Aside from being a delight to one’s eyes, hibiscus (Hibiscus Sabdariffa) is also a popular medicinal herb, rich in potent antioxidant compounds. In addition to promising health benefits such as hypertension reduction and lowering of LDL and triglyceride levels, hibiscus infusions and extracts boast mild laxative effects as well as antidiabetic properties. Preliminary studies indicate the species exerts mild diuretic properties and a strong anti-inflammatory action, contributing to an overall good health.
The polyphenols in the infusion provide antioxidant protection to cells and help reduce inflammation levels in the body, preventing the development of chronic disease. Hibiscus holds cardiovascular benefits and exerts a beneficial action on the nervous system. However, despite its benefits, hibiscus consumption is not recommended before and during pregnancy and may reduce fertility in both women and men.
What does hibiscus look like? Hibiscus refers to a genus of several hundred species of flowering plants, shrubs and small trees. Flowers come in a wild variety of colors and are the pride and joy of any garden. They can be yellow, peach, white, red, pink, violet, dark red, purple or blue and each flower may have at least two different colors on its petals. Each flower has 5 or more large, broad petals with a long, slender stigma (female part of a flower) in the middle.
The Hibiscus Sabdariffa species, used for medicinal purposes is the subject of today’s article. It has broad leaves of a bold red color and produces ribbed, capsule-like fruit of a deep red color. Each fruit-capsule contains several seeds and splits open when ripe. Both the flowers and the fruits of the species are depicted in the group of images below.
What does hibiscus taste like? The fresh or dried flowers of the Hibiscus Sabdariffa species are made into a flavorful, deep red, tart tea which can be consumed both hot and cold. The leaves and the cup-like part of the plant center (sepals forming a calyx) are also used for the same purpose. Hibiscus flowers are also food in various countries around the world. They are viewed as culinary vegetables and added to various traditional recipes, or even made into candy. The leaves are cooked like leafy greens and either mixed with legumes or enjoyed as a side dish. Just like the red flowers, they can be steamed, fried or made into soup, added to curry, chicken dishes, etc. and have a sour taste.
Hibiscus is a genus of flowers encountered throughout the tropical, subtropical and temperate regions of the world. As a result of its spread, people had to make good use of it. As it is not the most fruitful edible plant, it was used mostly for medicinal purposes and thus employed to treat a variety of conditions ranging from fever to diabetes, high blood pressure, colds, cough, constipation, skin infections and wounds, liver problems, nervous system illnesses and conditions.
Modern medicine has not been able to prove most of the curative uses of the hibiscus plant, but preliminary research is optimistic as to it treating and successfully managing a small number of medical issues. In this respect, the Hibiscus Sabdariffa beautiful red variety is the go-to species used for curative purposes. Here are the top 6 health benefits of hibiscus:
1) Blood pressure-lowering effects. Research suggests hibiscus helps lower high blood pressure by positively affecting the activity of a blood vessel dilator called nitric oxide. The species is also a mild diuretic, encouraging urine excretion, a mechanism that favors a lowering in blood pressure. Antioxidant activity is also believed to promote lower blood pressure levels. There are numerous clinical trials that demonstrate the antihypertensive effects of hibiscus and studies reveal that the effectiveness of the plant is strongly dependant on the amounts consumed.
2) Cholesterol-lowering properties. Both animal and human studies show that hibiscus plays a part in lowering high blood cholesterol levels. It would appear that almost daily consumption of the plant can contribute to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, without any negative impact on HDL (good) cholesterol (Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in the treatment of hypertension and hyperlipidemia: a comprehensive review of animal and human studies).
3) Rich source of antioxidants. The red hibiscus variety is a rich source of anthocyanins, natural red pigments with antioxidant properties. The red color the flowers impart to teas and other hibiscus beverages is actually a release of anthocyanins. Other antioxidants found in hibiscus leaves are chlorogenic acid, neochlorogenic acid, cryptochlorogenic acid, quercetin, kaempferol and their glycosides (Phytochemistry, antioxidant capacity, total phenolic content and anti-inflammatory activity of Hibiscus sabdariffa leaves).
Antioxidants hunt down damaging free radical molecules and prevent them from causing damage to cells and DNA. Damage buildup alters normal cell activity and may cause cells to turn cancerous by making them believe they haven’t finished their life cycle so they replicate more than necessary, resulting in cancerous formations. Antioxidants also exhibit anti-inflammatory properties.
4) Natural anti-inflammatory. The antioxidants in the red hibiscus variety used for medicinal purposes exhibit powerful anti-inflammatory properties. According to research, high inflammation levels have been linked with the onset of chronic disease in all its forms: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, etc. Eating right and including natural foods with anti-inflammatory effects in our diet is one major step towards good health.
5) Generous source of vitamins. Raw hibiscus provides 12 mg of vitamin C for every 100 g. Vitamin C is a potent natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant with antimicrobial and immunity boosting properties. However, brewing the plant in order to make tea contributes to a 100% loss of the nutrient as vitamin C is extremely sensitive to heat.
According to research, hibiscus seeds and seed oil are a rich source of gamma-tocopherol (74.5%), alpha-tocopherol (25%) and delta-tocopherol (0.5%), all forms of vitamin E. In short, vitamin E is a fat-soluble nutrient and an important antioxidant with numerous health applications, including cancer prevention and treatment, heart disease management and prevention and skin care. (Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) seed oil is a rich source of gamma-tocopherol)
6) Tonic properties. Hibiscus boasts great tonic properties as a result of its generous dietary mineral content. Calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and potassium are all found in moderate amounts in the raw plant. Calcium is required for healthy bones and teeth and helps prevent osteoporosis. Magnesium ensures healthy mucles and heart health while iron contributes to elevated energy levels by helping transport oxygen to muscles.
Traditional uses of the plant, including fever reduction, cold and cough treatment, skin care, wounds, boils, ulcers, skin infections healing, etc. are not currently supported by scientific evidence. As for the antidiabetic properties of hibiscus, research suggests the plant can help manage conditions associated with diabetes, included but not limited to cardiovascular problems or high blood pressure. Hibiscus also boasts mild laxative properties and may help in the treatment of constipation.
Side effects. Nevertheless, due to the lack of research on the subject, hibiscus is not recommended during pregnancy. New mothers are also advised to avoid the plant in all forms for fear it may harm newborns. In addition to this, hibiscus is believed to potentially reduce fertility in both women and men. As a result, it is not recommended for anyone trying to start a family in the near future.