Flor de Jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa)

Also called : Roselle, Rosella, Red sorrel, Karkady, Karkade

Agua frescas and fresh fruits being sold by a street vendor

Another popular street food in México are the agua frescas (fresh waters or cool waters). These are light non-alcoholic beverages which are flavoured with fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water. Chia seed is often added. These drinks are typically served from large barrel-shaped glass containers and can be found in markets, taquerias, tianguis and on nearly every street corner. These drinks date back to at least the 15th century where they were sold by vendors paddling their canoes around the suburban canal systems of Tenochtitlan. 

A popular version is Agua de Jamaica. This deep red drink is made from the dried calyxes of a variety of hibiscus. The calyxes are edible and can also be found in tacos and quesadillas. They are also believed to be medicinally active and are used for lowering cholesterol, treating high blood pressure and as a valuable cleansing/detoxing agent. Any health giving qualities of infusions of this flower may be altered by the amount of sugar used to sweeten the drink. You will need to add sugar to your drink as the infusion by itself is very sour.

Here’s one I picked up in Bali

This is not your usual hibiscus tree but a small shrub that is thought to have originated in Sri Lanka. The hibiscus flower used in this drink is not native to México and is believed to have been imported from the Philippines in the 1500’s. Hibiscus flowers from hibiscus trees, although edible, are not suitable for making this drink.

Agua de Jamaica — Hibiscus Tea


  • 1 ½  cups dried Hibiscus flowers (Flor de Jamaica)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or agave syrup)


Place the flowers in a saucepan along with 4 cups of cold water.  Use a glass or stainless steel pot, due to the acidic nature of the liquid it is best to avoid aluminium pots.

Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat.  Simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan and let steep until it cools, about half an hour.  

Strain the mixture and discard the leftover flowers.  You’ll end up with about 4 cups of Agua de Jamaica concentrate.

Add 4 cups of the concentrate to a 2 litre sized jug along with 4 cups of cold water and 1/4 cup of sugar.  Combine well and take a taste, adding more sugar or diluting further if you want to. I like to make a sugar syrup from 1kg of sugar which is added to 1 litre of water and boiled for 10 minutes. I add this to 2 litres of the flower concentrate and it makes about 10 litres of mixed drink.

Serve over ice and store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.

Hibiscus rosa-sinensis

Hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family, (Malvaceae) and in some places they are called rosemallows. The medicinal plant marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), the cotton plant (Gossypium spp), okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) and hollyhock (Alcea spp) are all in the mallow family. The flower pictured is Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and comes from a tree that can grow as high as 5 meters. This plant too has medicinal benefits. The roots of this variety of Hibiscus are used for cough treatments. The leaves are used as a laxative and have a hypoglycaemic effect (in studies performed on rats). An infusion of the flowers of this plant may be used to treat diarrhoea caused by the E.coli bacteria.

In her book Gran Cocina Latina Maricel Presilla gives a Costa Rican recipe for Vino de Flor de Jamaica, an alcoholic version of the agua fresca Agua de Jamaica. This drink is somewhat similar to both cebadina and tepache in that it is a sweet drink which is exposed to the air and allowed to naturally ferment via the wild yeasts and microorganisms in the air. As with all wild ferments it may take several tries before you achieve suitable fermentation. This reminds me of the homemade ginger beer my mother used to make. The bottles were stored under the sink in the kitchen while they fermented and it was common for the bottles to explode as there was either too much sugar or yeast in the mix and the bottles simply could not contain the pressures produced while fermenting. Wild ferments are not likely to be as vigorous in action during fermentation as my Mums ginger beer though.

Vino de Jamiaca


  • 120g flor de Jamaica
  • 2.5L water
  • 2 cups sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 or 2 star anise pods
  • 5cm piece of fresh ginger
  • 2 x 5cm cinnamon quills
  • 5 whole cloves


  1. Place all ingredients in a large non-reactive pot and bring to the boil
  2. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool
  3. Strain out solids and place liquid in a cleaned and sterilised large glass jar.
  4. Cover with cheesecloth to keep out bugs and to expose the liquid to the air
  5. Set aside to ferment for 3 (or more) days. Fermentation may take longer in cool weather. This takes practice.
  6. For a higher alcohol content allow to ferment for 3 – 4 weeks
Hibiscus sabdariffa flower
Fresh flower calyxes 
Commercially packaged
“flor de jamaica”

Not only are the flowers of this plant edible. The seeds, leaves and young shoots can be eaten. The seeds can be used to produce an oil or can be roasted and ground and added to various “meals” (ie ground maize or peanuts – usually seen in various parts of the African continent) or used in oily soups and sauces. The leaves and shoots can be eaten fresh or dried as a sour flavoured vegetable or condiment. In Sudan they are cooked with onions and groundnuts.

H.sabdariffa leaves.

