Many years ago, Ava did an internship in a New York firm, and one image that stood out in her memory was a coworker who all summer long drank a bold pink iced drink from a clear glass cup. The drink looked irresistible. The woman had grown up in Trinidad, and she explained that the drink was a strong iced, sweetened hibiscus tea that Trinidadians would drink to cool down on hot days, the same way we drink lemonade in the United States. The memory of that bright dark-pink color and the swirls of wavy hibiscus roselles in the beverage stayed with Ava for many years.
While hibiscus is very rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and nutrients including beta carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and potassium, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to describing the health benefits of drinking hibiscus tea. Hibiscus is a sour food according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, and health-enhancing sour foods are greatly lacking in most modern diets. In the United States, we hardly eat any healthy sour foods (lemons, limes, and grapefruit are sour, but we eat them more sparingly, and they can be harsh on weaker digestive systems). There are tremendous benefits to adding the sour flavor to our meals: healthy sour foods greatly enhance absorption of minerals and the digestion of fats and protein, and they detox the liver. If you have ever traveled in a country where the cuisine includes a wide range of flavors including sour (and bitter), you may have found that you develop fewer cravings for sweets and other simple carbohydrates, and it becomes much easier to eat less and to lose excessive weight.
Another benefit of drinking hibiscus tea is that it almost instantly helps refresh and focus the mind when one is tired yet still has studies, homework, or other mentally demanding work to complete. Strong hibiscus tea revives us somewhat similarly to coffee, yet it contains no caffeine and causes no sleep disturbances. There is an interesting idea in Chinese Traditional Medicine that sour flavor has a gathering, collecting effect on the body and mind; it is recommended for aligning the heart and mind, which results in a focused mental action, as opposed to feeling scattered and uncentered.
Healthy sour foods are also recommended in Chinese Medicine as tissue astringents, to counter flabby or saggy tissue appearance with an action that is contracting, lifting, and firming. We have experienced no other sour foods that exemplify the benefits of the sour flavor as profoundly and accurately as hibiscus tea.
There are more and more studies being conducted of hibiscus as a health food, and they have linked hibiscus with a plethora of other uses and benefits, such as promoting healthy cholesterol levels, speeding recovery from colds and flus, and helping with mood swings and other unpleasant menopause symptoms. As a topical treatment, hibiscus is traditionally used in India and the Middle East to tighten skin pores and give the skin a youthful glow, and as a hair rinse to add shine and strength to the hair.