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Herbal Tea Update: Hibiscus

Hibiscus tea elevates the antioxidant level of one’s bloodstream within an hour of consumption.

March 6, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

T. Frank, G. Netzel, D. R. Kammerer, R. Carle, A. Kler, E. Kriesl, I. Bitsch, R. Bitsch, M. Netzel. Consumption of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Aqueous extract and its impact on systemic antioxidant potential in healthy subjects. J. Sci. Food Agric. 2012 92(10):2207 - 2218

S. Fernández-Arroyo, M. Herranz-López, R. Beltrán-Debón, I. Borrás-Linares, E. Barrajón-Catalán, J. Joven, A. Fernández-Gutiérrez, A. Segura-Carretero, V. Micol. Bioavailability study of a polyphenol-enriched extract from Hibiscus sabdariffa in rats and associated antioxidant status. Mol Nutr Food Res 2012 56(10):1590 - 1595

J. Suliburska, K. Kaczmarek. Herbal infusions as a source of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper in human nutrition. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2012 63(2):194 - 198

A. Scholey, L. A. Downey, J. Ciorciari, A. Pipingas, K. Nolidin, M. Finn, M. Wines, S. Catchlove, A. Terrens, E. Barlow, L. Gordon, C. Stough. Acute neurocognitive effects of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Appetite 2012 58(2):767 - 770

M. R. Safarinejad. Urtica dioica for treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia: A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. J Herb Pharmacother 2005 5(4):1 - 11

Z. Caliskaner, M. Karaayvaz, S. Ozturk. Misuse of a herb: Stinging nettle (Urtica urens) induced severe tongue oedema. Complement Ther Med 2004 12(1):57 - 58

A. J. Cummings, M. Olsen. Mechanism of action of stinging nettles. Wilderness Environ Med 2011 22(2):136 - 139

L. Schloms, K.-H. Storbeck, P. Swart, W. C. A. Gelderblom, A. C. Swart. The influence of Aspalathus linearis (Rooibos) and dihydrochalcones on adrenal steroidogenesis: Quantification of steroid intermediates and end products in H295R cells. J. Steroid Biochem. Mol. Biol. 2012 128(3 - 5):128 - 138

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to JLPC and Popperipopp via Wikimedia Commons, numberstumper and bterrycompton

Transcript

In my comparison of the antioxidant content of 282 beverages last year, hibiscus tea came out number one, so my family switched from drinking matcha, which had fallen from grace, to the hibiscus fruit punch recipe I shared. We have since switched from using tea bags to just bulk dried hibiscus flowers, which we soak, and then blend into the tea so we don't lose anything. But just because something has antioxidant power in the test tube doesn't mean it has antioxidant flower power in the body—maybe the phytonutrients aren't even absorbed. They were found to be bioavailable in rodents  but I haven’t had pet gerbils since I was a kid. We didn't know about humans, until now. Consumption of a Hibiscus water extract and its impact on systemic antioxidant potential in healthy subjects. If you take people and have them just drink water for 10 hours this is what happens to the antioxidant level within their bloodstream. Your antioxidants get slowly used up throughout the day fighting off all those free radicals unless you replenish your antioxidant stores. Now it's hard to get people to fast for 10 hours so in addition to water they gave the study subject something they knew wouldn't mess up their antioxidant measurements, white bread and cheese. So, water, white bread, and Gouda. What if instead at the beginning of the experiment you give people a single cup of hibiscus tea, within an hour you see a nice spike in the antioxidant level in your blood stream, but then the effect disappears, unless you sip hibiscus throughout the day or eat something other than wonderbread cheese sandwiches.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Here's the beverage comparison video I mentioned with the hibiscus punch recipe: Better Than Green Tea? Note that's erythritol pictured, not sugar (see Erythritol May Be a Sweet Antioxidant) and I also throw in a teaspoon of amla (dried Indian gooseberry powder, see Amla: Indian gooseberries vs. cancer, diabetes, and cholesterol) and my most recent addition is about a half-inch of fresh ginger root—yum! If you throw in some fresh or frozen berries too you're approaching my Pink Juice with Green Foam.

