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Hibiscus Tea: Health Benefits, Buying Tips & When To Drink It

Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D.
Registered Dietitian
By Jillian Kubala, M.S., R.D.
Registered Dietitian
Jillian Kubala, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. She holds a master's degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science.
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Expert review by
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, M.S., RD
Registered Dietitian
Lauren Torrisi-Gorra, MS, RD is a registered dietitian, chef, and writer with a love of science and passion for helping people create life-long healthy habits. She has a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies from Fordham University, a Grand Diplôme in Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute, and master's degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from New York University.

From chamomile to English breakfast, you can’t go wrong with a steaming cup of soothing tea. If you’re interested in adding tea to your life but aren’t into black or green tea, you’re in luck. There are thousands of teas to choose from, including herbal options like hibiscus tea.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of hibiscus tea and why this bright, beautiful bev deserves a spot in your routine.

What is hibiscus tea?

Hibiscus tea is made with the dried calyxes—leafy structures that protect the flower bud—of the Hibiscus Sabdariffa1 plant. Hibiscus Sabdariffa, also known as roselle, red sorrel, wonjo, and karkade, is grown in tropical regions around the world, including Thailand, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Dried Hibiscus Sabdariffa calyxes have been used to make drinks like tea as well as food and natural medicine2 for thousands of years. 

Hibiscus tea, which is also known as sour tea, has a slightly tart, fruity taste and a deep, ruby-red color. Its saturated color comes from plant compounds3 concentrated in the calyxes called anthocyanins, which are natural plant pigments that have health-promoting properties. 

It can be enjoyed both hot and cold and is usually sweetened with honey or sugar to mask its tart taste. You can purchase hibiscus tea in tea bags and as loose-leaf tea. 

Because it contains a variety of antioxidants, including vitamin C, carotenoids4, and anthocyanins, hibiscus tea can also be found in tea blends meant to support the health of the skin

Summary

Hibiscus tea is made from the Hibiscus Sabdariffa plant. Rich in antioxidants, it has a tart, fruity taste and can be enjoyed hot or cold.

Benefits of hibiscus tea

Hibiscus tea is a rich source of health-promoting plant compounds. Studies show that drinking it regularly can have major benefits for your skin, heart, blood sugar, and more.

1.

It may help boost skin health and appearance.

Hibiscus offers some serious skin health benefits, both when used topically as a skincare treatment and when consumed as a tea. Hibiscus tea is rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds5, such as organic acids, flavonoids, and anthocyanins, which can help soothe inflammatory skin disorders, like acne, while protecting against oxidation-related5 skin damage.

Although most currently available research focuses on the topical use of hibiscus for supporting skin health, there’s strong evidence that increasing your dietary intake of antioxidants, in general, can help improve the health and appearance of your skin.

For example, a study found that the participants who consumed foods and drinks with high antioxidant capacity, including tea, experienced around 10% less skin aging6 over the study period compared to those who ate foods with low antioxidant capacity.

2.

It may benefit heart health.

Sipping on hibiscus tea may help if you have high blood pressure. Scientists believe that the heart health benefits of hibiscus tea are due to its high levels of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant substances. 

A review of 17 studies found that hibiscus treatments, including hibiscus tea, induced blood pressure reductions7 similar to blood pressure-lowering medications. Their effect was most significant in people who had high blood pressure. The review also found that hibiscus treatments significantly reduced levels of LDL cholesterol compared with other teas and placebo treatments.

3.

It has anti-inflammatory properties.

The potent mixture of plant compounds found in hibiscus tea may help reduce inflammation in the body, which could help improve overall health. Researchers found that consuming 250 milliliters of a hibiscus extract drink per day significantly reduced blood pressure8 and levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein ultra sensitive (CRP-US) compared to drinking plain water.

Recent research suggests that hibiscus tea could also help protect against neuroinflammation by decreasing the expression of inflammatory proteins like interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α)9, though more human research is needed to confirm this potential benefit for brain health.

4.

It may be helpful for people with diabetes.

In addition to having high blood sugar, people with diabetes often have high blood pressure. Studies show that drinking hibiscus tea can help support healthy blood pressure levels10 in people with diabetes and may help improve blood sugar management.

A review of seven studies found that hibiscus tea consumption significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels11. Plus, some research suggests that hibiscus tea could help improve sensitivity to insulin2, the hormone that helps shuttle blood sugar into cells. Unsweetened hibiscus tea makes a smart beverage choice for people with diabetes and can even be sweetened with monk fruit for a blood sugar-friendly juice and soda alternative. 

5.

It's packed with antioxidants.

Hibiscus tea is packed with antioxidant compounds, including vitamin C, organic acids, flavonoids, and anthocyanins, which help protect against cellular damage. Oxidative damage is caused by an excess of free radicals12 in the body, which overwhelms the body’s antioxidant defenses.

Consuming foods and drinks high in antioxidants, like hibiscus tea, is an easy way to support your body’s antioxidant defenses and protect against cellular damage.

Animal studies suggest that hibiscus tea has powerful anticancer effects13 and may help inhibit the growth of several types of cancer, including skin cancer. However, although drinking hibiscus tea can provide a source of protective antioxidants, it’s currently unclear if regularly consuming hibiscus tea can lower the risk of cancer in humans.

When to drink it

Hibiscus tea can be enjoyed at any time of day or night. Here are a few times when you might want to brew up a cup:

  • When you’re feeling stressed or anxious: Hibiscus tea is caffeine-free, so it’s a perfect way to unwind after a nerve-wracking day.
  • Before bed: Sipping on hot drinks before bed is a healthy way to get your body in the mood to get some shuteye. Caffeinated beverages, like caffeinated tea and coffee, could wreak havoc on your sleep quality if they’re consumed at night, so opting for a caffeine-free drink at night is a smart choice for your sleep hygiene.
  • When you’re running hot: Hibiscus tea can be enjoyed on ice and can help you stay cool and hydrated in hot weather. In fact, hibiscus is used as a traditional cooling drink14 in countries like Ghana, Egypt, and Sudan.
  • When you need an afternoon pick-me-up: When you’re feeling tired at the end of the day, sipping some hibiscus tea can help hydrate you and give you the energy you crave without the crash that comes along with sugary energy drinks and soda. Try pairing hibiscus tea with a protein-rich snack, like trail mix, to help you power through the rest of your work day in a healthy way.

How to serve it

You can buy hibiscus tea in ready-to-use tea bags or as a loose-leaf tea. If you like a richer, more flavorful tea drink, consider purchasing loose-leaf hibiscus tea in bulk. Using loose-leaf tea allows you to add more tea to your tea strainer to make a more concentrated beverage.

If you prefer a lighter tea, steep your hibiscus for a few minutes. For a stronger tea, steep loose-leaf hibiscus tea and hibiscus tea bags for 10-15 minutes.

Registered dietitian Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD recommends making a large batch of hibiscus tea and keeping it in your refrigerator to enjoy throughout the day. 

Most traditional hibiscus tea methods, such as Egyptian Karkade, a hibiscus tea drink made with sugar, are sweetened. However, you can enjoy your hibiscus tea unsweetened or with a squeeze of lemon or lime. Sugar alternatives like monk fruit can also be used to counter the tart taste of hibiscus tea.

Keep in mind that f you’re using a lot of sweetener in your tea, it may take away from hibiscus tea’s benefits. “Of course, we have to consider what we are adding to our tea when assuming we will reap the benefits of this cozy sip. Adding loads of added sugar may work against some of these health goals,” says Manaker. For example, while regularly drinking unsweetened hibiscus tea may promote heart health, a diet high in added sugar has been shown to negatively impact heart health15 by increasing blood lipid and body fat levels. 

Summary

Hibiscus tea is available in ready-to-use bags or as loose-leaf tea. It can be enjoyed hot or cold. Even though occasionally enjoying a sweetened beverage won’t significantly harm your health, it’s best to drink hibiscus tea unsweetened whenever possible.  

Buying & storage tips

When shopping for hibiscus tea, it’s important to purchase products from reputable companies that are transparent about their sourcing and production methods. If you’re purchasing tea bags, steer clear of tea bags that contain adhesives like glue and tea bags made with nylon, such as “silken" tea bags made out of nylon. Studies show that these tea bags can leave behind microplastics16 in your tea, which can build up in your system and may harm your health.

When possible, opt for organic hibiscus tea as this ensures the hibiscus flowers were grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. 

Store your loose-leaf hibiscus tea and hibiscus leaf tea bags in a cool, dark, and dry place in an air-tight container. When stored properly, loose-leaf tea can last in your pantry for up to two years and tea bags can last up to three years. 

Side effects

Hibiscus tea has been shown to be safe when consumed in amounts of up to 24 ounces daily (3 cups) for up to six weeks. Hibiscus tea isn’t associated with many side effects, but could cause digestive symptoms like gas and constipation in some people.

Even though hibiscus tea is a healthy drink that’s been linked to several health benefits, it’s not the right choice for everyone. Drinking hibiscus tea isn’t recommended17 during pregnancy or breastfeeding as there is some evidence it could stimulate menstruation and harm breastfeeding babies.

There’s also not enough research to show that hibiscus tea is safe for kids, so you shouldn’t give hibiscus tea to children under the age of 12

Lastly, because hibiscus tea may impact blood sugar and blood pressure levels, you should stop drinking hibiscus tea at least two weeks before scheduled surgeries and use caution when drinking hibiscus tea while taking blood pressure-lowering medications. “Since hibiscus tea is linked to lowering blood pressure, people with low blood pressure may want to enjoy this tea with caution,” says Manaker.

Summary

Pregnant and/or breastfeeding women, children under 12 years of age, and people taking blood pressure-lowering medications should avoid drinking hibiscus tea.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to drink hibiscus tea daily?

Yes! It’s safe to drink hibiscus tea every day as long as you’re not drinking excessive amounts. Your main source of hydration should be plain water, but hibiscus tea is a healthy drink that’s safe to enjoy regularly. 

What should I avoid when drinking hibiscus tea?

Hibiscus tea is safe for most people, but it could interact with blood pressure-lowering medications. If you’re taking a medication for high blood pressure, check with your doctor before adding hibiscus tea into your diet. 

What is the best time to drink hibiscus tea?

Since it's naturally caffeine-free, hibiscus tea can be enjoyed at any time of day or night. Try sipping it in the morning or winding down after work with a cup of hot or iced hibiscus tea. 

The takeaway

Hibiscus tea is a ruby-colored beverage that’s as healthy as it is pleasing to look at. This antioxidant-rich drink has been linked to several health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to improving blood sugar levels, and provides a powerful source of cellular-protective compounds, like anthocyanins. It’s caffeine-free, so can be enjoyed at any time of day or night, including as a pre-bedtime wind-down.

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