Experimenting With Hibiscus

by in Healthy Tips, July 13, 2009

Hibiscus Drink
You may have some hibiscus growing in your backyard, but have you ever tried eating hibiscus blooms? I love using the dried buds to brew up hibiscus tea — poured over ice with lemon, it’s a great summer treat. But the edible options don’t end there. Learn other ways to use this flower.

What Is Hibiscus?
Hibiscus is a flowering plant that’s native to many parts of the world. You may also hear the plant referred to as roselle, bissap or sorrel. Growers collect these these flowers, dry them, bag them and sell them. Pick up hibiscus tea bags somewhere like Trader Joe’s or look for sacks of dried flowers online or at your local healthy food store. You can steep the dried pieces in hot water to create the deep rose-colored infusion known as hibiscus tea. Plain, this tea has a subtle, tart and floral flavor that isn’t overpowering. The flowers also work as a great flavor-infuser in other drinks and dishes.

Health Benefits
Hibiscus flowers contain high amounts of antioxidants, including vitamin C, but it varies depending on how much hibiscus you use in your food or drink. A cup of unsweetened hibiscus tea contains zero calories and is completely caffeine-free. Some research has shown that drinking hibiscus tea many help lower high-blood pressure but there’s no conclusive evidence yet.

A Word of Warning
The amount of hibiscus you’d find in tea is generally recognized as safe, but if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or on any medications, check with your doctor and always be careful not to overdo it with any kind of herbal concoction. (You might not realize what you’re mixing.)

Ways to Enjoy
There are many packaged herbals teas that feature hibiscus — Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger and Tazo’s Passion Tea are two of the most common.

Of course, making your own infusion lets you add whatever flavors you like or experiment with the liquid. Brew hibiscus tea extra strong to use in cocktails and mix in fresh fruit or 100% fruit juice for some added sweetness (like in this Food Network Magazine Cherry Cooler recipe). Freeze sweetened tea into a granita for a cool and refreshing dessert. You can also add sugar and less water to create a thick, pink syrup or try steeping hibiscus in vinegar for a flavored vinegar. I also found this really cool-looking hibiscus chutney.

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