Hibiscus by Any Other Name
In Jamaica, they make it into tea and call it “sorrel.” In Mexico, they make it into soda and call it “flor de Jamaica.” When made into tea here in the U.S., we call it Hibiscus (unless you’re at Starbucks, where it goes under the alias “Passion“). So many names for this boldly-colored, richly-flavored flower from the mallow family, but it tastes equally refreshing and tangy no matter what you call it.
While Hibiscus-based, caffeine-free beverages have been enjoyed for ages throughout the world (particularly in the Caribbean) for their flavor and their natural diuretic properties, the ingredient appears to be enjoying its 15 minutes of fame here in the U.S. for the first time. Natural hibiscus sodas have hit Whole Foods (careful; they’re quite high in sugar); non-carbonated Hibiscus beverages (also high in sugar) are giving pomegranate juice a run for its money as the trendy cocktail mixer of choice; and the Republic of Tea has launched a whole new collection of Hibiscus “Superflower” teas, touting the flower’s natural richness in Vitamin C (though they don’t actually list the Vitamin C content).
Hibiscus for High Blood Pressure
The recent popularity of Hibiscus has been given a boost by recent research in pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive people showing that three 8-oz cups of hibiscus tea per day (hot or cold)
lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 7.2 points. These effects were believed to result from a combination of Hibiscus’ observed effect on relaxing blood vessels, its diuretic properties, and/or the beneficial effects of the flower’s brightly-hued anthocyanin pigments (those same heart-healthy flavonoids found in berries and red wine). In this way, unsweetened Hibiscus tea joins Coconut Water as a very refreshing, low calorie summer drink that may especially benefit people with mildly elevated blood pressure. (Of course, cutting out some sodium from the diet never hurt, either.)
Four Ways to Enjoy Hibiscus
- Starbucks Unsweetened Passion Iced Tea (0 calories). My favorite way to enjoy Hibiscus. And yes, of course you can make your own version at home using Hibiscus Tea bags.
- Hot hibiscus tea for a relaxing, caffeine free tea option. Major brands like Tazo (Passion flavor) and Republic of Tea have hibiscus varieties, and hibiscus is a key ingredient in most of the berry “zinger” tea flavors by Celestial Seasonings.
- Iced Hibiscus Ginger Tea: Take Martha Stewart’s recipe and replace the 3/4 cup sugar she calls for with 1/4 cup Agave Nectar. (Substituting Agave yields 190 calories for the whole batch; 24 calories per serving, assuming it serves 8.)
- Homemade Hibiscus Soda: Dilute sweetened 1-2 oz Hibiscus beverage (Hibisca) in a tall glass of club soda; squeeze in a bit of fresh lime juice and serve. Note: Hibisca contains 16 calories/4g sugar per oz… so try using 1-2 oz of Hibisca per tall glass of icy club soda to capture the flavor but keep the calories and added sugar on the lower end of 16-32 calories per serving. This has about 1/3 (or less) of the sugar and calories of a store-bought, sweetened Hibiscus soda.