Hibiscus for Health: Overview, Benefits, & Side Effects

Published on May 14, 2022

By Tori Hudson N.D.

Tori Hudson

Tori Hudson graduated from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM) in 1984 and served the college in several capacities including Medical Director, Associate Academic Dean and Academic Dean. Currently a clinical professor at NCNM, Bastyr University, and Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine.

Tori has over 30 years of experience and expertise in women’s health utilizing nutrition, nutraceuticals, botanical medicines, bioidentical hormones, and other therapies to treat all gynecological and primary care conditions in women. Tori is a nationally recognized lecturer, author, researcher, and clinician, and serves on several editorial boards and advisory panels. Her book, Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 2008 edition is the leading resource on women’s health and natural medicine.

The Hibiscus plant is well-known for its brightly colored flowers, ranging from white and yellow to pink and red. For centuries, traditional medicine practitioners have used many of the over 200 species of Hibiscus.

You may be familiar with Hibiscus, known as “sour tea” in Iran, a delicious and refreshing summertime drink. The flavor can vary depending on the specific species of Hibiscus, but it has a unique, citrusy, tart flavor, often described as a cross between cranberry and raspberry.

However, this pleasant-tasting herb also has beneficial health properties, specifically for those looking to support cardiovascular health.*

Traditional Uses of the Hibiscus Plant for Health

Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly in Asia and Africa. Originally from Angola, it's cultivated throughout tropical and subtropical climates, especially in Sudan, Egypt, Thailand, Mexico, and China. 

In Egypt and Sudan, Hibiscus is used to help maintain a normal body temperature, support heart health, and encourage fluid balance.*

North Africans have used Hibiscus internally to support upper respiratory health, including the throat, and topically to support skin health.

Europeans have employed Hibiscus to support upper respiratory health, alleviate occasional constipation, and promote proper circulation.* It is commonly combined with lemon balm and St John’s Wort to alleviate restlessness and occasional difficulty falling asleep.*

In Iran, people traditionally use Hibiscus to support regular blood pressure maintenance, and several recent studies validated its use.

What is the Nutritional Value of Hibiscus?

Hibiscus is also a source of different compounds that can support overall wellness. These include amino acids, fatty acids, plant sugars, organic acids, and antioxidants.

However, the nutritional composition of hibiscus varies depending on which part of the plant you consume. While the whole plant is edible, certain parts of the plant have higher concentrations of nutrients than others.REF#1648

For instance, hibiscus petals are higher in amino acids, plant sugars, and organic acids, while the leaves are higher in antioxidants. REF#1648 

Hibiscus is caffeine-free and contains various antioxidants which can help fight free radicals, including anthocyanins, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.REF#1648

The antioxidant activity of Hibiscus may help support long-term health and wellness.

Overall Health Benefits of Hibiscus

Thanks to a small burst of published research studies — especially regarding cholesterol and blood pressure maintenance, scientific interest in Hibiscus has grown in the last several years.

Cholesterol Maintenance 

In 2007, a clinical trial tested the effects of Hibiscus extract on high cholesterol levels in 42 people randomized into three groups for the study. Group 1 received one 500-mg capsule 3x daily (1,500 mg/day), Group 2 received two capsules 3x daily (3,000 mg/day), and Group 3 received three capsules 3x daily (4,500 mg/day). Interestingly, participants in Groups 1 and 2, but not Group 3, experienced a cholesterol maintenance effect by the fourth week. The optimum dose was 1,000 mg, taken 3x daily.REF#1649

In 2009, another trial studied Hibiscus’s ability to support cholesterol maintenance, this time in people concerned with healthy blood sugar levels. Sixty subjects, mostly women, were given either one cup of Hibiscus or black tea twice daily. After one month, Hibiscus was able to help maintain total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol levels — as well as triglycerides — already within a healthy range.* Black tea, on the other hand, only impacted HDL levels.REF#1650

A larger trial, in 222 adults, was published on Hibiscus in 2010. The subjects — about a third of whom had metabolic challenges — were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a healthy diet, Hibiscus, or a healthy diet plus Hibiscus. Those with metabolic challenges experienced several benefits from Hibiscus, including cholesterol maintenance.REF#1651

Blood Pressure Maintenance

In 2007, a randomized, controlled, double-blind study researched Hibiscus’s blood pressure maintenance capacity. Participants received either a dried powdered Hibiscus extract containing 250 mg of anthocyanins or an alternate intervention. Hibiscus extract maintained blood pressure levels already within a healthy range, but importantly, it did not alter blood potassium levels or affect salt-water balance.* REF#1652

In 2009, researchers published human studies that compared Hibiscus to black tea among people seeking to support healthy blood sugar levels. Subjects were randomly assigned to drink one cup of Hibiscus or black tea twice daily for one month. Hibiscus tea demonstrated a maintenance effect on systolic blood pressure (but not diastolic), while black tea did not. This means that hibiscus tea could be used to support healthy blood pressure levels* REF#1653