Fried Rosella Leaves (Recipe courtesy of Bio-Innovation Zimbabwe)
• Bunch of rosella leaves
• 1 tbsp water or as needed
• 2 onions, peeled and sliced
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 fresh bird’s eye chilli
• 1 tsp chilli powder
• ½ tsp turmeric powder
• 2 tbsp oil


  1. Heat oil in a large pan. Add onion, turmeric, chilli powder and half the garlic. Fry until golden brown.
  2. Add the rosella leaves, the rest of the garlic and water.
  3. Cook for 2-3 min before adding the chopped chilli. Add salt if needed.
  4. Serve with sadza (1) or steamed rice and a meat of your choice.
  1. Sadza is a generic term used to describe thickened porridge made out of any number of pulverized grains.

The dried calyxes can also be used as a cooking ingredient. They could be used in both sweet and savoury dishes but I have mainly seen them used as a vegetarian substitute for meat in dishes such as tacos, quesadillas and flautas. This recipe is an adaptation of a dish called Tinga. Normally it would include shredded chicken.

Tinga de Jamaica


  • 2 cups flor de Jamaica 
  • 2 large onions (sliced)
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 3 chipotle chiles (en adobo)
  • 1 clove garlic


  • Carefully check the Jamaica flowers and remove anything that should not be there. Sometimes twigs or leaves find their way into the packet. Discard any mouldy flowers. Soak the flowers overnight in water. Drain and roughly chop the flowers. The flowers will be used in the recipe and the soaking water can be used to make agua de Jamaica.
  • Roast 4 of the tomatoes on a grill (or comal) until nicely charred and roughly chop them
  • Blend the remaining 2 tomatoes with salt and pepper into liquid.
  • In a pan fry the onion until nicely browned. Add the (minced) garlic, chipotles and tomatoes and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes. Stir regularly so that it does not stick to the pan and burn.
  • Add the liquefied tomato mixture. Bring to the boil and cook for a few minutes longer until it thickens.
  • Serve with tortillas with avocado and crema or use as a filling for tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas etal….or as a topping (with nopal) on a huarache, tlacoyo or tostadas


  • Use guajillo chiles instead of chipotles. You could theoretically use any dried chile. Just rehydrate in hot water for 15 minutes and blend into a paste before adding to the fried onions with the tomatoes and garlic.
  • Add grated carrot (or diced potato) to the dish (after frying the onion). This will give it body (and sweetness if using carrots). Use about 3-4 medium carrots to this recipe.
  • Sometimes herbs are added to this dish. Variations include adding epazote (add a sprig to the pan with the tomatoes – after frying the onion – remove it before service), adding fresh spearmint or peppermint (liquefy with the 2 tomatoes)

At the Gana en Foro de Alimentos (Food Forum) in 2016. Two students (1) of the Interdisciplinary Professional Unit of Biotechnology (Unidad Profesional Interdisciplinaria de Biotechnología – Upibi) won first prize with a dish of Tinga de flor de Jamaica and flor de Calabaza (squash flower and Jamaica flower tinga). They came up with the idea to use the flowers after making agua de jamaica instead of just throwing them away. (2)

  1. Ilse Alejandra Gardño Santiago and Emmanuel Cuenca Gutiérrez
  2. http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/articulo/ciencia-y-salud/tecnologia/2016/11/21/tinga-de-flor-de-jamaica-y-calabaza-gana-el-foro-de

Medicinal Qualities of Hibiscus sabdariffa (Flor de Jamaica)


Anti-anaemic, antibacterial, anticholesterolemic, antidiabetic, antifungal, anthelmintic, antihypertensive, anti-inflammatory, antilipidemic, antilithic, anti-nociceptive, anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-parasitic, antipyretic, antispasmodic, diuretic, galactagogue (seed), hepatoprotective, nephroprotective

Hypolipidaemic effects

According to a study conducted among hypocholesterolemic patients, two capsules of dried hibiscus extract (1 g), given three times a day (for a total of 3 g/day), significantly lowered serum cholesterol (25). Another study also confirmed that ethanolic extract from the leaves of this hibiscus significantly exhibited a hypolipidaemic effect (1). An extract was also studied among subjects (with and without metabolic syndrome). Subjects with metabolic syndrome receiving the ethanolic extract had significantly reduced glucose, total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein, while increasing high density lipoprotein (2),(3).

Blood pressure lowering effect:

The effectiveness of an aqueous extract of Roselle on mild to moderate hypertension has been investigated. The aqueous extract was as effective as captopril in treating mild to moderate hypertension and there is no adverse effect with the treatment, confirming the effectiveness and safety of the extract (4)(5). Captopril, sold under the trade name Capoten, is an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor used for the treatment of hypertension and some types of congestive heart failure. Even though the possible mechanism(s) of action of the extract was not investigated, daily consumption of an aqueous extract resulted in decreases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (6).

