Christopher Serju – Cosmetology teacher Rona Waite (centre) of Cross Keys High School uses the hibiscus liquid soap while engaging laboratory technician Jason Solomon and students (from left) Amoy Willory, Abigail Hill and Mishka Smith, with a range of products derived from the hibiscus plant arrayed on the desk at their booth.
A judge tentatively tastes the hibiscus-flavoured cake under the watchful gaze of students of Cross Keys High School.
Christopher Serju, STAR Writer
Long popular in Jamaica as an ornamental, and especially in rural parishes where it has been used more practically as a hedge, the hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is one of the most under-utilised plants locally.
However, a group of students at Cross Keys High School in Manchester, working under the guidance of their teachers, is looking to raise public awareness about the versatility of the lowly hibiscus.
They took this mission to the recent Jamaica 4-H clubs national achievement day expo at the Denbigh showground in May Pen, Clarendon, where it drew a steady stream of visitors. As jams, jellies, flavoured water, sauces, pastry, tea or wine, they were able to ingest the essence of the popular plant, or sample it as soap (liquid and bar), bubble bath and other such products.
range of products
In addition to widening the range of products, the school is looking to develop a profile of the hibiscus, so it can engage the services of the Scientific Research Council (SRC) developing a chemical profile. While this procedure could cost as much as $18,000 it is necessary in order to pave the way for commercialisation of the hibiscus derivatives.
While they admit much of what they learnt about the various uses of the hibiscus – medicinal and otherwise, the Cross Keys team has been doing some experiments to add to this knowledge base and the results have been encouraging.
Head of the science department, Ghanz Crawford told The Star that the jams and jellies were the big sellers at the expo, with the chocolate cake going fast, once people got over the initial apprehension.
The petal, he explained, is the key ingredient and the idea came out of brainstorming session in the lab, with laboratory technician Jason Solomon, cosmetologist Rona Waite, and Lorna Nemhard of the home economics department and Malone Harper, the 4-H parish representative for Manchester also making valuable contributions.
For their part, the students and teachers have done some experimentation, looking at the potential as bath oil, among other areas as, while building on the previous body of work done on the hibiscus.
Crawford explains: “What we have done is to utilise that research and to come up with these products. We are at the analytical stage as in getting the nutritional facts of the product, different elements within them. We want to take it on the market – both local and overseas. So when we get SRC to do analytical tests of the product. When that is completed, then we contact the Bureau of standards to help us standardise the products”.
This is very important, according to Crawford, since the hibiscus is very successful in lowering the blood pressure and for this reason, overuse or misuse could have dire health consequences. In addition, it is also highly effective as a contraceptive, another reason it should be used in moderation.
Christopher, Serju. “Hibiscus: more than what meets the eye.” The Jamaica Star, 4 May.
2013. Web. 15 May. 2013.