Plants & People: Hibiscus Sabdariffa, a herb with medicinal and nutritional values

It is an annual or perennial herb with leaves which are deeply 3-5 lobed and arranged alternately on the stems. 

The flowers are white to pale yellow with a dark red spot at the base of each petal and have a stout fleshy calyx at the base which becomes more enlarged, fleshy and bright red as the fruit matures. The leaves and flowers of this plant are very valuable for their medicinal and nutritional values. In fact, the red fleshy calyx which protects and supports the flower is highly valued as a herbal tea in many parts of the world.

Hibiscus tea made from dried red calyx is deep red in colour and has sweet and tart flavors and may be consumed hot or iced. Like many other healthy teas, hibiscus tea is loaded with antioxidants including zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C and a number of bioflavonoids.

Hibiscus tea is known to be prolific in many modern commercial blends of cold and hot drinks due to its pleasing taste, as well as having decorative, culinary and medicinal uses. It is used as a beverage that helps to lower the body temperature, treat cardiac conditions and as a diuretic.

The plant has been used historically for high blood pressure and contains several important ingredients including alkaloids, anthocyanins and quercetin. It is thought that the antioxidant and diuretic effects of hibiscus are its most important mechanisms in lowering blood pressure in type 2 diabetics. Regular in-take of hibiscus tea is also known to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression in an individual due to the fact that it contains great quantity of flavonoids, anthocyanins and anthocyanidins with potential antidepressant activities.

Hibiscus tea may also provide relief from cramps and menstrual pain. It is thought to be able to restore hormone balance and therefore potentially lower the severity of menstruation symptoms. Additionally, drinking warm Hibiscus tea helps soothe the painful menstrual cramps. The leaf sap can be topically applied to enhance wounds and abscesses healing. Additionally, the leaf extract is used to treat sore throat, cough in many communities and in large amounts, hibiscus tea acts as a mild laxative hence improving the bowel movement.

Drinking hibiscus tea is known to significantly reduce the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. The cholesterol-lowering effect is thought to be due in part to the antioxidant anthocyanin.

Drinking hibiscus tea may also be a useful component of weight loss programs. This is due to the fact that Hibiscus tea is low in calories and it is a diuretic herb that flushes toxins and excess fluids out from the body. The high amount of vitamin C in hibiscus tea is considered a great immune system booster and it can help prevent against colds and flu. The vitamins C and A in Hibiscus tea is effective in the treatment of acne, scars, sunburns, eczema and skin allergies.

Not to mention, Hibiscus tea may be important in treatment and management of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, liver disease, cancer, depression, anxiety, weight problems, bacterial and viral infections. However, like most supplements, it is important to purchase hibiscus tea or leaves, or powder from a trusted source.  Side effects: Hibiscus tea may reduce oestrogen levels hence consuming hibiscus tea can have a direct effect on a woman’s reproductive ability. Also, if you suffer from low blood pressure or hypertension and you are taking pressure-lowering medications, you must consider removing hibiscus tea from your diet. (Richard Komakech)

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