Anti-diabetic activity:

The polyphenolic components have been extracted and studied for their effects in a type II diabetic rat model (high fat diet model) (7). The study revealed anti-insulin resistance properties at a dose level of 200 mg/kg, and reduction in hyperglycaemia and hyperinsulinemia was observed. The extract was found effective in lowering serum cholesterol, triacylglycerol, the ratio of low density lipoprotein/high-density protein (LDL/HDL), and also (AGE) formation and lipid per oxidation. Intestinal α-glycosidase and pancreatic α-amylase help in digestion of complex carbohydrates present in the food into bioavailable monosaccharide and plays an important role in postprandial hyperglycaemia; therefore inhibition of these enzymes has been reported as an effective mechanism for the control of postprandial hyperglycaemia. Hibiscus acid (hibiscus- type (2S,3R)-hydroxycitric acid lactone) have been shown as a potent inhibitor of pancreatic α-amylase and intestinal α-glucosidase and pancreatic α-amylase activity (8),(9). In another study, Adisakwattanaet al. (10), conducted an invitro study and reported hibiscus extracts as an effective inhibitor of pancreatic α-amylase.

Anthelmintic and anti-microbial effects

Roselle is known for its antibacterial, antifungal and anti-parasitic actions. Oil extracted from seeds of Roselle has been shown to have an in vitro inhibitory effect on Bacillus anthracis and Staphylococcus albus (11). Aqueous and ethanolic extracts were also found to be effective against Schistosoma mansoni and other microorganisms (12)(13). Afolabi et al. (14) demonstrated the antibacterial effect of hibiscus extract on Streptococcus mutans, a bacterium from oral cavity. In a similar study, antibacterial potential of hibiscus was also observed on Campylobacter species (15). An ethanolic extract of the dried leaves of Roselle reduce aflatoxin formation and have in vitro inhibitory effect against some fungi (16)(17).

Anti-oxidant effect

In-vitro and in-vivo studies have shown that Roselle calyxes contain potent antioxidant activity. According to Augustine (18) both the whole aqueous and anthocyanin-rich extracts of Roselle are effective antioxidants. Studies have also highlighted that poly-phenolic acid, flavonoids and anthocyanins which are found in Roselle are potent antioxidants (19).

Other Pharmacological effects

 Roselle has been reported to possess a lactogenic activity (induces the secretion of milk). Okasha et al. (20), observed enhancement in the serum prolactin level of lactating female Albino Rats on administration of seed extract of Roselle. Bako et al. (21) studied the lactogenic effect of ethyl acetate fraction of Hibiscus sabdariffa, from 3-17 days of lactation. The results showed an increase in serum prolactin level and milk production in lactating female albino rats. Studies have shown that the tea contains an enzyme inhibitor which blocks production of amylase and it is possible that drinking a cup of hibiscus tea after meals can reduce the absorption of dietary carbohydrates and assist in weight loss (22). It has been reported that Roselle is considered as a possible anti-obesity agent (23). Extracts from Roselle are also known to have effect on inflammatory disease (23) and cancer (24).

