I usually tend to write about teas, herbs, and other beverages that I especially like, but this time I thought I'd share one that I do not particularly like, although a large number of others seem to love it. And while I may not like it, I find it very interesting because of the overwhelming scientific evidence that it can be effective at treating high blood pressure. This drink is hibiscus tea, an herbal tea made from the calyces (sepals) of the roselle plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa). Pictured here is an iced glass of this beverage:
Hibiscus tea goes by many names, in part because it is widely consumed in so many different countries and cultures. In Egypt, this drink is often referred to as karkadé(كَركَديه) which is just Arabic for hibiscus, and in much of Latin America it is called Jamaica, short for agua de flor de Jamaica.
The picture above shows the roselle plant, used to produce this herb. It is widely cultivated in hot, tropical climates, such as Egypt and Nigeria. On RateTea, you can find listings of different sources of hibiscus, including both tea companies selling it as an herbal tea, and herb companies selling it as a bulk herb.
Why I don't like hibiscus: sourness, cooked vegetable aroma:
Hibiscus produces the most sour herbal infusion of any herb that I've tried. It is even more sour than many fruits. Because of its intense sour flavor, it is often blended with other herbs, and, whether it is consumed on its own, or in blends, it is typically sweetened, often heavily so. I tend not to like sour qualities, and hibiscus is over the top on the sourness for me.
I also am not crazy about the aroma of hibiscus. In some respects its aroma is rather fruity or berry-like, and I like these qualities, but I also find that it has a strong cooked vegetable or cooked fruit aroma, much like what your home will smell like if you've been making large quantities of jam. I find this smell mildly unpleasant, and this is another reason I'm not a fan of hibiscus.
But you may love it...I find that most people like both sourness and jam more than I do!
Hibiscus is a common ingredient in herbal blends and flavored teas:
Even if you may not be aware of it, it is highly likely that you actually have consumed hibiscus in some form or another. Hibiscus is one of the most common ingredients in herbal teas, including the Celestial Seasonings Zinger® series, where it serves both to impart a deep purple-red color, and to add sourness to a blend. As you can expect, I don't particularly like these blends. The only mainstream commercial blend that contains hibiscus as a main ingredient, that I actually enjoy, is Bigelow's Sweet Dreams. Hibiscus is also sometimes blended with tea; I've tried a black tea blend with hibiscus; I wasn't a huge fan of it.
Hibiscus and Hypertension (High Blood Pressure):
I've researched a fair amount about the medicinal uses and health properties of various herbs, and hibiscus was one herb that stood out in that it has an overwhelming amount of strong evidence supporting its efficacy for treating a specific, rather serious health condition: hypertension (or high blood pressure). Not only has hibiscus been found to be effective at lowering blood pressure in multiple controlled clinical trials, but it has even been compared to a number of different prescription antihypertensive drugs, and it was found to be as effective as one of them. Furthermore, unlike prescription medications used to treat hypertension, hibiscus was found to have a complete absence of strong or serious side effects. As something that has been widely consumed as a beverage for hundreds of years, it seems absurd that people would take one of these medications without first trying hibiscus, especially in cases of milder hypertension. If you want citations to these studies you can find citations and some more detailed discussion of these studies on RateTea's page on hibiscus tea.
One of my motivations for sharing this post is to get the word out about hibiscus. Hypertension is a widespread problem in America, and most of us probably know at least a few people who are suffering from this condition. It certainly cannot hurt to try regularly drinking a few cups of this herb to lower your blood pressure before trying out a potentially riskier prescription drug. If you choose to drink it in herbal tea form, however, be careful about how much sugar you add, as high-sugar diets can contribute to or worsen hypertension.
Hibiscus may also have some other health properties, although these have been less extensively studied, and only have suggestive support, mostly from animal studies. These properties include an antipyretic (fever-lowering) effect, protection against liver damage, and lowering of cholesterol.
Do you like hibiscus?
I'd be curious to hear from other people...do you feel similarly about this herb as I do, or do you actually enjoy it? Did you know about these studies on hypertension? Would you take an herb like this one, before taking prescription medication?