Hibiscus: The Healthy Tea You Haven’t Heard Of (Yet) and How to Brew It Without Sugar

If you’ve looked around the grocery store, you may have noticed hibiscus-flavored items sneaking their way onto the shelves. Even Starbucks has a berry and hibiscus flavored beverage on their menu. Still, these appearances are scattered, and many Americans don’t know what’s actually happening in their bodies when sipping on this flowery drink.

The first time I learned that you could make tea from hibiscus flowers, I was standing in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Guatemala City in 2014, way before the hibiscus hype made its way to the US. As she poured me a glass, I marveled at the bright red color. The flavor was equally delightful, fruity and slightly herbal, but also subtle.

What is Hibiscus Tea?

Hibiscus tea, also known as agua de jamaica, is not well-known in the US yet, but it’s quite popular in many other countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and even Nigeria, where’s it’s called “Zobo” or bissap. It comes from a topical flowering plant that has been used historically for medicinal purposes, like supporting respiratory health. There are several different variations on this beverage, they all share certain health benefits, contributing to its recent popularity in the states.

Better Blood Pressure

One of the most widely cited benefits of hibiscus tea is its ability to lower blood pressure. In one study, participants over age 65 were given either hibiscus tea or a placebo daily for six weeks. At the conclusion, those who drank hibiscus tea showed a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure. Another review of several studies showed reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure among those who regularly consumed hibiscus tea.

Diabetes Management

Though individuals with diabetes shouldn’t undertake alternative treatments without medical supervision, some research suggests that those with type 2 diabetes could benefit from regularly drinking hibiscus tea. In particular, hibiscus can help manage cholesterol levels and reduce triglycerides. As those with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have high cholesterol levels, enjoying hibiscus tea can act as a key part of a natural disease management protocol.

Cancel Out Cramps

If you’re struggling with intestinal or period cramps, it might be time for a glass of refreshing hibiscus tea. Properties of the plant can help relieve menstrual cramps, as well as soothe muscle spasms in the intestines. Though some report that hibiscus may have laxative properties, others find that the tea actually helps with hormonal balance and minimizes unpleasant symptoms like cravings and mood swings.

For Fever And Infection

Next time you have a fever, consider skipping your normal cup with honey and lemon and make some agua de jamaica instead. Since it’s typically served cold, this refreshing option is rich in vitamin C and has antibiotic properties. In particular, hibiscus may act as an antimicrobial against E. coli and other foodborne illnesses, and may also be useful in controlling fungal infections. Overall, if you’re looking for immune support, hibiscus may be precisely the beverage for you.

Inflammation Fighter

Inflammation is an underlying symptom of many health problems and I for one am always looking to introduce new anti-inflammatory foods into my diet, or cut irritants out. If this is a concern for you, hibiscus can help soothe your body and minimize the inflammatory response to a range of chemicals, processed foods, and allergens. Part of what’s so striking about inflammation is its insidious nature – you may not even realize how much it’s bothering you until something like hibiscus helps relieve the discomfort.

Brewing Your Own Hibiscus Tea

As I mentioned, Starbucks has the Very Berry Hibiscus drink on the menu, but it also comes with 15 grams of added sugar per grande cup. If you want to brew your own hibiscus tea without the added sugar, it’s very easy to do. You can purchase dried hibiscus flowers in many international grocery stores or online — the crumpled red flowers look like potpourri.

Typically, you’ll make a large batch of hibiscus concentrate starting with about two cups of the flowers, and then you can then refrigerate and dilute the beverage based on your own preferences.

This sugar-free recipe for iced hibiscus tea is similar to the way it’s enjoyed in Mexico.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dried hibiscus flowers
  • 8 cups of water
  • 3 apples, sliced (optional)
  • 2 cups of blackberries (optional)

Directions:

Add the hibiscus flowers to cold water. Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and let the liquid cool. Once the flowers skin to the bottom of the pot, you’re ready to strain them. After straining the flowers from the concentrate, you can dilute it with cold water (about two cups of concentrate to a half gallon of water) and add ice, then serve with apple slices and blackberries.

More Ways to Make Hibiscus Tea

In Nigeria and Ghana, some popular additions to hibiscus tea include vanilla flavoring, lemongrass, pineapple, and ginger but no matter what’s added to the drink it’s nearly always served cold. Considering that we primarily think of tea as a hot beverage, iced hibiscus can be a bright alternative. It’s also caffeine free, so you can enjoy it at any time of day.

In many ways, the flavor of hibiscus reminds me of fruit punch or juice more than most kinds of tea, and it with its brilliant hue, I’m not at all surprised my wife enjoyed it so much as a child. With such an appealing flavor, this is a drink the whole family can enjoy, whether for its refreshing properties or its health benefits. A toast to that!


About the Authortreacy-author-photo

Allison Bird Treacy is a food nerd, cat lady, and writer from New York City. Her specialties include making any recipe gluten and dairy free and keeping a lot of cultures alive in a tiny kitchen.

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