Hibscus sabdariffa flower and calyx, img: Pradeepkannamkulath, 2015, wikimedia CCA-SA 4.0
Every fall for the last several years I’ve been making batches of this hibiscus tea based on a recipe given to me by a friend from Chile. He recommended this tonic as a cure-all for any seasonal illness as well as an excellent preventative and immune booster. Personally, I have found it to be a restorative and delightful winter treat.
The main ingredient is the calyxes of Hibiscus sabdariffa. I use the Latin name because while it is commonly referred to as “hibiscus” here, in other areas it may be called “roselle” or a variety of other names. It took me quite some time to identify the actual ingredient for my friend’s recipe since hibiscus tea had not become popular in the states yet and I didn’t know how to specify the type of hibiscus I was looking for.
The flower is smaller than the ornamental hibiscus plants that dot garden landscapes in warm climates like ours but they are lovely in their own right. Many suppliers will list this ingredient as “hibiscus flower” though it is actually the pod or calyx which forms after the petals have fallen off that is used. Fresh calyxes are deep red and have a firm, juicy flesh which can be used in a variety of recipes. The flavor is tart like cranberry and there are many who use it instead of cranberries for jams and sauces where it grows well. I have tried (and am still trying) to grow these in our yard with limited success. Since we make large batches of tonic for ourselves and many of our friends we tend to order a pound or two each year from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Mountain Rose Herbs is one of my favorite companies. They are dedicated to sustainable, organic practices that benefit small communities and the long term health of wild plant species. They also carry just about any herb you could possibly want for the kitchen, bath or other homemade product. Please check them out and visit their blog for fantastic recipes while you’re there. (I am not earning anything from this recommendation MRH is just a really great company).
The recipe below can be stored in the refrigerator and used as an iced beverage or it can be made in smaller quantities as a hot tea. It also makes a great mixer if you want to be creative with cocktails. In the islands, rum is often added to the recipe.
Hibiscus & Ginger Tea
This tonic is tasty and good for you. A perfect addition to your daily regimen during flu and cold season. I usually just eyeball quantities based on how much I want to make but the recipe is forgiving and doesn't require precise amounts.
- 1 large hand of fresh ginger (sliced)
- 5 cups dried hibiscus flowers
- 1-2 pinches of powdered clove, cinnamon and nutmeg (if desired)
- 4 tablespoons or more local honey
- In large stainless pot (un-coated):
- fill pot 3/4 full of water
- Add one large sliced hand of fresh ginger
- Heat to just below boiling and let simmer for about 10 minutes Add:
- 5 cups of dried hibiscus flowers
- Reduce heat to medium low and simmer another 10 minutes or so until the water has reduced to about half its original volume
- If desired add a pinch or two of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg Strain and cool: (beat well after each addition)
- Use a large container to catch the liquid as it is strained. The container should be able to handle the heat of the liquid since it should be strained before it cools too much.
- Add honey to taste in the receiving container before you pour. The benefits of honey are significantly reduced when heated on the stove so mixing it with the liquid while still warm but no longer hot sweetens the drink and preserves all of the health benefits of the honey. I prefer to use 4-5 heaping tablespoons of local honey in these large batches now. When I first started making it I would add a full heaping cup of honey or more to create a syrup which lasts longer.
- I use a large wire mesh strainer but well secured cheese cloth would also work. The hibiscus can also be used as a dye plant so make sure to keep it off any thing you can’t bear to have a stain on.
- Finally, begin to pour the simmered pot contents through the strainer. Push the juices out of the strained material into your receiving container and put them aside. I will either add the strained flowers to my compost or save them for future dye projects.
- Stir the honey until it mixes completely into the liquid and then allow to cool. Store:
- Transfer finished tonic to clean jars or bottles for storage in the fridge. Be sure to label your containers with the date and contents. Will keep in the fridge for a week or two, longer with a high honey (sugar) content.
Final notes: This past winter I also added a cup of dried elderberries during the first stage of simmering with the ginger. The flavor blended very well with the hibiscus. Feel free to adjust and compliment this basic recipe with whatever you may have. Hibiscus teas and tonics are enjoyed around the world so there many different takes on how to enjoy it!