Hibiscus, a plant with colorful flowers, has been used for centuries for decorative and medicinal purposes. People have used it to make extracts, teas, and supplements.

In traditional medicine, people use hibiscus preparations to treat ailments such as liver problems and high blood pressure. Today, a growing body of research supports these benefits, among others (1).

This article reviews the nutrients and compounds in hibiscus, possible benefits of the plant, and downsides to consider.

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Hibiscus, also known as Hibiscus sabdariffa or roselle, is a type of flowering plant native to India and Malaysia (1).

There are hundreds of types of hibiscus, including herbs, shrubs, and trees. The most commonly cultivated type is Hibiscus sabdariffa, a shrub marked by red stems and wide yellow flowers that turn pink and red (1, 2).

Hibiscus grows in tropical and subtropical regions, including China, Thailand, Sudan, Nigeria, and Mexico. The flowers, seeds, leaves, and stems are all used for culinary, cosmetic, and medicinal preparations (1).

One of the most common preparations is hibiscus tea, a deep red herbal tea made from the flowers. It’s enjoyed hot or cold. Also known as sour tea, it has a tart flavor similar to cranberries.

In addition to teas, you can purchase hibiscus powders, capsules, and liquid extracts. Depending on the product, these can be made from different parts of the plant.

In folk and traditional medicines, hibiscus is used to lower blood pressure, stimulate diuretic effects, reduce high cholesterol, and more. The abundance of bioactive compounds in hibiscus is thought to contribute to its health benefits (1, 3).

Summary

Hibiscus is a flowering plant that has culinary, cosmetic, and medicinal uses. It has a long history of use in traditional medicine and contains many beneficial compounds.

The nutrients and compounds in hibiscus vary among the different parts of the plant (1).

Raw hibiscus contains some carbohydrates, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and B vitamins. Hibiscus tea tends to be lower in nutrients but still offers many beneficial compounds (4, 5).

In fact, these bioactive compounds appear to be primarily responsible for the purported health benefits of the plant.

Hibiscus contains anthocyanins, which are pigments that give the flowers their vibrant red color. It also has flavonoids, phenolic acids, and organic acids. Many of these compounds act as antioxidants (1).

Antioxidants help protect your body from reactive molecules called free radicals, which can cause cellular damage known as oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is thought to contribute to chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, cancers, diabetes, and heart disease (3, 6, 7, 8).

Test-tube studies suggest that compounds in hibiscus have antioxidant properties and can scavenge free radicals. However, it’s unclear whether the compounds would function the same way in humans, so more research is needed on the topic (9, 10).

Besides antioxidant activity, the compounds in hibiscus may also provide benefits through other mechanisms that are not as well understood. Again, more research is needed to learn more.

Summary

Hibiscus contains many beneficial compounds that act as antioxidants, including anthocyanins, phenolic acids, and flavonoids.

Antidiabetic and anticancer effects are among the purported benefits of hibiscus. Hibiscus preparations may also help lower blood pressure, protect the liver, and decrease fasting blood sugar.

Blood pressure

Several human trials have found that hibiscus beverages and supplements can decrease blood pressure (11, 12).

A study in 46 adults with high blood pressure found that drinking 2 cups (474 mL) of hibiscus tea daily for 1 month combined with lifestyle and dietary changes reduced blood pressure significantly more than lifestyle and diet changes alone (13).

Other studies have found that hibiscus extracts may be as effective as pharmaceutical medications for high blood pressure. However, more research is needed (14, 15).

Obesity

Hibiscus may help with weight loss and protect against obesity (3).

Research in animals suggests that hibiscus extracts may help prevent fat cells from accumulating. This could prevent complications sometimes seen with obesity, such as fatty liver and insulin resistance (16, 17).

The fiber in certain preparations of hibiscus may also help prevent weight gain (18).

One study in rats found that adding ground hibiscus to animal feed reduced body weight, body fat, and pro-inflammatory compounds in fat tissue (18).

Still, studies in humans are necessary to better understand the potential anti-obesity effects of hibiscus.

Metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors, including high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and excess body fat. These factors can increase the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease and diabetes (19).

Promisingly, hibiscus may help treat metabolic syndrome.

A small study in 16 older women with metabolic syndrome found that drinking hibiscus tea twice daily for 21 days significantly reduced blood pressure, blood triglycerides, and fasting blood sugar compared with placebo (20).

In another study in 40 adults with metabolic syndrome, those who took hibiscus powder once daily for 4 weeks experienced significant decreases in blood triglycerides and systolic blood pressure compared with a placebo group (21).

Overall, hibiscus may help manage aspects of metabolic syndrome, especially blood sugar issues, although more research is needed (22).

Liver damage

Hibiscus may also protect your liver from damage associated with obesity, diabetes, or certain medications.

The colorful anthocyanins in hibiscus have been found to increase liver antioxidant enzymes, protect against oxidative stress, and prevent liver fat accumulation in rats with diabetes and obesity (23, 24).

Other animal studies suggest that hibiscus extracts can protect against liver toxicity associated with chemotherapy drugs (25).

Keep in mind, though, that research on the effects of hibiscus on the liver in humans is limited. It remains unclear whether hibiscus has the same benefits in people as it does in animals.

Cancer

The antioxidant compounds in hibiscus may also have anticancer properties.

Test-tube studies suggest hibiscus extract may inhibit enzymes involved in prostate cancer development and trigger the death of breast cancer and melanoma cells (26, 27, 28).

Hibiscus may even enhance the effect of chemotherapy treatments on breast cancer cells (27).

However, research on the role of hibiscus in cancer treatment is preliminary and mostly limited to test-tube studies. Large-scale human trials are needed to learn more.

Summary

Hibiscus preparations, including teas, powders, and extracts, have been shown to decrease blood pressure, reduce body fat, improve metabolic syndrome, protect the liver, and fight cancer cells. However, more human research is needed.

There are no standardized dosages for hibiscus preparations.

Drinking hibiscus tea in moderate amounts is generally considered safe. The safety of other preparations, such as extracts, capsules, and powders, is not well known.

Some research indicates that prolonged use of high doses of hibiscus extract may cause liver injury. Hibiscus could also interact with certain medications (3).

Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not drink hibiscus tea or take hibiscus supplements due to a lack of evidence on the safety of the plant in these populations (29).

In addition, hibiscus has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and blood sugar. Therefore, people with high blood pressure or diabetes who are taking medications should speak with a healthcare professional before trying it.

Summary

Hibiscus tea is generally safe to consume in moderation, but the long-term effects of other preparations are not well known. Speak with a healthcare professional before trying hibiscus, especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications.

Hibiscus, a flowering plant that grows in tropical climates, provides a variety of compounds that may benefit your health. It’s available in teas, capsules, powders, and extracts.

Animal, test-tube, and human studies suggest that hibiscus can help lower blood pressure and manage metabolic syndrome, among other benefits. Still, more research is needed to better understand how the plant may affect humans.

If you’re interested in incorporating hibiscus into your daily routine to reap some of its benefits, speak with a healthcare professional first. The possible side effects of hibiscus are not well known.