Many tea lovers are familiar with the red, tangy, drink made from the hibiscus plant. There are two types of "hibiscus" tea out there that are often referred to interchangeably due to a lack of knowledge about what variety the drinker is consuming. There is "hibiscus tea" made with big, bright red flowers of a hibiscus variety, and there is "hibiscus tea" made with the calyxes of the Roselle plant. The hibiscus genus of plants is huge, with hundreds of varieties. The group of plants known as "Roselle" fall into this category, contain a hundred or so varieties and is the type we will go over here.
Thai Red Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Parts Used: Flowers, leaves, roots
Actions: Anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-atherosclerotic, antioxidant, astringent, digestive tonic, diuretic, demulcent.
Energetics: Sweet, sour, bitter, cooling
When I think of hibiscus the bright red tea, tangy and astringent, high in vitamin C, comes to mind. If I envision the type of person who would benefit from this tea, I see a red, hot, flustered complexion and a body that is battling a cold or the flu. But there is so much more to this herb than my initial thoughts. Roselle tea has a long folk history originating in Africa, and a long list of uses to go along with it.
The whole parts of this plant have been used for the treatment of common ailments. Here we will mainly go over the calyxes and touch a little on the leaves. Once the white/pink flower has died back, the calyx is left. The calyx grows in size and turns a deep red color. Inside the calyx is a green pod which holds the seeds. The calyxes are harvested when they are deep red by either breaking them off or using snips to cut the stems. The red petals of the calyx are pulled off the pod and used for medicinal purposes. Drying the calyx for tea is the most common use, but they may also be tinctured, frozen fresh, used fresh to make jams and sauces or put up in a vinegar. I'm sure there are plenty of other creative uses for the calyx.
So what are the medicinal benefits of Roselle?
Okay, on to the good stuff! But where to begin? The list is long for the medicinal values of this herb. Roselle assists the cardiac system by reducing blood pressure and treating atherosclerosis. The digestive system finds relief from this herb in that it helps to relieve constipation, diarrhea, liver disease and diabetes. For the urinary system we find relief from kidney disorders and UTI's. Moving on to the nervous system, we find help with depression and an herb that helps remove muscle weakness, numbness, and fatigue. Our immune system benefits greatly from Roselle, and we find relief from coughs, cold and flus. Topically, use for healing cracks on the soles of the feet, boils, ulcers, dandruff, and balding, the leaves are often used for these purposes. This is a great herb for pregnant women to consume as it is high in vitamins and minerals and will help keep mama and growing baby healthy.
The vitamins and minerals found in this herb are:
- vitamin B2
- vitamin A
- vitamin C
How blessed we are to have all that goodness readily available in a delicious cup of tea!
The leaves can also be eaten when they are young and are often used in salads. The taste of the leaves is lemon like and when dried can make a great seasoning for poultry, fish and veggies.
Once the harvesting is done, the calyxes have been processed and either dried, tinctured, frozen or kept fresh for immediate use, it is time to make some Roselle goodness. I must say I have never tinctured this plant. Since we have an abundance this year I do intend to make a tincture in 100 P vodka to use when there is damp heat in the system. Knowing what damp heat in the system looks like and means is a whole other topic to be covered later. I have also read that Thai Red Roselle makes a great cranberry substitute and can be used to make cranberry sauce. This is something else to try this year for the holidays and for that the calyxes will be frozen fresh to use later in the season. My experience with Roselle is making an herbal tea or decoction.
Once the calyxes have been pulled apart and dried, they are now ready for herbal tea. I always like to try herbs "neat" at first to get a firm idea what their taste and energetics are. After that, I like to match them with other herbs either based on taste or, in the case of acute conditions, herbal actions. I like to use Roselle in teas with other calming herbs for the nervous system such as Lemon Balm, Hawthorn, St. John's Wort, or Passion Flower. Cooling herbs like Violet, Marshmallow, Lemon Balm, (again), or Yarrow, for fevers, build up of heat in the organs or hot summer days. Also with immune boosting herbs to use for the prevention and treatment of colds and flus. Herbs such as Echinacea, Cinnamon, Tulsi, Calendula, Anise Hyssop, and so on.
Get creative! Experiment with all kinds of combinations, look up fun recipes and ideas for other uses. Try growing some Thai Red Roselle yourself and form a relationship with this wonderful green ally. Working with plants is all about humbling ourselves, learning to listen and most of all having fun. May this beautiful herb find its way into your herbal apothecary and your heart.