Cooking, Mediterranean Diet

Hibiscus Heart Health


Dried hibiscus flowers

Since I was a child, my Egyptian-Greek mom would make a ruby red, refreshing drink in the summers. More tart than sweet, this tall glass of homemade red juice would be my mom’s answer to my constant whine of “I’m thirsty!” I would beg for Sunny D or Hawaiian Punch (Fruit Juicy Red flavor, of course – whatever that meant!). But mom wouldn’t relent. She shoved me her glass of homemade juice  and told me to be grateful and to thank God. There were millions of kids in Africa dying of dehydration.

And behold, a glimpse of my childhood: a glass of hibiscus tea with a side of guilt.

Multiple times I asked my mom what I was drinking. Her response without batting an eye: Cranberry Juice. Now, I have never been a fool. I had drunk cranberry juice at friends’ houses. And this was no Ocean’s Spray.   Back then, I was far too naive to realize parents actually lied to their kids. Oh I really was blissfully naive!

I eyed her suspiciously, but who would have guessed she was actually making me tea from dried flower leaves she’d smuggled back from our last family trip to Cairo?

Origins of Hibiscus Tea

According to hieroglyphs, hibiscus flowers have been steeped, brewed and drunk for thousands of years. They are indigenous to the warm, fertile lands adjacent to the Nile River. Interestingly, while the hibiscus flower is grown all over the world, not every hibiscus flower can be brewed into an edible drinkable tea. From what I understand, only the dark red hibiscus variety has the properties needed to make this tea. It is indigenous to North Africa, specifically Egypt, Sudan, and Ghana; and across the Caribbean, where people have been drinking hibiscus for hundreds of years.

hibiscus pharoahs

Known for its health benefits, hibiscus tea was the preferred drink for Egyptian Pharaohs

 Health Benefits of Hibiscus Tea

There are so many, but just to name a few: this calorie-free herbal tea is full of antioxidants. It is a natural, easy diuretic that helps to lower cholesterol, ease digestion, and increase the metabolic speed in which we break down foods in our digestive track. Natural hibiscus tea is rich in Vitamin C and magnesium.

How to make Hibiscus Tea

Gone are the days in which my mom has to smuggle dried hibiscus flowers from the Old World. I can now find them in most international grocers. Look for them in the herbal teas or Middle Eastern foods sections. Hibiscus tea is made just the same way you would make homemade iced tea. The way I make it:

  1. Take a large pot and fill it with cool water. Bring it to a low boil.
  2. Immediately remove from heat and throw in about 7 – 8 dried hibiscus flower.
  3. Cover with lid and allow to steep and soak in all its yummy antioxidant goodness for a few hours. The pot of water will turn deep, dark red and the dried flowers will unfurl into beautiful petals floating in the red bath.
  4. Remove the flower petals with a slotted spoon and transfer the hibiscus tea to a pitcher. Feel free to sweeten as desired.

Note: hibiscus tea is rather bitter. I sweeten with Organic Stevia and leave in the fridge to enjoy. Many people use all natural cane sugar to sweeten, Spenda (I don’t prefer), honey or drink it straight. It’s all in how you like to sweeten your teas. 

Similar to the color of a good Chianti, hibiscus tea was probably the reason I took to red wine so easily. It has the same color, body and structure. Okay, perhaps not structure – but I like both equally the same. The only difference is I prefer a refreshing glass of cold, freshly brewed hibiscus tea on a hot summer day. And I prefer a glass of deep, ruby red wine on a cool winter evening (alongside a steak, preferably).

Quick note: PLEASE avoid it from Starbucks and the rest of the large merchants! It’s laden with sugar! It’s super easy and cheap to make and full of all the flavor, vitamins, minerals from its rich leaves. Brew yourself a batch. You will LOVE it – goddess style!

Have you tried Hibiscus tea yet? What were your thoughts? Too bitter? Did you infuse with mint, lemon or lavender? I’d love to hear your twist on this ancient drink of the pharaohs.  If it’s good enough for the Egyptian Queens, it’ll be good enough for us, too. 

 Discover your inner Aphrodite. . .


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  • Reply Karla January 7, 2019 at 9:01 PM

    I add 2 tbsp of lime juice to 4 cups of hibiscus tea (no sweetener). Sometimes I will add dried red clover blossoms as well to the hibiscus tea, it makes the color even redder, and takes the edge off the tartness of the hibiscus. I tend to do that in the winter when I drink the tea warm. I’ve been drinking it this way for years, it’s my go-to drink, I can’t imagine my day without it.

  • Reply Donna Werstler May 3, 2016 at 11:34 AM

    Where do you find the hibiscus leaves, in this area, Claudia? Which store would carry them? I’ve had hibiscus tea, from a teabag, and heard it was great for your heart. I would LOVE to make my own from the leaves.

    And, I enjoyed your write-up here.

    BTW, I thought of you today. Bobby Flay was cooking Greek, but more BBQ style. However, I was so captivated that instead of just walking one mile on a Planet Fitness treadmill, I did close to two miles. The food, so light, so Mediterranean, so beautiful, looked absolutely yummy. What especially made me thing of you was that he put Smoked Paprika in a tomato sauce he’d made from grape tomatoes. After I had told you about my love of Smoked Paprika in just about everything savory, I wondered if it would be encouraged or even allowed in Mediterranean cuisine. So, guess that answered it. At least Bobby Flay thought so.

    Hope you’re having a GRRRRREAT day. Mine is super, so far. Just getting started. I mean that to say I started early, but have two more events to attend, before it’s over.

    Take care,

    • Reply Claudia May 4, 2016 at 9:02 AM

      Hi Donna!
      So good to hear from you. I’m glad you wrote and that you enjoyed the article. It was fun to write. In truth, I picked up a 4 oz bag of dried hibiscus leaves from an international grocers in Northern Virginia last week. It was sitting alongside boxes of bagged teas. I haven’t looked for it locally, but I will. Next time I pop into Food Maxx or Sinbad’s, I will have a look around. Just to let you know, the Arabic name for it is “ker-keh-day”. If you make it to Sinbad’s before me, ask for it in it’s Arabic name, as some non-native English speakers may not know the word “Hibiscus”.

      I hope you are well! Keep in touch. Heading to the island in a few weeks! See you in the Fall –

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