For a primer on the fluctuating levels of oxidant stress, see Antioxidant Level Dynamics.

And 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.

Also, check out my associated blog post for more context:  Hibiscus Tea: The Best Beverage?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • bob

    Do you have a recommended brand of the loose leaf version?

    • Jordaansl

      Mountain Rose Herbs – they sell mostly organic bulk herbs

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=687926548 Mike Speer

    Is there any issue with having too much? I drink about a gallon of the cold-brewed wild berry zinger daily.

    • HemoDynamic, M.D.

      Just smelling like Wild Berry Zinger. I know personally because I work out a lot and when I have a lot of WBZ or any other Hibiscus tea my sweat smells like flowers. And smelling like flowers is much better than the repulsive, pungent smell that oozes off the meat and dairy eaters when they sweat.

    • http://www.facebook.com/michael.weisensee Michael Weisensee

      I developed a calcium oxalate kidney stone, which my doctor says is due to the tea…

      • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

        I’m not sure about the oxalate content of teas (but that is a good question to ask), however, from this site I have learned that cinnamon and turmeric can contribute to kidney stone formation. Check out the cinnamon and turmeric videos.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1268850618 Devin Wiesner

        Michael, I’m not an expert on kidney stones and was interested in your comment as I consume quite a bit of oxalate and would like to prevent such an occurrence. I did do a search on PubMed and if I’m reading the abstracts properly of the studies I found it sounds like, surprisingly, hibiscus helps prevent kidney stones? I’m so sorry you had a kidney stone. Here’s the link to the studies I referenced: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21075390 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22057204

        • http://www.facebook.com/michael.weisensee Michael Weisensee

          Thanks for the references. Wonder if they translate to humans.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1268850618 Devin Wiesner

      Hi Mike, needless to say (?) just about all substances consumed in excess will have toxic effects. Indeed there was a study on hibiscus and I believe (if I’m interpreting the abstract properly) that providing massive amounts of hibiscus extract did indeed prove toxic. I’m guessing that one gallon a day is fine, especially considering that wild berry zinger has other ingredients as well and overall that’s not a huge amount of hibiscus constituents that you are consuming. Here’s the link to the study I referenced: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19003943

  • Jen

    I love hibiscus ever since you mentioned it I’ve been drinking it. It is so good! Now I know it’s good for my pet rats too I will start giving it to them also :)

  • stevebillig

    This video on hibiscus tea and its impressive antioxidant power yet extremely short term benefits makes me even more focused on endogenous antioxidants and foods that stimulate their production (e.g., turmeric). This also reminds me of the supression of endogenous antioxidant production during supplementation with antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin E. Since the body generates endogenous antioxidants in response to the need (such as after exercising), compared to dietary antioxidants which are not similarly timed, this seems to add support to the strategy of helping the body do its thing.

  • http://www.mycompletelackofboundaries.blogspot.ca/ Ellen Reid

    And where would one get the bulk dried hibiscus?

    • jeebs

      health food stores, online, some major grocery stores.

      • http://www.mycompletelackofboundaries.blogspot.ca/ Ellen Reid

        thanks

    • karoumy

      I found pure hibiscus tea at my local health food store imported from Thailand. You can also try a Mexican supermarket.

    • Jo

      I purchased mine on that online store that’s named after a South American river and forest. It was cheaper there than at the local ethnic supermarkets believe it or not. I put green tea bags in the basket of my coffee pot — sans coffee of course — and the hibiscus leaves in the glass pot and brew.

      One day I’ll be organized enough to cold brew tea instead of hot brew.

    • Guest
    • SillySally

      Maybe you can find some here: http://bit.ly/WLewb8

  • Ed1618

    I buy dried hibiscus tea flowers in bulk at
    my local coop, and grind them down to powder in my coffee grinder. So long as you
    like the flavor in a dish, you can then add the hibiscus powder easily to just
    about anything, smoothies, oatmeal, etc.

    That said, although antioxidant capacity of a food seems important,
    it seems simplistic to rate the value of a food by its antioxidant capacity
    alone.

