Hibiscus Tea: The Best Beverage?

Today's Blog--
like
tweet
+1

A landmark investigation of the Antioxidant Content of 3,139 Foods put all previous rankings to shame. That’s where I got the data to create my videos Best Berries, which compares hundreds of berries to common fruits, and Better Than Goji Berries, which highlights the dried fruit most packed with anti-aging, anti-cancer antioxidants. Antioxidants in a Pinch and A Better Breakfast can help one visualize the effects of adding just tiny amounts of antioxidant-packed foods to our daily diets.

The international team of researchers also compared hundreds of different beverages. They tested everything from Red Bull to crowberry liqueur. I could never imagine any beverage more antioxidant-packed than matcha, which is a drink made out of powdered green tea leaves (so you’re actually eating green tea). But as I showed in Better Than Green Tea?, matcha may have met its match.

Hibiscus tea, made from the dried petals of hibiscus flowers, topped the rankings. It’s known as flor de Jamaica in Mexico, sorrel in the Caribbean, and roselle in many parts of the world. It’s what gives the “zing” to red zinger tea.

My family’s recipe is to soak a handful of bulk dried organic hibiscus flowers overnight and then blend with a knuckle of fresh ginger, a teaspoon of amla, three tablespoons of erythritol, and a handful of fresh mint leaves to make the half-gallon we drink throughout the day. By blending in the mint, you’re adding dark green leafies to what may be the highest antioxidant beverage in the world, and it tastes like fruit punch! Your kids will love it.

You can overdo it though. The impressive manganese content of hibiscus tea may exceed recommended limits at high intakes, though, so we probably shouldn’t drink more than a quart a day (for someone that weighs about 150 pounds; a kid weighing 75 pounds wouldn’t want to regularly drink more than 2 cups a day).

Just because something has antioxidant power in the test tube, though, doesn’t mean it has antioxidant flower power in the body. Maybe the phytonutrients aren’t even absorbed. A human investigation of hibiscus tea has finally been published, though.

If you take people and have them drink only water for 10 hours the antioxidant level of their bloodstream drops throughout the day. The antioxidants we’ve accumulated eating healthy foods get slowly used up throughout the day fighting off all those free radicals unless we replenish our antioxidant stores. For a primer on the fluctuating levels of oxidant stress, see Antioxidant Level Dynamics.

It’s hard to get people to fast for 10 hours, though. So, in addition to water, researchers gave the study subjects something they knew wouldn’t mess up their antioxidant measurements: white bread and cheese. What if at the beginning of the experiment you instead gave people a single cup of hibiscus tea? As you can see in my 2-min Herbal Tea Update: Hibiscus, within an hour there’s a nice spike in the antioxidant level in the blood stream. The effect disappears, however, unless you sip hibiscus throughout the day (or eat something other than Wonderbread cheese sandwiches).

Where are antioxidants concentrated the most? Whole plant foods. See the remarkable contrast in Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods. What’s so great about antioxidants? See The Power of NO and Mitochondrial Theory of Aging. How do we know more is necessarily better? See, for example, Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants.

For more flower power, check out what the saffron crocus can do against depression (Saffron vs. Prozac), PMS (Saffron for the Treatment of PMS), stress (Wake Up and Smell the Saffron), and dementia (Saffron for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s).

There are also chamomile flowers (Red Tea, Honeybush, & Chamomile), though Chamomile Tea May Not Be Safe During Pregnancy, and the rose bush: Dietary Osteoarthritis Treatment. More comparisons of herbal teas here: The Healthiest Herbal Tea.

I should note that there are unique phytonutrients found in the tea plant missing from all herbal teas, so one would not expect Dietary Brain Wave Alteration from drinking hibiscus. And hibiscus tea is sour, so make sure not to brush your teeth immediately after consumption (see my video Plant-Based Diets: Dental Health).

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2014 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image credit: BotMultichill / Wikimedia Commons

Don't miss out on life-saving nutrition information!
Subscribe for free and get the latest in nutrition research delivered straight to your inbox!
  • Kristin

    Dr. Greger, I have tried drinking hibiscus tea (specifically, Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger) after watching your various videos about it, but eventually stopped because it seemed to be causing constipation! It happened too many times to be a coincidence. Does this happen to anyone else? Could it be caused by something else in Red Zinger? The other ingredients listed are: rosehips, peppermint, West Indian lemongrass, orange peel, natural flavors, lemon verbena, licorice and wild cherry bark. Thanks for any insight you can offer!

  • Fern Glen

    I’ve also been drinking hibiscus tea regularly since seeing your video. I add lemon juice and stevia, and I haven’t noticed any constipation.

    • Kristin

      Hmm maybe I’ll try just getting the pure hibiscus and see if that’s better. It tastes good and is so good for you, so I’d hate to miss out if I don’t have to!

  • Angela

    I have been drinking hibiscus tea for a year and a half, I just discovered it in the bulk bin at a local market. I soak the dried flowers for an hour or longer in a mason jar, I don’t add anything and love the tart flavor. Sometimes I will make Yerba Mate tea and make a sport drink by mixing the two, YUM!

