Hibiscus tea is an herbal tea with many health benefits. The hibiscus flower contains the calyx, which protects and supports the hibiscus plant and is responsible for those health benefits. Hibiscus tea consists of dried calyces, which are steeped to make both hot and cold beverages.
There are over 200 varieties of hibiscus tea that are commercially sold in the United States. The formal name of hibiscus is the Hibiscus Sabdariffa flower. It is caffeine-free (as long as it is not blended with other teas) and bursting with sweet-yet-tart flavors, making it the perfect swap for a normally sugar-filled juice or beverage. Its flavor is thought to be similar to cranberry, and it is sometimes referred to as “sour tea.” It is rich in anthocyanins, which are responsible for its deep red/magenta color. It can be served cold as a refreshing glass of iced tea or hot to warm you on a cold day or as part of an evening ritual.
How is hibiscus tea used?
Hibiscus tea has been used for thousands of years as folk medicine in various cultures around the world. It is also used and studied in modern science remedies. Many claim that it can be used to calm nervous disorders, help with sleep, and even speed up metabolism. The pulp has been used topically to care for wounds as well. Some of these claims have legitimate research studies to support them.
The most scientifically studied claim is the use of hibiscus tea to positively affect blood pressures and cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease. Some of the other less-researched health benefits of hibiscus tea include assisting in digestion, strengthening immunity, working as an anti-inflammatory agent, and reducing the risk of cancer.
Studies on hibiscus tea.
The Journal of Nutrition published a recent study that used a randomized controlled trial to assess whether drinking hibiscus tea could reduce blood pressure in mildly hypertensive or pre-hypertensive adults. In this study, fewer than 100 participants were instructed to continue with their normal diet for six weeks. In addition, the participants were divided into two randomized groups. One group was instructed to drink three servings of calyces of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower, and the other was to consume the placebo.
This was a blind study, which means that neither group knew which treatment they were receiving. After just six weeks, the researchers found that there was a substantial reduction in systolic blood pressure in the patient group that was drinking the hibiscus tea. The blood-pressure-lowering effects of hibiscus tea could be a result of its flavonoid or its phytochemical content, although that’s not entirely conclusive. The results of this study suggest that if consumed over time, hibiscus tea can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack, which is another huge benefit of hibiscus tea.
Hibiscus tea as a natural diuretic.
Hibiscus tea has also been shown to work as a natural diuretic, increasing both urination and bowel movements. As the water leaves the body, it pulls the sodium with it, which is one mechanism by which blood pressure is reduced.
As mentioned above, hibiscus tea contains a rich amount of anthocyanin, which is a phenolic compound. It is believed that this active compound is responsible for the tea’s cardio-protective effects. Another study on hibiscus tea investigated the hypolipidemic effects of drinking hibiscus tea. The researchers specifically looked at patients suffering from metabolic disorders like diabetes. The patients were randomly assigned to hibiscus tea or a placebo (black tea) and were instructed to consume it two times a day over the course of a month. Blood samples were taken before the study began and upon completion. The group that drank the hibiscus tea saw an increase in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL, also known as the good cholesterol). The results also showed a significant decrease in the average total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL, also known as the bad cholesterol).
Hibiscus tea for immune support.
Hibiscus tea is thought to be excellent for immune support, as it is extremely high in ascorbic acid, more commonly known as vitamin C. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that is responsible for keeping the immune system healthy and strong by assisting in the production of white blood cells. White blood cells have a serious job in the body and are responsible for fighting the pathogens and infections that sneak in. In addition, vitamin C promotes healthy skin and tissues and keeps the nervous system working.
Drinking hibiscus tea could also be helpful for patients suffering from anemia. Hibiscus tea is surprisingly high in iron. An 8-fluid-ounce serving (1 cup) delivers a whopping 20 milligrams of iron—an important mineral that keeps the immune system balanced and helps the body to maintain red blood cells (the carriers of oxygen around the body). The vitamin C naturally found within the hibiscus works to complement the iron, increasing its absorption. With the heaping amount of iron also comes small amounts of minerals like potassium, magnesium, and zinc.
