Hibiscus sabdariffa


Hibiscus sabdariffa (sorrel) is an annual shrub that belongs to the malvacea plant family. It is cultivated in both tropical and subtropical regions for its popular edible calyces, stem fibre leaves and seed (Babajide et al, 2004; Mahadrevan et al 2009). It said to be of Asia or tropical African origin, its native being of India and Malaysia. Sorrel can be found in tropical areas such as the Caribbean, Florida, Central America, India, Africa, Brazil and the Philippines. It is known as a promising crop which has a number of uses and prospects for industrial potential.  According to Akinbahunsi and Olaleye (2003, 89) sorrel is considered to be one of the most important and popular medicinal plant and it has several properties such as antiseptic, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, digestive and stomachic. Morton (1987) opined that the plant has been one of the Caribbean’s novelties for decades. It has not only won itself a household name but has also become known throughout the word for its usefulness. In Jamaica the plant is popular at Christmas where emphasis is placed on its drink making properties. But there many more versatile ways in which sorrel is used. These include its medicinal, comeceutical and traditional uses. 


Traditional Uses of Sorrel

Hibiscus sabdariffa (sorrel) is a popular drink in Jamaica during Christmas time. It is also a popular drink in Trinidad and Tobago and Africa. It has a lot of potential as an industrial crop which is now considered one of the competitive beverages in the world (Schipper, 2000). In Africa, sorrel is frequently cooked as a side-dish eaten with pulverized peanuts. For stewing as sauce or filling for tarts or pies, it may be left intact, if tender, and cooked with sugar. The product will be almost indistinguishable from cranberry sauce in taste and appearance. The bright red calyces can be harvested by hand dried, and sold whole to the herbal tea and beverage industry (FAO 1988 as cited Suliman, Ali, Eldeen, Idriss and Abdualrahman 2011, 680). The flavour is a combination of sweet and tart similar to cranberry. The red calyces are utilized as colouring reagents for jelly, jams, sauces and food preserves (Mahadevan et al., 2009; Abo-Baker and Mostafa 2011). It’s also used to make syrup that may be added to puddings, cake frosting, gelatins and salad dressings, also poured over gingerbread, pancakes, waffles or ice cream.  Juice made by cooking a quantity of calyces with 1/4 water in ratio to amount of calyces, is used for cold drinks and may be frozen or bottled if not for immediate needs. In the West Indies and tropical America, sorrel is prized primarily for the cooling, lemonade-like beverage made from the calyces (Morton, 1987, 281). In Jamaica, a traditional Christmas drink is prepared by putting sorrel into container with a little grated ginger and sugar as desired, pouring boiling water over it and letting it stand overnight. The liquid is drained off and served with ice and often with a dash of rum or wine. Seeds of this plant have been found to be a good source of protein and though somewhat bitter, it has been grounded for human consumption in Africa (Halimatul et al 2007; Mulchtar, 2007).  The seeds have also been roasted as a substitute for coffee. The residue remaining after extraction of oil by parching, soaking in water containing ashes for 3 or 4 days, and then pounding the seeds, or by crushing and boiling them, is eaten in soup or blended with bean meal in patties. The young leaves and tender stems of sorrel are eaten raw in salads or cooked as greens alone or in combination with other vegetables or with meat or fish. They are also added to curries as seasoning. The juice of the boiled and strained leaves and stems is utilized for the same purposes as the juice extracted from the calyces.

Source of a red beverage known as Jamaica in Mexico (said to contain citric acid and salts, serving as a diuretic. Calyces are used in the West Indies to color and flavour rum. Tender leaves and stalks are eaten as salad and as a pot-herb and are used for seasoning curries. Seeds have been used as an aphrodisiac coffee substitute, fruits are edible (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962). Perry, (1980) postulated that Hibiscus sabdariffa is cultivated primarily for the bast fiber obtained from the stems.

traditional uses

Medicinal Value

The versatility of Hibiscus sabdariffa, can be further highlighted in the area of medicine.   According to Joshi and Parle (2006, 15), it possesses antihypertensive, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anticlastrogenic, hypolipidaemic, hepatoprotective, anti-stress, antispasmodic, diuretic and antidiarrheal activities. An indebt review of the available literature on its antihypertensive effect seems to be well substantiated. Morion (2008) observed that Hibiscus sabdariffa tea, consumed daily, can reduce ones blood pressure to up to 13.2%. Garner-Wizard, Minigh and Webb (2007,1) conducted similar research which showed that Hibiscus sabdariffa is just aseffective as Lisinopril (a drug used to lower hypertension). A similar result was obtained when compared with another hypertension reducing drug call captopril. Among the 70 persons studied their blood pressure reduced 10% in 79% of those who drank Hibiscus sabdariffa teaversus 84% of those who used such drugs (Phytomedicine, 2004). Even when tested on other animals it deems to be effective in reducing hypertension (Odigie, Ettarh, and Adigun, 2003).

