Lower Blood Pressure with Hibiscus Rosella
‘Dear Dr. Kris,
I have heard that hibiscus tea has a range of health benefits for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, since I have a plant growing in the garden I was wondering if it is possible to use this to make the tea and if so how? Do I use the leaves or the flowers, and must it be fresh or dried? Thanks in Advance, Edward, Seminyak’
Hibiscus tea is also known as hibiscus rosella or rosella tea. It is made from the flower of Hibiscus sabdariffa, not be confused with the more common China Rose/ Hawaiian Hibiscus – Hibiscus rosa sinensis.
Hibiscus sabdariffa is thought to have originated in tropical Africa, although hostprical records indicate that it has been cultivated in India, Asia and parts of the Pacific for centuries. It will grow from the tropics to semi-arid environments. It has been used as a medicine traditionally throughout Asia and Africa and it is just now receiving accolades as another one of those new ‘superfoods’ that they are discovering on a daily basis even though it was always obvious that natural foods would always boost your health.
‘Food is Medicine’ is a term originally attributed to Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, and the marketing gurus would copyright the phrase if they could, if they haven’t already! They told us that suddenly oats were healthy and super, even though we’d been eating porridge for years and already knew this. Then came goji berry, and quinoa seed. Now packaged coconut water is taking the world by storm, even though it’s nothing like the real thing drunk fresh from the ‘nut’ sitting by a roadside warung somewhere in Indonesia. And now the experts are extolling the benefits of coconut oil, even though a few years back, mainstream dietary advice demonised it as a saturated fat, and just the same goes for avocados!
It’s not so much that these great plants have been recently discovered, it is more that they are being rediscovered as people look for alternatives to the illnesses caused by the over consumption of processed foods, packed with chemicals, colours and preservatives. Then big business comes along and looks for a way to wrap this up in a marketing package to ‘cash in’ as people divert their eating habits back to natural foods, and they deliver us ‘superfoods’ which is just a really exciting way of saying plant foods. Miracle foods and dietary crazes have been around for centuries, but our susceptibility to their charms remains undiminished, as we always prefer a short cut when deep down we know there is hard work to be done. I digress.
Yes, Hibiscus tea made has many touted effects, the tea is refreshing and tasty so definitely you should try some if you already have it growing right there. The plant is attractive with large flowers. You will harvest the calyx to make the tea, the fleshy part at the base of the flower. Never harvest a plant that has been sprayed for pests, unless that plant has been trimmed and achieved significant fresh growth since. If you don’t have a plant, it is easy to grow and suited to a tropical/ sub-tropical climate. The attractive deep red stems and prominently veined leaves are sufficiently to warrant planting as an ornamental. Most soil types are suitable, provided they are rich and well-drained. Plenty of water is needed to maintain growth, and it will usually reach a height of 2 metres. Allow a minimum of one square metre of growing space for each plant.
Studies conclusively show that hibiscus tea can lower blood pressure as effectively as some standard hypertension drugs. Egyptian Pharaohs were said to drink hibiscus tea to stay ‘cool’.
It has been traditionally been used to treat high blood pressure in African and Asian herbal medicine. In 1996, Nigerian researchers showed that hibiscus flowers reduced blood pressure in animals. Then scientists in Mexico showed that hibiscus tea (brewed from 10 grams of crushed dried flowers/ 1-2 cups of water / once a day) performed as well the drug captopril (Capoten; 25 milligrams twice a day). After four weeks, the herb had worked as well as the drug, with both study groups showing an 11% drop in blood pressure. A further study by the USDA in 2008 showed that Hibiscus tea or extract lowers blood pressure, and that the higher the participant’s blood pressure was, the bigger the drop tended to be. It is widely consumed around the world and, unlike most blood pressure drugs, rarely causes side effects. It is thought that hibiscus lowers blood pressure by slowing the release of hormones that constrict blood vessels. It is a concentrated form of antioxidants, high in Vitamin C and may help lower cholesterol.
Place one hibiscus flower in a glass or mug, then pour in boiling water. Allow to steep for 10 mins, then sit and remove the flower. It can be served hot or cold/ iced. Otherwise you can pick many flowers dry them and store for later use, just make as you would any other tea. The calyx or base of the flower is primarily used to make teas, harvest them at when young and plump at about 5cm in length.
Dose recommendations vary from about 1 teaspoon of dried flower, up to the 5 teaspoons used in the Mexican study. Remember to use hibiscus flowers that are free from pesticides. All parts of the hibiscus plant can be used, the flowers will make a sweeter tea. The fruits can be eaten or made into jam, and the leaves are used in cuisine throughout the world, particularly across Asia. The flower petals make an attractive addition to salads and the tender young leaves may be steamed like spinach. Be sure not to confuse Hibiscus rosella with the more common and widely known Hawaiian hibiscus / Chinese hibiscus (Hiibiscus rosa sinensis) – though you can make tea from the flowers with this one, with similar benefits.
Since ancient times, people have used plants to heal themselves, and it is clearly evident that food plays a major role in health and how you feel.
Consult with your doctor before taking hibiscus if you are already on medication to lower blood pressure. As with all medications, side effects are possible. If you experience allergic symptoms shortly after ingesting hibiscus, stop taking it until you see your doctor.
Copyright © 2014 Dr. Kris
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