.

Like green, black, and ginger tea (link to soothe tea page), hibiscus has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties with an emphasis on its hypolipidemic effects.   Several laboratory studies were carried out using hibiscus extracts with chemotherapeutics such as taxol, cisplatin and tamoxifen in estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer cells, triple-negative human breast cancer cells, and normal non-cancerous cells.  The result showed that there were signs of apoptosis in both triple-negative and estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer cells when hibiscus was given in controlled dosage.  It was concluded that hibiscus extracts could combine with chemotherapeutics to produce a more effective treatment whilst reducing drug dosage and toxicity.  Studies, however, are still ongoing.

Is hibiscus tea good for cancer?

Several studies indicate the benefits of drinking hibiscus teas for a variety of cancers due to a high quantity of polyphenolic compounds.

Liver Health

The liver is a magnificent organ and can regenerate itself.  Its main responsibility is for assimilating and regulating fats and proteins to ensure the arteries don’t clog up and help prevent cardiovascular disease.  It also works with the pancreas, to maintain blood sugar levels and protect against diabetes.  The liver can store essential nutrients which are released into the body when needed for energy.  It also works with the immune system trying to protect the body from bacteria and viruses.

The liver is a very important organ as it helps eliminate toxins from the body.  It is essential to take care of the liver in any way possible by using natural liver support mechanisms such as hibiscus, in this case.  Obesity is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and hibiscus has been proven scientifically, through clinical trials on humans, showing that it had metabolic-regulating and liver- protecting properties.   A study was carried out on 18-65-year-old people who were divided into 2 groups – one without hibiscus and the other treated with hibiscus extracts for 12 weeks.  The group that consumed hibiscus resulted in reduced abdominal fat and serum free fatty acids with an improvement in fatty liver.   

Furthermore, hibiscus is well-known to help with internal body inflammation which can lead to more serious illnesses such as cancer, arthritis, and autoimmune disorders.  Traditionally, hibiscus has been considered as a supplement treatment to counteract the effects of inflammation.    

Any contraindications?

Hibiscus tea is considered safe but excessive consumption could create some digestive issues, lower blood pressure to produce fatigue, and dizziness and could potentially lead to hypoglycemia, therefore caution should be taken for those on diabetes medication. 

Is hibiscus good for diabetics?

Consuming hibiscus tea has antidiabetic effects and may interfere with diabetic medication

How much hibiscus tea can I drink?

We recommend 2-3 cups daily

Can hibiscus help with skin?

Hibiscus contains high levels of vitamin C that help promote collagen production.

Tea With Hibiscus

Hibiscus combines well with other botanical herbs for therapeutic effects as well as adding flavour and colour to an infusion.  The following herbal teas have been combined with hibiscus…

Cleanse combines traditional botanicals used in herbalism since ancient times, to support the detoxifying organs such as the liver, kidney and skin.  The addition of hibiscus enhances the cleansing process, and assimilation of fat and proteins from the liver.

Immunity is a blend of rooibos tea, hibiscus and ginger.  All three components are known for their antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.  Furthermore, the blend is rich in vitamin C which helps keep bugs at bay.

Very Berry Tea is a fun and fruity tea made with dried berries and hibiscus making this the perfect antioxidant tea!

Hair and Nails has been specifically designed using ingredients such as hibiscus to promote collagen production and various botanicals such as rosemary to stimulate and help repair damaged hair and encourage healthy hair growth. 

Disclaime: This website contains general information about the traditional use of herbal teas.  The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such.  If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare providers.