Hibiscus Isn’t Just A Pretty Face

Hibiscus is a multicolored flower often found in lush, tropical settings and known for its delicate beauty. But hibiscus is so much more than a pretty wedding centerpiece—it also has many notable health-boosting qualities.

Hibiscus contains polyphenols and flavanols that possess antioxidant and cardioprotective activities, explains Dr. Garrett Wdowin, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and integrative medicine specialist in Newport Beach, CA. It has long been used in traditional Ayurvedic (an Eastern belief system) medicine to promote good health. Here’s some of what it can do:

Blood pressure and cholesterol

A human and animal study in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that hibiscus extract contains properties that can help promote stable blood pressure. There’s also evidence that hibiscus can support healthy cholesterol and blood glucose levels, according to research in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Just a cup of hibiscus tea daily has shown these benefits, according to the research. Note: If your blood pressure is already low, speak with your doctor before taking hibiscus.

Antioxidant qualities

Like Wdowin says, studies have shown that the hibiscus plant offers key antioxidant properties. In 2014, a review of available scientific evidence in the journal Food Chemistry revealed that hibiscus is rich in phenolic acids (health-supporting micronutrients) and anthocyanins (pigments and flavonoids with health-supporting qualities).

Bonus: When drinking hibiscus tea, you also get a dose of vitamin C (about 46 mg) from the hibiscus leaves, which plays a key role in immune function.

Beauty & skin-care

Increasingly, hibiscus is used as an ingredient in skin-care and beauty products like moisturizers and masks (we recommend the S.W.Basics Hibiscus Mask). That’s because hibiscus brings powerful alpha-hydroxy acids to the table, which can help promote healthy skin.

A 2004 animal study in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology showed that the plant, when used in moisturizers, may also help prevent some of the potential damage from the sun’s UV rays.

Some people also use hibiscus tea as a DIY hair rinse to improve luster, cleanliness, and softness. Want to try it out? Take a hot cup of hibiscus tea, mix with one-third cup of apple cider vinegar, shake, and then apply all over the scalp and hair. You can add essential oils (careful not to get them in your eyes!) for scent, although it’s not necessary. Massage your scalp and move the mixture through your hair. Rinse with warm water after about 15-30 minutes.

Lastly, according to the journal Biomolecules & Therapeutics, hibiscus’ leaf extracts can potentially support hair growth.

Give it a whirl

If you’re eager to try hibiscus, Dr. Wdowin says tea is his favorite way to weave it into your diet, although he notes that people can find hibiscus as a capsulized supplement, as well. Note: While the journal ISRN Gastroenterology says that hibiscus is generally a safe supplement, you will want to speak with your doctor if you have certain medical conditions. For one, hibiscus is generally not recommended to drink if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, says Wdowin.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, hibiscus may decrease blood sugar levels, so take note if you have diabetes. Same goes for people undergoing surgery: Because hibiscus can affect blood sugar, it’s recommended you not take it two weeks before a scheduled surgery.

There is no official dosage recommendation, although most supplements suggest between 250 mg to 800 mg once per day.