    First because the tests generally look at the ability of a food to
    inhibit a specific reaction, and free radicals cause a multitude of reactions.
    Use a different test, and you’ll change the rankings – sometimes quite
    significantly. And some reactions seem more biologically relevant than others –
    I prefer those that look at the ability of foods or substances to inhibit
    glycation reactions ( “Inhibition of Protein Glycation by Extracts of
    Culinary Herbs and Spices” by R. P.
    Dearlove et al (J Med Food 11 (2) 2008, 275–281, pdf https://docs.google.com/gview?url=http://www.globalcitizen.net/Data/Pages/1049/papers/2010022311157709.pdf ) , or even better, to inhibit DNA degradation or breakage due to
    free radical reactions.

    However,
    even in the best case scenario, ranking foods by their ability to inhibit
    biologically relevant free radical reactions, one also needs to look at other,
    often more important effects – - such as their epigenetic effects on DNA
    expression. For example, resveratrol in red wine and giant knotweed, fisetin in
    strawberries,
    and quercetin in onions, all activate the human ““longevity gene”” SIRT1.
    Their ability to scavenge free radicals seems pretty much irrelevant with
    respect to this primary epigenetic effect.

    Although
    blueberries rank much lower than hibiscus, as well as a number other berries with
    respect to their antioxidant capacity, I suspect that they have their
    primary effect on an epigenetic level. In
    one research study, simply adding blueberries to the diet of aging rats not
    only prevented declines in mental functions, but actually improved them. Like
    green tea, a plethora of research studies have validated a multitude of
    specific beneficial effects of blueberries in a wide variety of areas.
    Until similar studies validate the effects of hibiscus in other areas,
    blueberries and green tea will continue to outrank it for me as “superfoods” by a wide
    margin.

    • http://jolkapolkaskitchen.blogspot.com/ WholeFoodChomper

      Oh, I like your suggestion of grinding the tea leaves in a coffee grinder.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1268850618 Devin Wiesner

      Hey, Ed. I enjoyed your post. I add hibiscus leaves to my green/white tea each day. There’s a fair bit of research on the benefit of adding an acid to green tea, to make available more catechins. So I figure, in addition to some positive effects of hibiscus (there’s ~630 studies on hibiscus according to PubMed), adding the hibiscus will provide me with more beneficial catechins from the green tea.

  • Thea

    What is interesting to me about this study is that it shows something much more general than just hibiscus tea. I know the study only used hibiscus tea, but we don’t have any reason to believe that any food or liquid high in antioxidants wouldn’t have a similar effect/shape to the graph.

    So, I interpret these results to be showing that: 1) eating foods high in antioxidants does indeed have a significant, measurable impact on the body, 2) as Dr. Greger says, one of the keys to good health is taking in those antioxidant foods and drinks throughout the day – so that our cells are bathed in those cell preserving materials all day long.

    Very cool.

  • john gerry

    We grow Hibiscus. Is a way to tell if ours can be eaten? ie are there different varieties with some inedible?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1268850618 Devin Wiesner

      Hi John. I’ve eaten hibiscus right off the plant before and it tasted just like the dried hibiscus I purchase. Do you know what species of hibiscus you have? If I’m not mistaken the most commonly consumed is Hibiscus Sabdariffa.

    • Veganrunner

      I can barely get a bloom to enjoy. My dogs get to them and eat them before I can enjoy their beauty!

  • Sean Wilhelm

    If I were to cold brew some tea how much loose hibiscus would I use? I got some say the grocery store and would like to give it a try.

  • Sean Wilhelm

    Sorry if this is a double post. How much loose hibiscus should I use with a half gallon of water?

  • Robert

    So, Dr Greger. Several people asked how much loose hibiscus is used. No one answered so I’ll ask you: How much loose hibiscus do you use in how much water?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      I use a handful in about a gallon of water.