A study done in Taiwan on mice found that drinking hibiscus tea can slow the growth of cancer cells. Per this study, the researchers believed that the anthocyanins found in the hibiscus tea were responsible for slowing the growth of specific cancer cells. Specifically, this study looked at the HL-60 cells and found that hibiscus tea could cause cancer cell apoptosis, which means death of the cells. Although further investigations are needed, especially with human subjects, hibiscus tea could be developed as a chemopreventive agent in the future.
Hibiscus may also be a powerful and natural antimicrobial agent in fighting against food-borne illnesses. One study conducted in 2011 investigated the antimicrobial activity of Hibiscus sabdariffa on Escherichia coli (better known as E. coli). The findings indicate that hibiscus was effective at all levels in inhibiting E. coli—therefore making it a promising antimicrobial agent that could be considered for inhibiting other types of food-borne illness.
Hibiscus has also been shown to work as an antifungal agent. A study conducted in 2014 found that Hibiscus sabdariffa extract inhibits the formation of Candida albicans. Candida albicans is a type of yeast normally found in small numbers on the skin, or in the mouth, gut, or vaginal flora in about 15 to 60 percent of the population. It is considered a low-grade pathogen, but when there is candida overgrowth, it becomes a health concern. And there are limited therapeutic options available to treat candida overgrowth, which raises more concerns for those affected and for us as a global health community. It is essential to research and develop methods of prevention. Therefore, promoting the application of natural plant-derived antimicrobials, like hibiscus, may be a good option for long-term prevention of these types of infections.
Hibiscus tea and weight loss.
Hibiscus tea may also help with weight loss. One study found that hibiscus was effective at reducing obesity, abdominal fat, and serum-free fatty acids and improved liver steatosis. In this study, all subjects had a body mass index (BMI) equal to or greater than 27, which is considered to be overweight. The subjects were divided into two groups. Over the course of 12 weeks, the control group was instructed to take a placebo, and the other group received a hibiscus extract pill.
The results of the study found that the group that took the hibiscus extract pill lost weight, decreased BMI, decreased body fat, and improved their waist-to-hip ratio. They also showed improvement in their liver steatosis. These results suggest that hibiscus extract may help prevent obesity, assist in weight loss, and help treat non-alcoholic fatty liver. Other studies propose (but have not proved) that hibiscus may be a digestive enzyme inhibitor. That means that hibiscus might bind to the enzymes within our GI tract, preventing them from breaking down foods (like carbs and fat) and therefore preventing the body from being able to absorb those nutrients.
Hibiscus tea is loaded with antioxidants and could be helpful in reducing oxidative stress in the body. In fact, it was higher in ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), a lab test that quantifies the total antioxidant capacity of a food or food substance, than matcha, which was previously thought to be the most potent tea source of antioxidants. Hibiscus tea contained ORAC values twice as high as matcha’s. Hibiscus tea contains two antioxidants: anthocyanins and quercetin glucoside. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals invade the body and the body does not have enough antioxidants to combat them. Free radical damage may contribute to many health issues ranging from cancer to aging skin, so it’s good to know hibiscus tea can be so helpful.
Hibiscus tea and kidney stone prevention.
One study investigated the effect of drinking hibiscus tea on kidney stones. Kidney stones occur when there is a buildup of calcium oxalates in the urine. These stones are painful, and it is difficult for them to leave the body. This study evaluated hibiscus as a way to prevent calcium oxalate crystals from turning into stones in rats. The study found that the calyces of the hibiscus flower are anti-urolithiatic and can be consumed with no harmful effects, meaning drinking hibiscus tea may be effective at preventing kidney stones.
What to watch out for with hibiscus tea.
As delicious and beneficial as hibiscus tea is, it can also be dangerous (particularly for the liver) when consumed in large amounts. Additionally, pregnant women should make sure to steer clear of hibiscus tea—it can put them at risk for premature labor or menstruation. It can also cause blood sugar to drop suddenly, and even cause nausea and ear-ringing. If you start to experience any of these negative side effects, stop drinking hibiscus tea immediately.
Risks aside, there are many benefits to drinking hibiscus tea, some more well-studied than others. Including hibiscus tea in your routine is a great way to hydrate and increase the amount of antioxidants you consume. Happy sipping!