Hibiscus Tea: A Delicious Treat That Fights High Blood Pressure

September 17, 2013


For thousands of years, people in Africa, Europe, and Asia have enjoyed a tart, crimson tea, both hot and iced, made from the hibiscus sabdariffa, a flower that is native to the Old World tropics. They drink it for sheer refreshment, as it is a great thirst quencher, and, as they say in West Africa, “to build the blood.”

That hibiscus tea, sometimes steeped with spices and ginger for special occasions, is a truly global beverage. One need only look at how many names it bears.

It is rosella in Australia; agua de Jamaica in Latin America; Arhul ka phool in India; karkadé in Levant, Egypt, Italy, and Sudan; chai kujarat in Iraq; and chai torsh in Iran. They call it gumamela in the Philippines; bissap, tsoborodo, or wonjo in West Africa; omutete in Namibia; sorrel or red sorrel in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean; and sometimes simply Jamaica tea, as in the U.S.

The tea is made from the bright red, fleshy calyx of the hibiscus sabdariffa flower. This is not the same flower as the common hibiscus with big red, yellow, or pink tropical blossoms. 

Those flowers, with their long stamens tipped with pom-poms of yellow pollen, are hibiscus rosa-sinensis. They make nice houseplants but they do not make good tea!

The Asian and African folk medicine belief that hibiscus sabdariffa is good for the circulatory system has been borne out in research. 

Scientists from the University of Arizona at Tucson recently published a comprehensive review of previous studies, concluding that the tea “significantly lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults with pre- to moderate essential hypertension and type 2 diabetes.”

The study, which was published in the March, 2013, issue of the medical journal Fitoterapia, also concluded that hibiscus tea was as effective at lowering blood pressure as the commonly used medication captropril. Further, more than half of the clinical trials showed that daily consumption of hibiscus tea or extracts had favorable influence on lipid profiles, including reduced total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), triglycerides, as well as increased HDL, or good cholesterol.

How does it work? The abundant anthocyanins found in hibiscus sabariffa calyxes are generally considered responsible for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as their strong antioxidant property inhibits the oxidation of LDL and slow atherosclerosis, an important cardiovascular risk factor.


Hibiscus tea also has diuretic properties, opens the arteries, and appears to act as a natural angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, which means it slows the release of hormones that constrict blood vessels. 

As usual with science, however, the researchers call hibiscus sabariffa tea and extracts “promising” as a treatment for high blood pressure and cholesterol, but say that more animal and human studies are needed to “provide recommendations for use that have the potential for widespread public health benefit.”

Such professional reticence needn’t stop anyone from acquiring a taste for this yummy beverage, however. Hibiscus tea can be found in teabags in any grocer with a decent herb tea selection. It is the largest ingredient in Red Zinger from Celestial Seasonings, for example. 

It is also fun to make your own, and a homemade variation could be richer in nutrients. The dried calyxes can be found in any Latin or Caribbean grocer’s herb section. Look for “flor de Jamaica.”

Depending on your taste, put anywhere from 1 to 5 teaspoons of dried calyxes per cup of boiling water. Feel free to add cinnamon sticks or slices of fresh ginger. Steep five to 10 minutes and sweeten to taste.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

12 − 8 =