Health Benefits of Hibiscus Tea
The Hibiscus Flower
Hibiscus is a genus of flowered plants in the family Malvaceae. Several hundred species belong to this genus. Some member species are annual, and some are perennial. They tend to grow in warmer regions of the world, typically in climates ranging from temperatue to tropical, and not dry regions.
The species that will be discussed here is the Hibiscus sabdariffa, typically found in tropical regions of the world. It is a relatively large sized herb, growing between 7-8 feet tall. The Hibiscus flower, from which the tea is made, has white to off white petals that will sometimes have a red spot at the base. The color of the calyx is bright red. The entire flower is about 3-4 inches long.
What is Hibiscus Tea?
Hibiscus tea is what is often called an "herbal tea". It is produced from the calyx of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower. It is not a true tea, but a tisane, however the beverage is referred to popularly as hibiscus tea. True teas come from the plant Camellia sinensis. The tea is crimson colored and is consumed and brewed either hot or cold. Other names it can go by are roselle or rosella, flor de Jamaica, Chai Kujarat, bissap, gumamela, sorrel or red sorrel, bissap, and karkarde. The flavonoids in the calcyx, in particular delphinidin and cyanidin, are what gives the flower and the tea its crimson color. It has a semi sweet flavor that resembles the cranberry.
There was a randomized experiment conducted by Tufts University at their Research Center on Aging for a possible effect that hibiscus tea might have on blood pressure. 65 adults that suffered from either prehypertension or mild hypertension between the ages of 30-70 that were not taking any blood pressure medication were given either brewed hibiscus tea or a placebo daily for a six week period. Each of the participants had their blood pressure taken at the beginning of the experiment and then weekly for the duration of the trial. The result was a significant lowering of blood pressure in both the systolic and diastolic measurements for people given the hibiscus tea. It was also found that the higher a participant's blood pressure was, the greater the effect. The effect will wear off if it is not regularly consumed.
The effect of hibiscus on blood pressure was hypothesized long before it was shown in clinical trials. In many countries such as Iran, it was prescribed as a blood pressure regulator.
Three noted trials were conducted to investigate the benefit that hibiscus can have on cholesterol levels. They were conducted in 2007, 2009, and 2010, respectively. The first experiment consisted of 42 people split into three groups. They were not given tea, but an pill containing hibiscus extract. Groups 1, 2, and 3 were given one, two and three capsules three times daily, respectively. At the end of the trial, it was found that the benefits were found in the first two groups only. So there may be some suggestion that there may be an upper limit to how much hibiscus should be consumed before it ceases to be beneficial. This is only potentially true as far as the cholesterol benefit is concerned, however. This "excessive dose" effect has not been observed in any other of the benefits of hibiscus.
The 2009 trial compared the effect of hibiscus versus black tea. It consisted of 60 people, half were given hibiscus, and half black tea, twice daily. At the end of the trial, the conclusion was that hibiscus benefited both HDL and LDL levels, whereas the black tea only had a benefit for the HDL.
The 2010 experiment was significantly larger, consisting of 222 people. All of these subjects had preexisting negative metabolic changes in their systems. They were split into three groups - the first was given a healthy diet, the second had no dietary changes but were given hibiscus, and the third group was given both. The findings included not only did hibiscus have a benefit to cholesterol levels, but also to healthy blood sugar levels.
Other Common Uses
Hibiscus has been used not only orally, but topically as well for skin conditions in Africa. Africans have historically also used it as an herbal remedy to promote general upper respiratory health.
Europeans have also utilized hibiscus for upper respiratory health. It is also used in Europe to relieve constipation and to aid in promoting better circulation.
Hibiscus tea has a high concentration of organic acids. The three organic acids that have been identified are citric, malic, and tartaric. These have been known to give an overall boost to the immune system.
There has been an increase in the study of plants in recent years that are thought to have chemopreventive properties. Chemoprevention is defined as the use of a compound to interfere with cancer to inhibit, delay, or reverse carcinogenesis. A plant is said to be chemopreventive when it contains molecule types that are known to have anti-cancer properties. Most exceptionally powerful antioxidants are examples of these compounds. In particular, various flavonoids have been studied extensively as of late in the ongoing effort to cure cancer.
Hibiscus tea has been found to have a high concentration of antioxidants, and a wide variety of types. It contains anthocyanins, anthocyanidins, catechins and other flavonoids which are also found in green tea. One study determined that hibiscus tea has a higher overall concentration of antioxidants than does green tea, which also is classified as having chemopreventive agents.
Hibiscus, despite its wide variety of positive uses and characteristics, should be avoided by pregnant women. It is classified as an emmenagogue, or stimulant for menstruation. It causes a drop in progesterone levels, which are most important in the first stages of pregnancy. Drinking hibiscus tea during this time can result in a miscarriage.
Women who are trying to conceive should also not consume hibiscus. It can interfere with the implantation process.
Finally, due to the fact that hibiscus has the ability to lower blood pressure, people who have hypotension - excessively low blood pressure, should not consume hibiscus.