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Say Hello To Hibiscus

Hibiscus is a large shrub or small tree from a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. Hibiscuses produce huge, colorful, trumpet-shaped flowers over a long growing season. The plants can grow to 15 feet tall in some areas. Flowers may be up to 6 inches in diameter, with colors ranging from yellow to peach to red. The flowers are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.

Teas made from hibiscus flowers are a common beverage in tropical regions where they grow. Hibiscus beverages are known by many names around the world where the concoctions are served both hot and cold. Hibiscus tea is best known for its color, tanginess and flavor. This cool, astringent, acidic flavor is widely recognized which has made it a staple of “zinger” type teas in the United States. The tea is popular as a natural diuretic; it contains vitamin C and minerals, and is used traditionally as an herbal medicine. Polyphenol compounds have been discovered in the leaves of Hibiscus sabdariffa, which has also shown anti-inflammatory activities.

All parts of hibiscus plants are used traditionally. Due to their soothing (demulcent) and astringent properties, the flowers and leaves have been traditionally used to treat medical conditions, to lower blood pressure, to relieve dry coughs, and topically to treat skin afflictions.

Hibiscus flowers contain substantial quantities of flavonoids and proanthocyanidins. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis has a number of medical uses in Chinese herbology. Research does indicate potential in cosmetic skin care; for example, an extract from the flowers of Hibiscus rosa- sinensis has been shown to function as an anti-solar agent by absorbing ultraviolet radiation.

The Indian traditional system of medicine, Ayurveda, also considers hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) to have medicinal properties. The roots are used to make various concoctions believed to cure ailments including hair loss or hair greying. As a hair treatment, the flowers are boiled in oil along with other herbs and plant material to make a type of medicated hair oil or scalp serum. The leaves and flowers are often ground into a fine paste with a little water, resulting in a lathery paste used as a shampoo plus conditioner. Hibiscus powder can also be blended with herbal vinegars to create a scalp treatment or with henna (Lawsonia inermis) to create a natural red stain for hair or skin.

In the United States, hibiscus can be found in various forms for use in food and cosmetic applications. The dried flowers are commonly sold as a botanical for use in everything from consumable herbal tea to decorative accents in cosmetics. Hibiscus will discolor most any product it is added to due to its high anthocyanin content. Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that may appear red, purple, or blue depending on the pH of the formulation. For example, when the pH of the solution is 1, red and purple colors result. However, when the pH value is slightly increased to between 2 and 4, the blue color of the anthocyanin is more predominant. Along with other phenolic compounds, anthocyanins are potent scavengers of free radicals. However, anthocyanins are highly affected by both changes in temperature and light and the usage of hibiscus for its anthocyanin content (color) can cause stability issues in formulations over time.

Although hibiscus will impart a natural color in many cosmetic products, it is not recognized as an “approved” colorant by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, it must serve some other purpose in the product besides that of “colorant”. Some reasons to add hibiscus to a skincare formulation might include its use as an antioxidant, decorative accent or exfoliant.

Hibiscus is also available as a cosmetic additive extracted into glycerin or alcohol and standardized for efficacy. Hibiscus extract is thought to inhibit elastin degradation, helping to maintain the skin's elasticity and thereby offering anti-aging effects. It is often found in formulations targeting skin tone, anti-cellulite or firming properties.

  1. Nevade Sidram A., Sachin G. Lokapure and N.V. Kalyane. 2011. Study on anti-solar activity of ehanolic extract of flower of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis Linn. Research Journal of Pharmacy and Technology 4(3): 472–473.
  2. Konczak I, Zhang W. Anthocyanins—More Than Nature’s Colours. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2004;2004(5):239-240. doi:10.1155/S1110724304407013.
  3. McKay DL, Chen CY, Saltzman E, Blumberg JB. Hibiscus sabdariffa L. tea (tisane) lowers blood pressure in prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults. J Nutr. 2010 Feb;140(2):298-303. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.115097. Epub 2009 Dec 16. PubMed PMID: 20018807.
  4. Summary of Color Additives for Use in the United States in Foods, Drugs, Cosmetics, and Medical Devices:
  5. Castaneda-Ovando,  A., Pacheco-Hernandez, L., Paez-Hernandez, E., Rodriguez, J. A.  and Galan-Vidal,  C. A. 2009. Chemical studies of anthocyanins: A review. Food Chemistry 113: 859-871.
  6. Chumsri, P., Sirichote, A. and Itharat, A. 2008. Studies on the  optimum  conditions  for  the  extraction  of  roselle (Hibiscus  sabdariffa Linn.)  extract. Songklanakarin Journal of Science and Technology 30: 133-139.

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