Hibiscus blossoms are large, showy and vividly colored. The hibiscus is a much-loved garden plant anywhere within its natural range. It can also be eaten fresh as a garnish on salads and other foods, or dried to make a refreshing hot or cold herbal tea. It's widely used in commercial herbal tea blends for its flavor and deep red color. Unfortunately, for some, it can cause an allergic reaction.
About the Hibiscus
Most hibiscus varieties are warm-weather plants, growing in the world's tropical and subtropical regions. A few cultivars have been selectively bred for cooler climates, but on the whole, the hibiscus is happiest where the weather is warm. The flower blossoms are edible, with a tart flavor reminiscent of cranberries or citrus fruit. It's sometimes called "red sorrel," because sorrel, a cooking and salad green popular in Europe, has a similarly tart flavor.
Hibiscus tea is widely consumed around the world as a pleasant and soothing hot or cold beverage. The tea develops a deep red color from the pigment of the blossoms, and the petals' tart and fruity flavor comes through well in the tea. Hibiscus tea is pleasant on its own and is also widely used as the basis for mixed herbal tea blends. Hibiscus provides a dominant flavor note, complemented by the more subtle flavors of other herbs. Medically, Hibiscus tea has shown an ability to lower blood pressure, according to a 2008 article posted on the USDA's Agricultural Research website.
Unfortunately, like many other flowers, hibiscus can be an allergy trigger for some people. Symptoms will usually resemble hay fever, with stuffed sinuses, itchy red eyes and, occasionally, a sore or constricted throat. If you are allergic to hibiscus flowers, you'll usually begin to experience symptoms soon after drinking hibiscus tea or a blend containing hibiscus.
Hibiscus is not as difficult to avoid as more common allergens, such as milk or eggs. Its use is primarily in herbal teas and herb tea blends, including several of the most popular commercial brands. Hibiscus and its extracts are sometimes used in herbal remedies and flavoring syrups, so be diligent about reading the label before using any herbal product. If you suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies, introduce flower-based products to your diet one at a time, and monitor yourself closely for any reactions.
- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold McGee; 2004
- Colorado State University Extension; Edible Flowers; S. E. Newman, et al.; November 2009
- USDA Agricultural Research Service; Study Shows Consuming Hibiscus Tea Lowers Blood Pressure; Rosalie Marion Bliss; November 2008
- Drugs.com; Hibiscus
- University of Michigan Health System; Hibiscus