All You Need to Know About Hibiscus

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on June 22, 2017Written by Rena Goldman

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Hibiscus plants are known for their large, colorful flowers. These blossoms can make a decorative addition to a home or garden, but they also have medicinal uses. The flowers and leaves can be made into teas and liquid extracts that can help treat a variety of conditions.

Read on to find out how hibiscus can help with weight loss and cancer, and how it can also help relieve conditions that include:

Hibiscus flowers come in many colors. They can be red, yellow, white, or peach-colored, and can be as big as 6 inches wide. The most popular variety is Hibiscus sabdariffa. The red flowers of this variety are most commonly cultivated for medical purposes, and are available as dietary supplements.

Hibiscus tea, also called sour tea because of its tart taste, is made from a mixture of dried hibiscus flowers, leaves, and dark red calyces (the cup-shaped centers of the flowers). After the flower finishes blooming, the petals fall off and the calyces turn into pods. These hold the plant’s seeds. Calyces are often the main ingredients in herbal drinks containing hibiscus.

Hibiscus has been used by different cultures as a remedy for several conditions. Egyptians used hibiscus tea to lower body temperature, treat heart and nerve diseases, and as a diuretic to increase urine production.

In Africa, tea was used to treat constipation, cancer, liver disease, and cold symptoms. Pulp made from the leaves was applied to the skin to heal wounds.

In Iran, drinking sour tea is still a common treatment for high blood pressure.

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Today, hibiscus is popular for its potential to reduce high blood pressure. Modern studies show promise for both the tea and hibiscus plant extract to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Although more research is still needed, this could be good news for the future of heart disease treatment.

Hibiscus shows potential for cancer treatment and as a weight loss aid, along with other uses. There aren’t many studies in these areas, but some research suggests that anthocyanins may hold the key to hibiscus’ anticancer properties.

Another recent study found that hibiscus extract might have an effect on metabolism, preventing obesity and fat buildup in the liver. The tropical plant has even been used successfully as part of an herbal extract mixture to treat head lice.

Hibiscus tea and extract can be purchased at health food stores as dietary supplements. There is no recommended dose because this depends on the product you purchase and why you’re using it. The typical amount of calyx in one serving of tea is 1.5 grams, but studies have used as much as 10 grams of dried calyx, and extracts containing as much as 250 milligrams of anthocyanins.

When used as a tea, hibiscus is generally considered safe. But more research is needed to determine a safe dosage for pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, and people with liver or kidney disease.

Hibiscus tea is very tart and might be more so to sensitive tissues. Listen to your body and if it makes you feel ill, discontinue use. Some research also suggests that hibiscus may affect the way the body processes acetaminophen (Tylenol), but this effect is likely very minimal.

The Takeaway

Hibiscus remains a popular herbal remedy in countries throughout the world. As research continues, it may become more widely accepted as an effective medical treatment.

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