Hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.)

Common names: Rose of Althea, African mallow, rose mallow, roselle, Indian sorrel, flor de Jamaica, Agua de Jamaica, Jamaica tea

Range: Found in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world.

Parts Used: Flowers, whole, dried and cut, or powdered.

Preparations: Hibiscus is not generally used in Western herbal medicine, although it does have pharmacological effects. The powdered flowers are sometimes used in topical applications or when making natural cosmetics. The vibrant flowers make a flavorful and attractive addition to cake tops, puddings, salads, sorbets and teas, hot or iced.

Hibiscus is a member of the Malvaceae family, or the mallow family of flowering plants. There are more than 200 species, all of which are known for their colorful, showy blooms. One species, Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus), is cultivated for its fiber with characteristics similar to those of hemp or jute, which is used to make cloth, rope and, in Polynesia, grass skirts. This species is also used to produce Kenaf paper, which originated in ancient Egypt and is still manufactured today in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and elsewhere.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is used in Mexico as a dieting aide. The herb is a source of hydroxycitric acid, also known as hydroxycut, which is used in some supplement formulas to promote weight loss. There may be some merit to this claim since some animal-based studies have shown that this substance deters the conversion of dietary carbohydrates into fat. However, this effect has only been observed when following calorie-restricted diets designed to reduce total intake of fats, carbohydrates and protein, and not in low-carb diet plans. Tea made from the flowers may lower blood pressure and low-density cholesterol levels, but studies on these effects are inconclusive and ongoing.

Hibiscus has a diuretic and laxative effect, especially the powdered form. Prepared and applied topically as a wash, the plant is reputed to be effective against inflammatory skin disorders, most notably eczema.

Constituents: cyanidins, pectin, citric acid, hydroxycitric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, mucilage

Cautions/Contraindications: The dried flowers should be used within six months. Avoid use if there is a history of gallstones, gallbladder disease or liver disease.

Disclaimer: This information has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.