Since 2002 the scientific community in Jamaica and beyond was enthralled by local researchers at the Nothern Caribbean University (NCU). As reported by Silvertorch.com (2011), Dr. Juliet Penrod demonstrated the curing effect that Hibiscus sabdariffa and garlic on cancer cells. Their findings showed that when liver cancer cells were treated with Hibiscus sabdariffa extract, their survival and effectiveness were severely curtailed even to the point of death. (Garlic did not show such potent effect).  Similarly, research conducted around the world seems to be in sync with such findings. An array of these researchers concluded that Hibiscus sabdariffa has antioxidant potency. They  reported that the extract from the red calyces of Hibiscus sabdariffa contain potent antioxidant principles (Tseng et al., 1997; Wang et al., 2000; Ologundudu and Obi, 2005; Ologundudu et al., 2006a, b; Ologundudu et al., 2009a,b; Ologundudu et al., 2010). This makes it an effective potential tool to fight cancer (Northern Caribbean University, 2002). Perry, (1980) opined that sorrel’s usefulness in arteriosclerosis and as an intestinal antiseptic. Sorrel is recommended in modern phytotherapia as antidiuretic and antiseptic to alleviate urinary tract problems and cystitis, which may be attributed to the action of anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins that prevent bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall (Johnson, 1990; Meyrier,1985; Gruz& Falquet, 1985). Anokuwuru et al (2011) alluded to the fact, that, the calyxes are rich in phenolic compounds. This according to them has anti-bacterial, antiviral and anti-fungi actions in the plant itself and by virtue of being hydrogen donating antioxidants, they protect against oxidative stress-which can adversely affect the health of plants as well as humans. Josiah et al, (2010); Mahadevan et al, (2009) in support of this point stated that the calyxes are rich in phenolic compounds with marked protocatechis acid which may have diuretic and choleretic effects decreasing the viscosity of the blood, reducing blood pressure and stimulating peristalsis.


The Cosmeceutical Uses of Sorrel

Hibiscus sabdariffa (sorrel) is not only known for its many medicinal or recreational uses but also for its progressing contributions to Jamaica’s very own cosmeceutical line. Sorrel is an aromatic, astringent, cooling herb that is much used in the Tropics. It is said to have diuretic effects, to help lower fevers and is antiscorbutic. The leaves are antiscorbutic, emollient; diuretic, refrigerant, and sedative. Its purplish sepals (calyx and epicalyx) are the most important economic parts of the plant which is used in food and cosmetic industries as a source of natural colouring agent (Kalt et al, 1992, 73). According to the Jamaica Science Research Council (2002, 1), sorrel can be used as a cosmeceutical. Asher, (2005) stated that the Science research council has developed a sorrel care line of cosmetics made from the oil extract of the sorrel seed. The cosmetics included body wash, shampoos, hand and body lotions and eye cream. “The cosmeceutical nature of sorrel, where the herbs are used into a cosmetic base, has a lot of potential.

Asher in her article further outlined that according to Dr. Diane Robinson, nutritionist, sorrel is good for its anti-ageing effects. “Sorrel is high in Vitamin C, thiamine, amino acids, and has antioxidant properties,” she said. “Sorrel is one of the safest drinks that you can have; you are getting the healthiest drink.”

Jonadet et al 1990, supports the uses of sorrel in a hair care line. They further stated that hibiscus restores the hair’s natural barrier, rehydrate the keratin fibres and regenerate its structure. The active ingredients, I-hydroxy-acids, mucilages and anthocyanocides intervene in this action. In this case in particular, the anti-inflammatory, astringent and anti free radical properties of the anthocyanocides are of special interest. Hibiscus can also be incorporated into dandruff products as it contains a high degree of a-hydroxy-acids. These substances collaborate in restoring the balance of the cellular division in the germinative layer and in loosening the outer cells of the corneous layer. They also enable the scale produced in washing to be eliminated. In treatments for dry hair, the components of Hibiscus increase the moisture in the horny layer and generate the hydro- lipid film, which gives hair its silky, shiny look (Janadet et al 1990).

Hibiscus sabdariffa has antiphlogistic and antioedema properties. These activities are probably due to the high level of mucilage, which allows to advice herbal teas for the treatment of eczemas and some allergies. Moreover, herbal tea lotion improves oily or devitalized skin, promotes hair growth and is used to treat abscesses (Burgundy Botanical Extracts, 2007, 10)

The Science Research Council (2002) has also outlined that sorrel has also been recognized for its diuretic properties and as an aid to weight loss. In their article they made reference to Abigail Aguilar Contreras, a Mexican professor in Sciences who has recommended that the daily drinking of a litre of sorrel water, prepared from 10 grams of sorrel, engaging in physical exercise under doctor’s supervision and taking other measures such as avoiding cigarettes, stress, excess calories and saturated fat.


The versatility of sorrel can’t be overemphasized. Its potential in the field of medicine, especially in the area of cancer research is promising (Scientific Research Council, 2002). It is interesting to note, that the team of researchers at the Northern Caribbean University acknowledged that the Jamaican brand of sorrel showed greater potency for cancer treatment (Silvertorch.com (2011). More over it has an indelible traditional impact on Jamaica and other countries around the world. The cosmeceutical applications also seem endless.


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One response to “Hibiscus sabdariffa

  1. Pingback: Waste not, Want not: Sorrel/Roselle – Isle of Bites·

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