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It has a tart, cranberry-like flavor, and sugar is often added to sweeten the beverage. The tea contains vitamin C and minerals and is used traditionally as a mild medicine. In west Sudan a white hibiscus flower is favored for its bitter taste and is customarily served to guests. Hibiscus tea contains 15-30% organic acids, including citric acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid. It also contains acidic polysaccharides and flavonoid glycosides, such as cyanidin and delphinidin, that give it its characteristic deep red colour.
The drink is called roselle (a name for the flower) or rosella (Australia), agua de Jamaica and/or flor de Jamaica in Latin America, Arhul ka phool in India, karkadé in Levant, Egypt, Sudan, Italy and Russia, Chai Kujarat in Iraq, Chai Torsh in Iran, gumamela in the Philippines, bissap, tsoborodo or wonjo in West Africa, sorrel in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, red sorrel in the wider Caribbean, and other names in other regions, including the U.S., where it is sometimes known as simply Jamaica.
Agua de flor de Jamaica, also called agua de Jamaica and rosa de Jamaica, is popular in Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America and the Caribbean. It is one of several common aguas frescas, which are inexpensive beverages typically made from fresh juices or extracts. It is usually prepared by steeping the calyces, along with ginger (in Jamaica), in boiling water, straining the mixture, pressing the calyces (to squeeze all the juice out), adding sugar, sometimes clove, cinnamon and a little rum (in Jamaica), and stirring. It is served chilled, and in Jamaica this drink is a tradition on Christmas, served with fruit cake or potato pudding.
In Panama both the flowers and the drink are called saril (a derivative of the English word sorrel). It is prepared by picking and boiling the calyces with chopped ginger, sugar, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It is traditionally drunk around Christmas and Chinese New Year, diverging from Mexico and Central America and much more in line with the Caribbean, due to the strong West Indian influence in Panamanian culture specially in Panama City and most of Panama's Caribbean coast.
Dried hibiscus calyces, often labeled flor de Jamaica, have long been available in health food stores in the United States for making this tea, especially in California and other areas influenced by Mexican customs. Flor de Jamaica has a reputation for being a mild natural diuretic.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, the drink, called sorrel, is made from the calyxes, and it is considered an integral part of Christmas celebrations. The Caribbean Development Company, a Trinidad and Tobago brewery, produces a Sorrel Shandy in which the tea is combined with beer.
Karkadé (// KAR-kə-day; Egyptian Arabic: كركديه, [kæɾkæˈdeː]) is served hot or chilled with ice. It is very popular in some parts of North Africa, especially in Egypt and Sudan; hibiscus from Upper Egypt and Sudan is highly prized in both countries. Hibiscus tea is especially popular in Sudan where it is often prepared by soaking the calyces in cold water for a few days and then straining the result. In Egypt and Sudan, wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea. On a typical street in downtown Cairo, many vendors and open-air cafés sell the drink.
In Africa, especially the Sahel, hibiscus tea is commonly sold on the street and the dried flowers can be found in every market. Variations on the drink are popular in West Africa and parts of Central Africa. In Senegal, bissap is known as the "national drink of Senegal". Similar beverages include wanjo in The Gambia, dabileni in Mali, and zobo or tsobo in all of Nigeria. Hibiscus tea is often flavored with mint or ginger in West Africa.
In Thailand, most commonly, roselle is prepared as a cold beverage, heavily sweetened and poured over ice, similar to sweetened fruit juices. Plastic bags filled with ice and sweetened 'grajeab' can be found outside of most schools and in local markets. Roselle is also drunk as a tea, believed to reduce cholesterol.
In Italy hibiscus tea, known as carcadè or Italian tea, is usually drunk cold, often with the addition of sugar and lemon juice. First introduced from Eritrea, it was widely used as a tea substitute when the country was hit by trade sanctions for its invasion of Abyssinia.
In other European countries, it is often an ingredient in mixed herbal teas, (especially with malva flowers or rose hips in the mix, to enhance colouring), and as such, more commonly used than recognized.
Preliminary study has shown that drinking hibiscus tea may lower blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes, prehypertension, or mild hypertension. However, there is no reliable evidence to support recommending hibiscus tea in the treatment of primary hypertension. The average systolic blood pressure for diabetics drinking hibiscus tea decreased from 134.8 mmHg (17.97 kPa) at the beginning of one study to 112.7 mmHg (15.03 kPa) at the end of the study, one month later. Drinking 3 cups of hibiscus tea daily for 6 weeks reduced systolic blood pressure by 7 mm Hg in prehypertensive and mildly hypertensive participants. In those with mean systolic blood pressure over 129 mm Hg, the reduction was nearly 14 mm Hg. Hibiscus flowers contain anthocyanins, which are believed to be active antihypertensive compounds, acting as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
The effects of drinking hibiscus tea are comparable to blood-pressure medication. A study published in 2007 compared Hibiscus sabdariffa L. to the drug lisinopril on people with hypertension. Hibiscus "decreased blood pressure (BP) from 146.48/97.77 to 129.89/85.96 mmHg, reaching an absolute reduction of 17.14/11.97 mmHg (11.58/12.21%, p < 0.05)." Blood pressure "reductions and therapeutic effectiveness were lower than those obtained with lisinopril (p < 0.05)." The authors concluded that hibiscus "exerted important antihypertensive effectiveness with a wide margin of tolerability and safety, while it also significantly reduced plasma ACE activity and demonstrated a tendency to reduce serum sodium (Na) concentrations without modifying potassium (K) levels." They attributed the blood pressure reducing effect of hibiscus to its diuretic effect and its ability to inhibit the angiotensin-converting enzyme through the presence of anthocyanins.
A 2004 study compared the effectiveness of hibiscus to the ACE-inhibiting drug captopril. The authors found that the hibiscus worked as well as the drug captopril: "obtained data confirm that the H. sabdariffa extract, standardized on 9.6mg of total anthocyanins, and captopril 50 mg/day, did not show significant differences relative to hypotensive effect, antihypertensive effectiveness, and tolerability."