PHOTO: matthew mclalin/Flickr
Dawn Combs
February 24, 2016

February is Heart Health Month, so I wanted to share about one of my favorite heart-healthy plants to grow: hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa).

I first got to know hibiscus in Ecuador. There was a hedge of it outside my sleeping quarters, and I fell in love with the ethereal quality of the fleshy, red blooms. Years later, I learned about hibiscus as a health supplement. The use of the flower has been studied extensively because of its historic application to blood pressure regulation, liver issues and fever reduction.

Boosting The Circulatory System

In 2008, a study at Tufts University saw a 13.2 percent reduction in blood pressure with the use of hibiscus blossom. That same year, another study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension showed an average reduction in blood pressure between 8.1 and 15.4 percent among their study participants. There is further evidence that serum cholesterol may be reduced, as well.

It is not difficult to drink the three cups of hibiscus tea a day required for circulatory health. Whether you use the blooms fresh or dried, they’re delicious and add a beautiful red color to your tea.

Beyond circulatory health, the flower has been found to reduce the occurrence of kidney stones. This is in all likelihood due to hibiscus’ astringency. Further, these blooms are known to be high in antioxidants and flavonoids, as well as being a good source of vitamin C. This makes it one of my favorite cheery winter ways to fight off mild winter colds and flu.

A Native Hibiscus Variety

hibiscus
Mike_tn/Flickr

Until I met my friends who own native plant nursery Scioto Gardens, located here in central Ohio, it never occurred to me that I could plant hibiscus in my yard. I had always tried potted varieties from the local hardware store nursery. I was so surprised to find out that the tropical hibiscus is only one part of the family. Hibiscus moscheutos is an Ohio native, growing in zone 5 quite happily. It has beautiful, large rose-to-white-colored blooms with a darker “eye” in the center. They are simply breathtaking and quite a surprise in the Ohio landscape.

Hibiscus is in the mallow family, a family that is almost entirely made up of edible and medicinal plants. H. moscheutos prefers an evenly watered soil in full sun. In the right situation they will stand a rather wet soil, and in fact, my friends have it featured as one of their rain-garden plants. It will grow 3 to 7 feet with large, green, beautifully textured leaves. The bloom of the hibiscus only lasts 24 hours. So fleeting and so beautiful, but happily replaced with a fresh bloom the following day on another part of the shrub.

Choosing Hibiscus For Herbal Health

For many years, I continued to buy dried hibiscus from herbal suppliers while overlooking my very own in the flower beds. I was making a common mistake, choosing the well-known member of the family and neglecting to get to know the siblings.

While we can never assume that different species in the same family or even genus will provide the same benefit to our body, we can often find some similarities. H. moscheutos is very high in mucilage and has great benefit for the lungs and the urinary tract. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it for its abilities during cold and flu season, as a soothing tonic for the bladder and kidneys or as a cooling summer drink.

I would probably choose H. sabdariffa if I wanted to work on a circulatory issue, not because I don’t think it’s possible that H. moscheutos could do the same, but because the testing has been done on H. sabdariffa. Local plants have a lot for us, but occasionally, it is better to err on the side of caution and be sure of the plant that will help us in serious conditions.

I’ve been making a few teas for my farm’s online store with hibiscus in them for several years. I believe as we expand, I may begin to add in some of the homegrown native hibiscus. It’s such a treat to use the plants for ourselves and others with which we have grown a strong gardening relationship. For me, as I expand my hedge of hibiscus, I remember the rain forest and a time in my life that strongly made me who I am today.


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