Agua de Jamaica: Hibiscus Tea

The dried sepals of Hibiscus sabdariffa, a.k.a. Roselle

I had a BANNER day at Lowe’s Mercado. I was in the market for Elderflowers and I read somewhere that you can often find them at Latin grocers. Well, I did not find any Elderflowers (gonna have to order those from Mountain Rose), but I DID find a wooden bulk-barrel of Hibiscus sabdariffa, also known as West African Hibiscus or Roselle.

There are many claims surrounding the health benefits of consuming Hibiscus flowers. The list includes:

-lowering blood pressure
-lowering cholesterol
-supporting the immune system
-fighting liver disease
-speeding up metabolism/assisting in weightloss
-reducing risk of cancer

I have had a little luck finding clinical studies to support many of the above claims, in particular those related to blood pressure and liver health. A small but significant study on the effect of H. sabdariffa tea “showed an 11.2% lowering of the systolic blood pressure and a 10.7% decrease of diastolic pressure in the experimental group 12 days after beginning the treatment, as compared with the first day” (Faraji et al, 1999). It suggests further study on the subject, however.

A separate study connection between the naturally-occuring red pigments of the flower (Called Hibiscus Anthocyanins, or “HAs” for short) and liver health in lab rats. In mammals, elevated liver enzymes can be an early indication of liver disease. In this particular study, oral administration of the HAs “significantly lowered the serum levels of hepatic enzyme markers” (Wang et al, 2000).  Keep in mind this was in rats, though, not humans.

So it seems the clinical findings are preliminary, but promising. Either way it is a fact that H. sabdariffa is full of vitamins and minerals that have proven health benefits. These include:

-Vitamin C: supports immune health
-Vitamin B12: essential in the formation of your red blood cells
-Calcium: supports bone health
-Magnesium: essential in health nerve and muscle function

In smaller amounts, the flower also contains Iron, Potassium, Vitamin A…you can find the full nutritional value of H. sabdariffa here. Let’s move on to how to really enjoy this beneficial herb.

In Mexico, “Agua de Jamaica” is a popular drink made from the infused petals of dried H. sabdariffa. It is cheap, healthful, refreshing, and EASY TO MAKE. So let’s do it.

Agua de Jamaicahibiscus1

Yields 4 servings


4 cups of water

1 cup dried hibiscus
3/4 cup white sugar
6 allspice berries (optional)
1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
1 small star anise pod (optional)


In a small saucepan, combine 4 cups water and 3/4 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir to ensure sugar has dissolved. Add in the cup of dried hibiscus, 6 allspice berries, 1/2 cinnamon stick, and star anise pod. Cover and let steep for at least twenty minutes, up to an hour for stronger, more tart flavor. When ready to drink, mix one cup of the infused liquid with one cup cold water and pour over ice. Garnish with fresh berries, like strawberries, for added deliciousness.

Agua de Jamaica served over ice with strawberries. Note the gorgeous red color and my strange photography angle. I need to a few lessons in food photography from my girl over at Cooking Without Limits

While this drink is traditionally served iced, I have no doubt it is delicious served hot as well. Its deep red color and the hints of cinnamon and allspice give it a look and taste reminiscent of mulled wine (minus the alcohol). It would be a warming, fortifying winter drink.

Raising a glass now to your health, everyone!


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