Common Names: Hibiscus, Jamaica, Roselle, Cranberry Hibiscus, Sorrel, Florida Cranberry, Isapa, Yakuwa, Gurguzu, Flor de Jamaica
Latin name: Hibiscus sabdariffa; H. acetosella
Habitat: Hibiscus is a perennial shrub in tropical climates and a frost-tender annual in temperate regions. It thrives in warm weather. It is native to West and East Africa and parts of Southeast Asia, including Northeastern India. It grows 4-8 feet tall with leaves that are deeply three- to five-lobed, 3-6 inches long, and arranged alternately on the stems. Hibiscus flowers are 3-4 inches in diameter, ranging from white to yellow to pink with dark red at the base of each petal. While the leaves and flowers of hibiscus are edible, the medicine of this plant is found in its calyx (plural calyces), stout and fleshy coverings at the base of each flower that turn bright red and surrounded the seed pod as it matures.
Energetics: Hibiscus calyces are sour and cooling.
Benefits: The calyces of Hibiscus are rich in Vitamin C, and have a history of medicinal use to reduce blood pressure, alleviate symptoms of heat exhaustion, and support the immune system. Plus, the tart and tangy flavor makes a great addition to other herbal infusions to make them more palatable.
Beverage: Hibiscus is well known as a regional beverage throughout the Caribbean, made from the calyces after the seed pods have been removed. The calyx is boiled or infused, typically with a mix of spices such as cloves, cinnamon, or nutmeg, and often served chilled. Many island nations enjoy this beverage with a splash of rum. It is known as sorrel or jamaica depending on the region. Middle Eastern and Sudanese “Karkade” is a cold drink prepared by soaking the calyces in water overnight and adding sugar or lemon.
Food: Hibiscus makes a delicious infusion but is also known for it’s food preparations. Leaves can be enjoyed in salads or steamed like spinach, and are found in a variety of recipes from Aaia and Africa. The calyces are often blended into a chutney in parts of Asia, prized for its tangy flavor, or as a jam in parts of Africa.
Try this lovely Fire Cider Recipe from herbalist Juliet Blankespoor that includes Hibiscus as a fun way to “spice” up this traditional medicinal formula.