    I started to drink it to help cool me down and refresh me on a hot day, intuitive guess, it works! In Mexico they say it is good for the blood, (pressure). I feel it has lots of Vitamin C.
    Good to know about the antioxidants!
    Luckily, last July mom & I were in Mexico and I bought the entire two bags the local tiny health food store had, so much fresher…

  • Marcus

    Michael: This is clearly a good way to boost the antioxidant in your blood but isn’t this hibiskus very low in PH? Im abit concerned about exposing my teeth to this constant exposure to low PH. Any ideas here?

    • Mari

      High pH is much more of a concern than low pH for your teeth. If anything, low pH would help offset the acidity that causes cavities and enamel erosion (wearing away).

    • Mari

      oh whoops, that was an embarassing mistake! please disregard my previous reply about low pH not being a concern. acidity IS the concern (got my low/high pH switched) however, tea tends to cause cavities/erosion less than stronger acids like that found in citrus, but tends to stain teeth and cause esthetic issues. if you don’t want stained teeth, rinse with water after drinking tea.

    • Julian

      I had been drinking rosehip-hibiscus tea for a few weeks instead of water. Now my front teeth became transparent. I am now back to just water and will never drink that much tea again. My teeth are irreversibly damaged.

  • Ingrid

    Dr. Greger,

    We have been drinking hibiscus tea since
    your video came out, Celestial Seasonings Raspberry Zinger to be
    specific. I have two concerns: 1) it’s not organic and 2) although
    hibiscus is the first ingredient I wonder how much is actually in it.
    We’ve found a 100% hibiscus tea at a Middle Eastern store (it’s from
    Lebanon) but not organic. Since we drink so much of it I feel concerned
    about these not being organic. I looked online and saw 1 lb organic
    hibiscus at more than $20.

    What is your recommendation
    regarding the organic issue? And without necessarily promoting a
    particular brand how can I get the biggest bang for my buck?

    My family loves you and follows you faithfully. :-)

    • mapelp7

      I live in El Paso (US-Mexico border) and can find dried hibiscus at my nearby supermarket. It is also found at some Mexican restaurants as a sweetened drink. Viva for the health benefits of jamaica!

  • Hector

    Dear Dr. Greger… Thanks for all our effort in health education for all of us. Unfortunately I was not able to find Hibiscus in the antioxidant references you cite; I was able to find a Tang,Jamaica beverage but was about 6 .. is that number the one you refer to? Thanks again… Hector

  • Mark

    When you say “blend” do you mean to use say a hand blender and blend everything including the whole flower heads? Or just stir but and don’t consume the flowers?

  • Lothar Juli

    Dear Dr. Greger, you cold brew the tea over night in the fridge. This must be nice in summer time or in warm countries. In winter time in Germany it would be nice to have a warm drink. Would brewing the hibiscus tea with hot water destroy the anti-oxidant effect? Thank you for your wonderful website.

  • Jeff F

    Is Hibiscus tea good for weight loss?

    I read the following on another website and wonder if it’s factual or not.

    “Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) can be found naturally in Hibiscus tea. This is the same acid that was manufactured chemically in labs to create Hydroxycut, but the natural source is safe, healthy and a million times more beneficial to the body.

    Hibiscus tea affects how we absorb fats and carbohydrates because it contains phaseolamin, a powerful enzyme inhibitor that blocks amylase,
    the enzyme responsible for breaking down fats and carbohydrates. Hibiscus tea acts in the same way as the drugstore-pill versions, but remains in its natural, unadulterated form and is much safer and more
    beneficial for the body than laboratory-produced concoctions.”

  • ananse77

    Doc, you need to clarify something. From the pics you posted in your vid (e.g. of the red zinger box), and your stating that your family uses bulk dried “petals” to make tea, it appears that what you are referring to is the usually bright red or pink flower with the long stamen stereotypically worn behind the ear of island women. But then you also mention that hibiscus is commonly called sorrel in the Caribbean. I am Jamaican, and the hibiscus flower (which I described earlier) is different from sorrel which is a very deep red bud, slightly prickly in texture, that surrounds a seed. We use it to make a drink that is traditionally consumed most at Christmas. Recently we have also begun to use it for tea (powdered in tea bags). It appears hibiscus rosa sinensis is the pretty flower, and hibiscus sabdariffa is the scientific name of the very different “sorrel”. Please clarify which is being referred to.

  • psh

    WHY IS IT THAT DR
    GREGER NEVER ANSWERS ANYONE’S QUESTION?

  • guest

    Phytochemical, pharmacological and toxicological aspects of Hibiscus sabdariffa L.: a review.

    “A single report has suggested that excessive doses for relatively long periods could have a deleterious effect on the testes of rats”

  • Christopher Mahon

    Twinnings Fruit Selected tea is actually a Hisbiscus punch. Hibiscus is listed as the first ingredient (largest) on all the teas.