  1. Sandeep G, Raghuveer I, Prabodh CS, Suresh T, Atin K, et al. (2010) Hypolipidemic effect of ethanolic extract from the leaves of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in hyperlipidemic rats. Acta poloniae pharmaceutical drug research 67 (2): 179-184.
  2. Gurrola-Diaz CM, Garcia-Lopez PM, Sanchez-Enriquez S, Troyo-Sanroman R, Gomenz-Leyva JF, et al. (2010) Effects of Hibiscus sabdariffaextract powder and preventive treatment (diet) on the lipid profiles of patients with metabolic syndrome (MeSy). Phytomedicine17(7): 500-505.
  3. Hassan Mozaffari-Khosravi, Beman-Ali Jalali-Khanabadi, Mohammad Afkhami-Ardekani, Farhad F (2009) Effects of Sour Tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on Lipid Profile and Lipoproteins in Patients with Type II Diabetes. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 15 (8): 899-903.
  4. Herrera-Arellano A, Flores-Romero S, Chávez-Soto MA, Tortoriello J (2004) Effectiveness and tolerability of a standardized extract from Hibiscus sabdariffain patients with mild to moderate hypertension: a controlled and randomized clinical trial. Phytomedicine 11(5): 375-382.
  5. Herrera-Arellano A, Miranda-Sanchez J, Avila-Castro P, Zamilpa A, Tortoriello J, et al. (2007) Clinical effects produced by a standardized herbal medicinal product of Hibiscus sabdariffaon patients with hypertension. A randomized, double-blind, lisinopril-controlled clinical trial. Planta Med 73(1): 6-12.
  6. Haji-Faraji M, Haji-Tarkhani A (1999) The effect of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on essential hypertension. J Ethnopharmacol 65(3): 231-236.
  7. Penq CH, Chyau CC, Chan KC, Chan TH, Wanq CJ, et al. (2011) Hibiscus sabdariffa polyphenolic extract inhibits hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, and glycation-oxidative stress while improving insulin resistance. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 59 (18): 9901-9909.
  8. Yamada T, Hida H, Yamada Y (2007) Chemistry, physiological properties, and microbial production of hydroxycitric acid. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 75(5): 977-982.
  9. Hansawasdi C, Kawabata J, Kasai T (2000) Alpha-amylase inhibitors from roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffaLinn.) tea. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem 64(5): 1041-1043.
  10. Adisakwattana S, Ruengsamran T, Kampa P, Sompong W (2012) In vitro inhibitory effects of plant-based foods and their combinations on intestinal ?-glucosidase and pancreatic ?- amylase. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 12(1): 110.
  11. Gangrade H, Mishra SH, Kaushal R (1979) Antimicrobial activity of the oil and unsaponifiable matter of red roselle. Indian Drugs16(7): 147-148.
  12. Hatil Hashim El Kamali, Moneer Fathi Mohammed (2006) Antibacterial activity of Hibiscus sabdariffa, Acacia seyal var. seyal and Sphaeranthussuaveolens var. suaveolens against upper respiratory tract pathogens. Sudan JMS1 (2):121-126.
  13. Elsheikh SH, Bashir AK, Suliman SM, Wassila ME (1990) Toxicity of certain Sudanese plant extracts on Cercariae and Miracidia of Schistosomamansoni. Int J Crude Drug Res 28(4): 241-245.
  14. Afolabi OC, Ogunsola FT, Coker AO (2008) Susceptibility of cariogenic Streptococcus mutans to extracts of Garcinia kolaHibiscus sabdariffa, and Solanum americanum. The West African Journal of Medicine 27(4): 230-233.
  15. Yin MC, Chao CY (2008) Anti-Campylobacter, anti-aerobic, and anti-oxidative effects of roselle calyx extract and protocatechuic acid in ground beef. International Journal of Food Microbiology 127(1-2): 73-77.
  16. El-Shayeb NM, Mabrook SS (1984) Utilization of some edible and medicinal plants to inhibit aflatoxin formation. Nutr Rep Int 29: 273-282.
  17. Guerin JC, Reveillere HP (1984) Antifungal activity of plant extracts used in therapy. 1. Study of 41 plant extracts against 9 fungi species. Ann Pharm Fr42: 553-559
  18. Augustine O Olusola (2011) Evaluation of the Antioxidant Effects of Hibiscus Sabdariffacalyx extracts on 2,4-dinitrophenylhydrazine-induced oxidative damage in rabbits. Webmed Central 2(10): WMC002283.
  19. Crawford RS, Kirk EA, Rosenfeld ME, LeBoeuf RC, Chait A (1998) Dietary antioxidants inhibit development of fatty streak lesions in the LDL receptor-deficient mouse. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 18(9): 1506-1513.
  20. Okasha MAM, Abubakar MS, Bako IG (2008) Study of the effect of aqueous Hibiscus SabdariffaLinn seed extract on serum prolactin level of lactating female Albino Rats. European Journal of Scientific Research 22 (4): 575-583.
  21. Bako IG, Abubakar MS, Mabrouk MA, Mohammed A (2014) Lactogenic study of the effect of ethyl-acetate fraction of Hibiscus sabdariffa Linn (Malvaceae) seed on serum prolactin level in lactating albino rats. Advance Journal of Food Science & Technology 6(3): 292-296.
  22. Da-Costa-Rocha I, Bonnlaender B, Sievers H, Pischel I, Heinrich M (2014) Hibiscus sabdariffa L.- A phytochemical and pharmacological review. Food Chemistry 165: 424-443.
  23. Dafallah AA, Al-Mustafa Z (1996) Investigation of the anti-inflammatory activity of Acacia niloticaandHibiscus sabdariffa. Am J Clin Med 24(3-4): 263-269.
  24. Chewonarin T, Kinouchi T, Kataoka K, Arimochi H, Kuwahara T, et al. (1999) Effect of rosell (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a Thai medicinal plant, on the mutagenicity of various mutagens in Salmonella typhnumuriumand on formation of aberrant Crypt Foci induced by the colon carcinogens azoxymethane and 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo [4,5-b] pyridine in F344 rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology 37(6): 591-601.
  25. Chewonarin T, Kinouchi T, Kataoka K, Arimochi H, Kuwahara T, et al. (1999) Effect of rosell (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a Thai medicinal plant, on the mutagenicity of various mutagens in Salmonella typhnumuriumand on formation of aberrant Crypt Foci induced by the colon carcinogens azoxymethane and 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo [4,5-b] pyridine in F344 rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology 37(6): 591-601.

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