Many people are familiar with the beautiful flowers of the hibiscus plant (Hibiscus Sabdariffa). It originated in North Africa and Southeast Asia but now grows in many tropical and subtropical climates. People around the world use various parts of the plant as food and medicine.
The part of the hibiscus plant that protects and supports the flower is called the calyx. The dried calyces are used to make hibiscus tea.
Other drinks made from the hibiscus plant include:
- red sorrel
- agua de Jamaica
- Sudan tea
- sour tea
Hibiscus tea is categorized as an herbal tea. Herbal tea is made from a variety of plants, herbs, and spices. In many countries, herbal tea cannot be called “tea” since it does not come from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
Although not as popular as black and green teas, herbal tea sales continue to rise, in part due to their potential health benefits.
Hibiscus health benefits
Historically, hibiscus tea has been used in African countries to decrease body temperature, treat heart disease, and sooth a sore throat. In Iran, hibiscus tea is used to treat high blood pressure.
Recent studies have looked at the possible role of hibiscus in the treatment of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Hibiscus tea and high blood pressure
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming hibiscus tea lowered blood pressure in people at risk of high blood pressure and those with mildly high blood pressure.
Study participants consumed three 8-ounce servings of hibiscus tea or a placebo beverage daily for 6 weeks. Those who drank the hibiscus tea saw a significant reduction in their systolic blood pressure, compared to those who consumed the placebo drink.
A meta-analysis of studies published in 2015, found that drinking hibiscus tea significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. More studies are needed to confirm the results.
Hibiscus tea and cholesterol
Research published in 2011 compared the results of consuming hibiscus versus black tea on cholesterol levels.
Ninety people with high blood pressure consumed either hibiscus or black tea twice a day for 15 days.
After 30 days, neither group had meaningful changes in their LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. However, both groups had significant increases in their total and HDL or “good” cholesterol levels.
However, other studies have shown mixed results. A review published in 2013, found that drinking hibiscus tea did not significantly decrease cholesterol levels.
Other studies, including a 2014 review of a number of clinical trials, showed that consuming hibiscus tea or extract increased good cholesterol and decreased bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Better quality studies are still needed to investigate the impact of hibiscus consumption on cholesterol levels.
Nutritional breakdown of hibiscus tea
Naturally, calorie and caffeine-free, hibiscus tea may be served with sugar or honey as a sweetener.
Hibiscus tea is naturally calorie and caffeine-free. It can be served hot or iced. Because hibiscus tea is naturally tart, sugar or honey is often added as a sweetener, adding calories and carbohydrates.
The heart health benefits associated with hibiscus tea are believed to be due to compounds called anthocyanins, the same naturally occurring chemicals that give berries their color.
Types of Hibiscus
Hibiscus may be available in the following forms:
- single tea bags
- ready-to-drink tea
- loose flower petals
- liquid extract
- encapsulated powder
Hibiscus side effects and risks
A 2013 review of studies reported that very high doses of hibiscus extract could potentially cause liver damage. The same review reported that hibiscus extract was shown to interact with hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic) in animals and with acetaminophen in humans.
Individuals who drink herbal teas should be let their doctors know, as some herbs have the potential to interact with medications.
According to other sources, hibiscus consumption is not safe for people who take chloroquine, a medication for malaria. Hibiscus may decrease how well the medicine works in the body.
People with diabetes or on high blood pressure medications should monitor their blood sugar and blood pressure levels when consuming hibiscus. This is because it may decrease blood sugar or blood pressure levels.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not drink hibiscus tea.
Drinking hibiscus tea in moderation is generally considered safe. However, other products containing hibiscus are not regulated and may or may not contain what they claim. These include: