Hibiscus as a cure for Stomach Problems and More…
DISCLAIMER: CONSULT WITH A DOCTOR BEFORE DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PLAN FOR ANY DISEASE OR INJURY.
What is hibiscus?
Hibiscus is a flowering plant genus in the Malvaceae (Mallow) family. There are various different species of hibiscus, including Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Hibiscus sabdariffa, and Hibiscus syriacus, to name a few particularly notable varieties. This article will primarily focus on the first two, H. rosa-sinensis and H. sabdariffa, though reader should note that many different varieties of hibiscus have medicinal qualities. Also note that if you buy dried hibiscus powder or whole flowers online, it’s probable that you’ll receive a product made from Hibiscus sabdariffa unless the packaging explicitly says otherwise.
As a member of the Mallow Family, hibiscus is closely related to other familiar plants including hollyhock, cotton, and multiple mallow varieties, and also bears some connection to cacao, okra, linden tree, and basswood. The leaves and flowers of mallow family plants can produce a mucilaginous effect (sticky and slimy texture), particularly when crushed. Hibiscus is also known as roselle, red sorrel, karkade, and rose mallow in some parts of the world, and the species H. syriacus is usually referred to as Rose of Sharon. The H. sabdariffa variety is also sometimes called bissap, sorrel, and flor de Jamaica (in Mexico and Latin American countries).
For most westerners, hibiscus is a decorative, tropical flowering plant. But, although hibiscus flowers are indeed very pretty, for people from Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, hibiscus is much, much more than just a pretty plant. In countries in these parts of the world, the flowers, seeds, leaves, and even the roots of the hibiscus plant are used as foods, in the preparation of drinks, and as important medicines for many different ailments (which I’ve listed below as completely as I can without overwhelming the article. View the resources section at the very bottom of the article for more information).
Medicinal Uses of Hibiscus
Below I have outlined some of the medicinal effects as well as specific recorded or studied uses of H. sabdariffa and H. rosa-sinensis. The two have a lot of similarities, however there are also some crucial differences, so I’ve discussed them separately here. Again, as I mentioned in the introduction to this article, H. sabdariffa is somewhat more accessible as a medicine than H. rosa-sinensis, so if you have dried hibiscus “flowers” or powder, it’s likely you’ll be working with the H. sabdariffa variety unless the packaging says otherwise.
Hibiscus sabdariffa Medicinal Uses
Hibiscus sabdariffa has the following effects in the body:
- Diuretic (leaves and flowers)
- Choleretic, promotes bile secretion by the liver (leaves and flowers)
- Febrifugal/Antipyretic, reduces fevers (leaves and flowers)
- Hypotensive (leaves and flowers)
- Decreases blood viscosity (leaves and flowers)
- Stimulates peristalsis of the intestines (leaves and flowers)
- Lowers body temperature (flower)
- Increases urine production (flower)
- Stomachic properties, increases appetite and aids digestion (roots)
- Emollient properties (roots)
- Galactagogue, aids breast milk production (seeds)
- Antinociceptive, reduces pain by blocking pain receptors for neurons that may be afflicted by some stimuli
- Hepatoprotective, liver protective
- Nephroprotective, kidney protective
- Anti-insulin resistance properties
- Reduces hyperglycemia
- Reduces hyperinsulinemia
- Anti-anemic (H. sabdariffa is a good source of iron)
- Antispasmodic (specifically for uterine and intestinal muscles)
Hibiscus sabdariffa can be used to treat the following illnesses, disorders, and health issues:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Coronary heart disease
- Nerve diseases
- Sore throat (flowers)
- Cough (flowers)
- Genital problems (flowers)
- External wounds/abscesses (leaf pulp)
- Pain during urination (seeds)
- Indigestion (seeds)
- Liver disorders
- Low breast milk production (seeds)
- Bacterial infection
- Klebsiella pneumonia
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa and fluorescence
- Acinetobacter baumannii
- Streptococcus mutans
- Campylobacter species
- Bacillus stearothermophilus
- Micrococcus luteus
- Serratia marcescens
- Clostridium sporogenes
- E. coli
- Bacillus cereus
- Salmonella poisoning
- Listeria poisoning
- Cytokine Storm Syndrome
- Skin cancer
- Gastric carcinoma
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Weight loss
- Type II Diabetes Management
- Trypanosoma congolense parasite infection
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
Notably, despite its anti-fungal abilities, H. sabdariffa does NOT necessarily prevent or help treat a Candida albicans yeast infection.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Medicinal Uses
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis has the following medicinal actions in the body:
- Reduces “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and increases “good” HDL cholesterol levels
- Powerful antioxidant properties
- Lowers blood pressure
- Encourages healthy weight loss
- Boosts the immune system
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Prevents liver damage
- Anti-cancer properties
- Diuretic properties
- Aids digestion
- Improves kidney health
The specific conditions listed below can be treated using Hibiscus rosa-sinensis.
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Bacterial infections
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Kidney stone prevention
- Fungal infections (treated by seed oil extract)
Other H. sabdariffa and H. rosa-sinensis Uses
As you can see from the lists above, hibiscus has a lot of valuable medicinal properties and it is regularly used by native people in many countries for healing. However, the plants also have some other uses that I wanted to at least make note of briefly to illustrate the safety of the plant as well as its significance (these uses help make the plant’s “personality” more evident, I think).
The H. sabdariffa variety of hibiscus has been used in the following other (non-medicinal) ways:
- Malaysia – H. sabdariffa is used to produce soaps, skin scrubs, and other cosmetics. The Malaysians also may use the plant’s leaves as a sour vegetable to be cooked similarly to spinach or another dark leafy green vegetable.
- Egypt – The flowers (otherwise known as “calyces” are made into Cacody tea, a sour drink, or other fermented beverages.
- Sudan, Nigeria, and Mexico – The calyces (flowers) are boiled with sugar to create a drink known as Karkade (in Sudan), Zoborodo (in Nigeria), or agua/té de Jamaica (in Mexico).
Also in Sudan, the leaves of the H. sabdariffa plant are eaten either fresh or dried and cooked into a dish that includes onions and groundnuts.
- West Indies (including Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic) – H. sabdariffa calyces are used as a rum coloring or flavor.
- African countries – The seeds of the plant are cooked roasted and then ground into a powder. This powder can then be used as a kind of spice in soups and sauces. Oil may also be extracted from the seeds. Some people “brew” the seeds as a coffee substitute.
The plant has been used widely, including as a popular and important medicinal plant in Egypt, Sudan, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Guatemala, India, China, Nigeria, and many of the Caribbean nations (among many other countries and regions not listed here).
The H. rosa-sinensis variety of the plant is native to China and continues to be an important medicinal and nutritional plant in that country. It is also commonly used medicinally in India, as well as in Africa and the Middle East (in these countries, it has medicinal value as well as having been used in cosmetics or perfumes). In Nigeria, H. rosa-sinensis is also used in flavorful jams and jellies as well as in cold drinks and teas. The leaves are used similarly to spinach as meny countries. H. rosa-sinensis is also a popular medicinal and culinary plant in Japan, Iran, Thailand, and Mexico.
Both plants are also important fiber sources and have been used frequently as primary sources of jute-like fiber in particular in many parts of the world.
Nutritional Composition of H. sabdariffa and H. rosa-sinensis
Just like foods, plants and herbs, too, supply us with vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that we need to survive and heal. Often, the combination of these substances in the herb or plant is naturally optimized for maximum absorption. In a lot of cases, the whole plant extract of any given herb or plant will be more effective in treating an illness than isolating any compound and administering it on its own, separate from all the other constituents in the plant. The nutritional parts of plants is extremely important to understanding their function in healing!
Below I have outlined some of the basic nutritional information for the H. sabdariffa and H. rosa-sinensis hibiscus varieties:
|Nutritional Composition of H. sabdariffa per 100g (fresh)|
|Calcium||1.3mg (calyces); 1.8g (leaves); 647mg (seeds)|
|Phosphorus||273.2mg (calyces); 4mg – 214mg (leaves); 510mg (seeds)|
|Iron||8.98mg – 57mg (calyces); 0.54mg (leaves)|
|Beta-carotene (Vitamin A)||300mcg (calyces)|
|Thiamine (Vitamin B1)||0.117mg (calyces); 0.45mg (leaves)|
|Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)||0.227mg (calyces); 0.45mg (leaves)|
|Niacin (Vitamin B3)||3.77mg (calyces)|
|Malic Acid||1.25mg (leaves)|
|Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)||14mg (calyces); 54mg (leaves)|
|Linoleic Acid (fatty acid)||39.31% (seeds)|
|Oleic Acid (fatty acid)||32.06% (seeds)|
H. sabdariffa also contains the following notable constituents (besides those already listed in the table above):
- Citric Acid
- Hydroxycitric Acid
- Hibiscus Acid
- Tartaric Acid
- Gallic Acid
- Caffeic Acid
|Nutritional Composition of H. rosa-sinensis per 100g (fresh)|
|Thiamine (Vitamin B1)||0.03mg (calyces)|
|Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)||0.05mg (calyces)|
|Niacin (Vitamin B3)||0.60mg (calyces)|
|Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)||4.2mg (calyces)|
H. rosa-sinensis also contains the following constituents in addition to those listed in the table above:
- Carotene (Vitamin A)
- Malvalic Acid
- Gentisic Acid
- Margaric Acid
- Lauric Acid
- Cyanidin chloride and Cyanidin diglucoside
Contraindications and Safety
Hibiscus should be avoided by women who are currently pregnant or trying to conceive. This plant can have anti-fertility/contraceptive effects and is an emmenagogue, meaning that it can stimulate menstruation (for pregnant women, this means that the plant can stimulate a spontaneous abortion because it causes the uterine muscles to contract).
Hibiscus may also interact with chloroquine, diclofenac, and acetaminophen (Tylenol). The bioavailability of chloroquine was found to be reduced in people currently taking hibiscus of any variety internally, while reduced levels of diclofenac were found in urine samples in hibiscus drinkers. Some changes to the absorption and use of acetaminophen were noted in one study, but the changes were not statistically significant enough to warrant true concern over the interaction between this drug and hibiscus (again, this is true for both of the varieties discussed in this article).
Otherwise, hibiscus has been shown to be a safe medicine for most people. The toxicity level in extracts and tea is quite high according to the studies that have been done. It’s unlikely that most people who use this plant as a medicine will “overdose” either using the tea or extract. Nonetheless, it’s important to always listen to your own body and if something doesn’t feel right (or if you don’t feel like the plant is having the effect you’re going for), always follow yourself.
Male readers should take note of a toxicology study on H. sabdariffa that noted an increase in testicular toxicity in rats when the plant’s extracts were administered at between 1150mg to 4500mg per kilogram daily (close to the 5000mg/kg toxicity limit). Effects of this dose included reduced sperm count and reduced spermatogenesis. However, one study examining the male rats who were administered either an extract of H. sabdariffa over the course of 10 weeks at a dose of 50-200mg/kg did not show any negative markers in regard to sperm count or overall testicular health. Because of the plant’s potential to reduce fertility over the short term in women as well (as a contraceptive), and also due to these studies, couples who are trying to conceive should be aware that taking hibiscus (especially in higher quantities) may reduce their chances of success, at least while they’re taking the plant internally.
 Caron, Matt (2021). Hibiscus Tea Benefits: 13 Scientific Reasons Your Body Loves It. Retrieved December 7, 2021 from: https://www.myteadrop.com/blogs/news/hibiscus-tea-benefits
 Trung, Hieu Tran, et. al. (2020). Growth-Inhibiting, Bactericidal, Antibiofilm, and Urease Inhibitory Activities of Hibiscus rosa sinensis L. Flower Constituents toward Antibiotic Sensitive- and Resistant-Strains of Helicobacter pylori. Retrieved December 7, 2021 from:
 Da-Costa-Rocha, Inês, et. al. (2014). Hibiscus sabdariffa L. – A phytochemical and pharmacological review. Retrieved December 7, 2021 from:
 Wikipedia (2021). Hibiscus. Retrieved December 9, 2021 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hibiscus#Pregnancy_and_lactation
 Khristi, Vincenta and Patel, V.H. (2016). THERAPEUTIC POTENTIAL OF HIBISCUS ROSA-SINENSIS: A REVIEW. Retrieved 12/20/2021 from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Vincenta-Khristi/publication/312148872_THERAPEUTIC_POTENTIAL_OF_HIBISCUS_ROSA_SINENSIS_A_REVIEW/links/590160feaca2725bd71fb587/THERAPEUTIC-POTENTIAL-OF-HIBISCUS-ROSA-SINENSIS-A-REVIEW.pdf
 Morton, J. (1987). Roselle – Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Retrieved December 29, 2021 from: https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/roselle.html