  • New

    Celestial seasonings tea is contaminated with pesticides! See this report! Anyone know of a safe source for hibiscus tea? http://www.examiner.com/article/dangerously-high-pesticide-levels-found-celestial-seasonings-teas

  • Nutritarian

    Is this statement true: “Medical professionals already know that hibiscus can react with certain drugs and that it isn’t good for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.” It’s from this article:
    http://cooperaerobics.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/can-hibiscus-oust-hypertension/

    From Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s website, he of Aerobics fame.
    My daughter is breastfeeding and she drinks your hibiscus tea daily.
    We’re both big fans of yours. Should she skip the tea until she’s finished breastfeeding? Please advise.
    Thanks.

  • warfield Alexandre

    do you eat the tea leaves afterwards?

  • warfield Alexandre

    do you also eat the hibiscus after it has been brewed?

  • grateful vegan

    I get palpitations – my heart feels like it’s pumping too hard. Since drinking hibiscus tea these palpitations come quite frequently ie a few times a day. Is anything known about this effect?

  • Mark Hazell

    How does this compare to green tea? Does the antioxidants in green tea stay longer in the blood stream than the hibiscus tea?

  • Rita

    Hibiscus plants are sold everywhere, why not just have your plant and pick the flowers from it everyday? They are everywhere here in Texas at least and super easy to grow, you can even neglect them. They bloom lots everyday.

  • Cozmagoz

    Is hibiscus tea safe for children? My 6yo has a rooibos every day, if its good for her I’d like her to have hibiscus also.

  • Sandra

    My dogs used to eat the flowers of my perennial hibiscus plants, and I was worried about that causing a problem so I got rid of the plants. Does anyone know if it was o’kay for them to eat the flowers? I’d love to have them back in my yard!

  • Bataleon

    Dear Doc,

    Yesterday I made a mix of dried hibiscus petals (3 tsp) to 600mL water and sipped it over the course of an hour.

    After a while I started feeling woozy, lightheaded and slightly dizzy.

    Is this likely to be caused by the antihypertensive properties of the hibiscus?

    Many thanks

  • Calvin Leman

    With flowers and water in my bike water bottle, inside or on the bike, the bottle filters the flowers and drink all day.

  • Allen Ingle

    Dr. Greger,

    After looking at the following study: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613001726

    It appears that daily consumption of more than 1L of Hibiscus tea is too much due to excessive aluminum present in the tea. I would imagine that consuming hibiscus powder or the entire hibiscus flower would be even less than 1L.

    What do you think?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Thank you so much–looking forward to checking it out. Maybe I’ll make a video out of it!

  • Plantbased4life

    Any data on the arsenic contamination found in tea also present in Hibiscus. The question was prompted by this recent article and the safety of tea. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jt/2013/370460/ Thanks!

  • Sheri

    I think you are referring to Roselle Sabdariffa hibiscus, not the picture above which is clearly the ornamental hibiscus. You either dehydrate or simmer raw calyx for tea. You can add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a squeeze of lemon.

  • Sheri

    Just for reference the herbal hibiscus Roselle Sabdariffa’s flower looks like an okra flower, and about the same size as the okra flower.

  • Guest

    Hi Doctor. Hibiscus petals are notoriously high in acid content. Is it likely that drinking hibiscus tea over a long period of time may damage tooth enamel? Thanks

  • Sebastian Tristan

    I grind dried Hibiscus petals and then blend it with berries, dates, greens. The taste is indescribably good and original.

  • Anne McKay

    I seem to get palpitations if taking your recommended amount of hibiscus tea. Has anyone else experienced this that you know of? Many thanks Dr. Greger for all your hard work and dedication.

  • Matt

    Have you heard about Celestial Seasonings having pesticides in their tea? I have been drinking celestial teas such as red zinger so I ASSumed that they were a reputable brand.

    Would you care to shed any light on the subject?

    Here is a the source:

    https://glaucusresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/02/GlaucusResearch-The_Hain_Celestial_Group_Inc-NasdaqHAIN-Strong_Sell_Febuary_21_2013.pdf

  • Jorge Calvo

    Dr Mcgregor, can you please show us a study with regards to the eficacy of “ecklonia Clava” its aparently a very powerful seaweed antioxidant from japan with a huge whooping 12 hr lifespan effect in body. I’m rather dubious of it being more powerful than resveratrol found in japanee knotwood.