“What are these pointy flowers?” I asked the small and tanned faced Panamanian food merchant in broken Spanish. Of course if you ask everyone who knows me, I totally consider myself fluent in Spanish-like hello UN here I come! I once oversold my Latin based language skills in a job interview and lived to regret the fib when I got the job, and was then asked to serve as communications liason between my firm and a brokerage house in Central America…Needless to say the Spanish food vendor was NOT the beneficiary of an eloquently delivered prose of his native tongue.. and I don’t work for that firm anymore either…
What I was pointing to were these bright and jagged venus-fly trap looking flowers that I had noticed while sauntering through the open air market on my last excursion to Panama. The vendor told me they were saril, an edible flower that grows in the surrounding landscape. Intrigued, and thinking that I was Lara Croft and had stumbled upon an exotic unfamiliar find, I bought a bag, making him repeat the name a few times so that I could go home and google it.
Turns out it was Hibiscus-still exotic, yet hardly unknown. Hibiscus are flowering shrubs found naturally in sunny tropical regions that surround the equator. Tall and beautifully coloured, hibiscus has been dubbed by florists and botanists alike as the ‘Queen of the Tropics’. Other names include: Roselle, Flor de Jamaica & sour tea. The flower can be found growing abundantly across Asia, Central America and Africa, where it has been used for centuries by many cultures as adornments, in food stuffs and traditional medicine. In places like Asia, hibiscus is used as fabric dye, in Africa as a natural remedy against high blood pressure, Egyptians, Mexicans and much of the Caribbean popularly use it to make cooling and hydrating teas (Gatorade who?!). And in other parts of Central America, it is believed to promote hair growth and curb premature greying. Some articles I researched even claimed that Hibiscus had aphrodisiac like properties…And to think, in North America, this natural wonder is regularly relegated to the lowly decorating of our property gardens.
So basically all this to say that Hibiscus is unbelievably useful and undeniably awesome! Thus it’s far from shocking to hear that it has been gaining significant popularity in Ayurvedic practice and Alternative Medicine in North America. And here’s why:
A Friend with Benefits
Biochemically hibiscus contains pectin, calcium, potassium, chromium, and vitamin C. Soluble fibrous pectin helps clean out arterial plaque and pull heavy metals out of the body. Various University studies and health reports have linked the consumption of Hibiscus to lowered LDL (bad) cholesterol, increased HDL (good) cholesterol, and decreased blood pressure. These benefits are mainly due to its diuretic properties- which help flush toxins out of the kidneys- and its ability to dilate blood vessels. If you’re hypertensive or pre-hypertensive, it might be a good idea to include some Hibiscus tea in your daily food regiment. In this regard, hibiscus can reduce the onset of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and can help improve function of the capillaries. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death and hospitalization in the United-States (Natural Medicine Journal). In Canada, it is cancer and heart disease (Cancer Society of Canada).
Chromium is an essential mineral that plays a key role in regulating blood sugar, thus is useful in the control of Type 2 Diabetes, and in curbing sharp blood sugar fluctuations in hyper-and hypoglycemic patients. Chromium content in hibiscus raises blood glucose levels slowly, stabilizing insulin production. Hibiscus’ deep red colour also means it contains heart healthy flavanoids-these puppies have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects including helping naturally suppress the production of inflammation in the body, facilitating nerve regeneration and increasing blood flow to the brain to enhance cognitive function. And well let’s be honest, we all know someone who is in need of a little cognitive boost ;).
Similarly, hibiscus is also jam-packed with Vitamin C. And it goes without saying how vitally important this vitamin and antioxidant is; vitamin C can help the immune system efficiently produce immune cells which stimulate the body`s ability to protect, prevent and combat unwelcome invading agents and enable the proper function of body systems. Put starkly, our immune system is really the fine line between life and death. No pressure.
Abounding with Anti-Oxidants
An interesting study conducted by Dr. Micheal Greger looked at the anti-oxidant content of over 280 common beverages (283 to be exact). According to his results, hibiscus outperformed green tea! Better than matcha?! Say whaaa? Check out an overview of study here: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/better-than-green-tea/.
Now antioxidants have definitely become one of those somewhat annoyingly abused terms, up there with trendy buzz words like ‘superfood’ and ‘detox’ that are constantly splattered across current media conduits and heard amid the rumble of popular coffee shop discussions…however the method to madness is this: With globally rising cancer cases, the role of anti-oxidants in reducing free radical formation has become fundamental to the way we look at nutrition in disease prevention and elimination.
Antioxidants can be any vitamin, mineral or plant chemical that help repair broken oxygen atoms (dubbed free radicals) and reduce oxidative stress. On a molecular level, antioxidant compounds donate electrons to unstable free radicals (unpaired atoms) to stop them from stealing electrons from other cells. These electron burglars are highly damaging as they rip electrons out of neighboring cells, tearing their membranes and causing a cascading effect of free radical formation in the body. Anti-oxidants respond by stabilizing rogue radical atoms, stopping the chain of free radical formation, and repairing marred cells. Making sure we intake a big variety of anti-oxidants (so lots of fruits, veggies and plants) is vital in upkeeping our immunity and hence our ultimate disease-free survival. An easy way to ensure regular doses of these super fighter anti-oxidants is to incorporate hibiscus tea into your weekly routine.
Summer or winter, this amazing flower is highly versatile, you can make hot or cold tea, or use the petals in salads and as garnishes. This is what I did when I first found myself in Panama starring at that freshly purchased plastic bag of recently discovered saril:
Large bag of fresh Hibiscus flowers (substitute with dried if needed)
A medium sized pot (not a crock pot)
Place the flowers in pot, cover in water, place on high heat
Bring water to boil, then turn down heat to low-medium.
Let cook until water turns a very bright red
Strain out the flowers
Pour the hot red liquid back in the pot and over very low heat, add in raw honey and cinnamon (and/or a dash of all spice). Flavor to taste (2-3 tablespoons of honey).
Hibiscus has a naturally tangy and sour taste to it, and doesn’t necessarily need to be flavoured.
For Iced Hibiscus Tea, allow mixture to cool, and then refrigerate. Serve when cooled on ice.