Hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants. Most are native to tropical regions, but many species are commonly grown indoors as houseplants or within warm temperate areas outside. In addition to being admired for their ornamental beauty, these flowers have been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Hibiscus extract and tea have been produced from the blooms and used worldwide.
Although there are numerous varieties within the genus, hibiscus extract is most often obtained from the red flowers of H. sabdariffa, also known as Roselle. This particular species is generally cultivated in areas in and around China, Thailand, Egypt, and India but may be grown in other regions as well. The history of its use, including the tea produced from the plant, dates back for centuries.
Hibiscus extract was a commonly used folk remedy. Many cultures have used the extract to treat dandruff, stimulate hair growth, and darken eyebrows. Others thought the plant contained aphrodisiac qualities. According to some historical records, the hibiscus was referred to as shoe black, as its extract was occasionally used to polish shoes.
The plant has been shown to have antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Hibiscus extract also contains properties that are believed to reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or bad cholesterol. This is not only good for the heart and circulation, but may help reduce blood pressure as well. Additionally, the plant provides cooling relief by dilating pores. It is also good for the skin, improving its elasticity and helping to heal sores and wounds.
Hibiscus acts as a mild laxative and may aid in alleviating problems with indigestion. Drinking the tea is thought to provide relief from kidney ailments as well. Hibiscus extract relaxes the uterus, which makes it a suitable remedy for treating urinary tract infections. It has even been a popular remedy for the treatment of hemorrhoids. Other remedies include the treatment of colds and respiratory problems.
In addition to making herbal tea from hibiscus, its culinary uses include syrups, jams, relish, salad dressings, and sauces. Hibiscus extract is also used as both a coloring and flavoring agent for a variety of baked foods and beverages—providing a dark red color and mild taste. Other parts of the plant, including the leaves, stalks, seeds, and roots, have been used in many cultures for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes as well.
Other than minor skin irritation in sensitive individuals, there are no known precautions associated with the use of hibiscus. However, according to some studies, drinks produced from Roselle could produce alcoholic effects in some people.