Karen Schuppert

Karen Schuppert

It’s always an arduous process to move, but moving to another country is enough to drive a person to drink. Of course, here in the Napa Valley we have a steady supply of delectable liquids to satisfy that need.

In times of duress it’s commonplace to think that alcohol reduces anxiety, but as many of you know, it can also disrupt sleep patterns and overall good health. Since my blood pressure has risen a tad with our impending relocation, I’ve been going heavy on the green sauce as well as another elixir that is purported to calm the nerves: hibiscus tea.

Hibiscus tea is an herbal tea with many health benefits. The hibiscus flower contains the calyx, which protects and supports the hibiscus plant and is responsible for those health benefits. Hibiscus tea consists of dried leaves, which are steeped to make both hot and cold beverages.

There are more than 200 varieties of hibiscus tea that are commercially sold in the United States. It’s also prolific in Mexico. Hibiscus is caffeine-free and bursting with sweet-yet-tart flavors, making it the perfect swap for a normally sugar-filled juice or beverage.

Its flavor is thought to be similar to cranberry, and it is sometimes referred to as “sour tea.” It is rich in anthocyanins, which are responsible for its deep red/magenta color. It can be served cold as a refreshing glass of iced tea or hot to warm you on a cold day or as part of an evening ritual.

Hibiscus tea has been used for thousands of years as folk medicine in various cultures around the world. It is also used and studied in modern science remedies. Many claim that it can be used to calm nervous disorders, help with sleep, and even speed up metabolism. The pulp has been used topically to care for wounds as well. Some of these claims have legitimate research studies to support them.

The most scientifically studied claim is the use of hibiscus tea to positively affect blood pressures and cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease. Some of the other less-researched health benefits of hibiscus tea include assisting in digestion, strengthening immunity, working as an anti-inflammatory agent, and reducing the risk of cancer.

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The Journal of Nutrition published a recent study that used a controlled trial with two groups to assess whether drinking hibiscus tea could reduce blood pressure in mildly hypertensive or pre-hypertensive adults. One group was instructed to drink three servings of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower, and the other was to consume the placebo.

This was a blind study, which means that neither group knew which treatment they were receiving. After just six weeks, the researchers found that there was a substantial reduction in systolic blood pressure in the patient group that was drinking the hibiscus tea. The blood-pressure-lowering effects of hibiscus tea could be a result of its flavonoid content, although that’s not entirely conclusive. The results of this study suggest that if consumed over time, hibiscus tea can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack, which is another huge benefit of hibiscus tea.

Hibiscus tea has also been shown to work as a natural diuretic increasing both urination and bowel movements. As the water leaves the body, it pulls the sodium with it, which is one way blood pressure is reduced. And for those of us who cleanse our systems periodically, this is another means to the beneficial end.

Hibiscus is also high in vitamin C, an immune booster, as well as iron. Just one cup (8 ounces) delivers a whopping 20 milligrams of iron, an important mineral that keeps the immune system balanced and helps the body to maintain red blood cells. The vitamin C naturally found within the hibiscus works to complement the iron, increasing its absorption.

As with any food I recommend consuming, please make sure to buy organic hibiscus. The brand I’ve come to love is by Dual Spices, which I order online.

To make a batch of tea, put one-half cup dried hibiscus leaves into a container and fill with 8 cups of hot water. Let steep for approximately 10 minutes. You can regulate the strength by adding more leaves if you want to use it with ice. I also like to serve it with a splash of mineral water and lemon.

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Thanks to hibiscus, Karen’s energy has shifted from anxious to excitement as she and her husband embark on their next big adventure. Stay tuned for her chronicles and Baja retreat dates in this column which will now be called “A Healthy Fork on the Road,” also on Instagram. karen@karenschuppert.com