A Cochrane review of Hibiscus’s effects on blood pressure published in 2010 resulted in five articles. The reviewers included randomized controlled trials of three to 12 weeks that compared Hibiscus to either placebo or no intervention at all. All five of these studies found Hibiscus had a blood pressure maintenance effect.REF#1649

Support Liver Health

Hibiscus may help support liver function, protecting the liver from damage and supporting its overall health. Several studies have shown that Hibiscus extracts can help support liver function.REF#1654

The hepatoprotective effects of Hibiscus may be due to its antioxidant properties. Hibiscus contains polyphenols and flavonoids, which may protect the liver from oxidative stress and irritation. REF#1654

Support Digestive Health

Hibiscus contains natural acids that help to stimulate the digestive system, promoting healthy bowel movements and easing symptoms of constipation. It also has diuretic properties, which means it can support urine production and promote the elimination of excess fluid and waste from the body to help minimize bloating and support kidney function.* REF#1655

Additionally, Hibiscus has soothing properties that can help calm the digestive tract and irritation in the gut. Hibiscus may also help support the gut microbiome, further promoting digestive health.*REF#1656

Support Healthy Weight Loss

There is some evidence to suggest that Hibiscus may support weight loss. Hibiscus extract supplementation can significantly affect body weight, body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, and waist-to-hip ratio in overweight and obese individuals. REF#1657

The potential weight loss benefits of Hibiscus may be due to its high polyphenol content, which may support metabolism and promote fat oxidation. Additionally, Hibiscus may have an appetite-suppressing effect, leading to a reduction in overall calorie intake.REF#1657

Although more research is needed to fully understand the weight loss potential of Hibiscus, incorporating Hibiscus into a healthy diet and exercise routine may provide additional support for weight management. Consumption of Hibiscus tea before meals may help reduce appetite and calorie intake, leading to weight loss.*

It is important to note that while Hibiscus may be a helpful addition to a weight loss plan, it is not a magic solution. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and lifestyle changes are still the most effective ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

How Do You Make Hibiscus Tea?

You can make this herbal tea by steeping tea in boiling water or brew it cold by soaking tea leaves in cool water overnight.

Adding a sweetener or syrups of your choice is optional. If you prefer, you can pour it over ice for a refreshing beverage.

Is Hibiscus Tea Different From Hibiscus Water?

Hibiscus tea, or tisane, is made by steeping dried hibiscus flowers in hot water, like traditional tea. On the other hand, hibiscus water is made by boiling Hibiscus calyxes (the fleshy red part of the flower) with water and spices. 

So, while both beverages use Hibiscus flowers, the preparation method and ingredients are different, resulting in two distinct drinks. Since both drinks are made from the hibiscus flower, they can both provide the benefits of the antioxidant and acid-rich petals. REF#1648 

In Jamaica, people commonly use the Hibiscus flower to make a refreshing beverage known as "sorrel." They make this traditional drink by boiling the Hibiscus calyxes with water, ginger, and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. The resulting deep red liquid is then sweetened with sugar or honey and served chilled as an iced tea.

Can Hibiscus Have Side Effects?

While Hibiscus is generally considered safe for consumption, it can have side effects in some people. Hibiscus has been known to affect blood pressure, so individuals with pre-existing health conditions should be cautious and speak to their healthcare provider before consuming it.

Additionally, Hibiscus may interact with certain medications, including those for high blood pressure and diabetes, so it is essential to consult a doctor before using it if you are taking any prescription medications.

There is not enough research to determine if Hibiscus is safe for breastfeeding women, so it is generally best to err on the side of caution and avoid consuming it.

Limited sources suggest that Hibiscus may decrease milk supply in breastfeeding women, but more research is needed to confirm this.*

It's important to note that excessive consumption of diuretics can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, so it's best to consume Hibiscus tea in moderation.

Can You Drink Hibiscus Tea Daily?

In terms of daily consumption, drinking Hibiscus tea or water every day in moderation is generally safe for healthy individuals. However, as with any food or beverage, excessive consumption may have adverse effects. 

It is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before adding any new food or drink to your daily routine, especially if you have any underlying health problems or concerns.

Safety and Dosage of Hibiscus

The safety profile of Hibiscus is excellent, with no proven adverse reactions. Studies with positive results used the following dosages:REF#1649

  • For cholesterol maintenance: 1,000 mg dried herb 3x daily, one cup of Hibiscus tea 2x daily, or 100 mg of standardized extract 2x daily.
  • For blood pressure maintenance: One cup of Hibiscus tea 2x daily or dried powdered Hibiscus extract providing 250 mg anthocyanins daily.

    Nourish Your Body with Hibiscus Tea

    The health benefits of Hibiscus tea extend beyond its use as a refreshing beverage. This safe and simple plant has evolved from a home beverage to medicinal utilization for common health support. Incorporating Hibiscus tea into your daily routine can provide an easy and effective way to support overall health and well-being.*


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