Have you eaten hibiscus yet?
The ubiquitous flower is increasingly being consumed for its stress-relieving properties
In tea, in rasam or as a mouth-watering thoran (stir-fry)… How do you take your hibiscus? The common flower that grows wildly in almost every tropical garden and front yard is now a regular presence on the dining table.
There are over 200 varieties of the flower seen in India, however, only the five-petalled, red one is used for food. The ‘brilliant-red’ rosa-sinensis has been through a variety of culinary experiments lately, with celebrity chefs cooking anything from quesadillas to masala prawns with it, not to mention a variety of teas and fancy sherbets.
The lockdown months of 2020, however, saw more people experimenting with it in their daily food at home. Homemaker Remya Sandeep, who has a mini forest of hibiscus plants in her garden at Malayalappuzha in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, tried an energy drink with it. “We, in this household, have always cooked with the hibiscus. The thoran and rasam are regular favourites. This year, post COVID-19, we have started using more of it, because it is said that hibiscus petals are rich in Vitamin C,” she says.
The energy drink recipe is simple: “Just boil water, and add freshly plucked petals of the red hibiscus. Once cooled, you could add ice cubes, a squirt of lemon juice or some natural sweetener if you like,” says Remya.
She even made a face cream with hibiscus petals. “I made a paste of the petals, mixed it with aloe vera gel (also from my garden), and applied it to my face. It clears the skin,” adds Remya.
Hibiscus tea recipe
- 6 five-petalled red hibiscus flowers
- 1 ginger
- 1 cinnamon
- 3 glasses of water
- Honey – as needed
- 2-3 tsp lemon juice
- Pluck just the petals of the flowers and wash them (the stamen and the calyx have to be removed). Boil the water and add the piece of ginger and cinnamon to it. Once boiled, add the petals to it. Steep for three to five minutes. Then strain the liquid, add honey, and lemon juice to your taste. Enjoy.
In addition to its perceived health benefits, the crimson colour adds to the overall appeal of a hibiscus-infused drink, says Nisha MS, who recently took to sipping hibiscus tea as a stress-buster. “It helps you relax and is just plain pretty to look at,” she says. She usually plucks the petals of the flowers and sundries them. “I place them on a steel tray and leave it out in the sun, and then store the dried petals. These can be later added to tea. It can’t be stored for too long though,” adds Nisha, who is a consultant psychologist and a lecturer at a college in Paravur, Kerala.
Sumayya Edamuttam from Thrissur, an active member of a tree lovers’ group that works towards conservation of indigenous species of plants, says the hibiscus flower lives just for a day. On days when her plants are flush with flowers, she makes tea with them or an old-world squash. “Traditionally, the red hibiscus was used extensively in hair care to make different kinds of oils and potions that were believed to enhance hair growth and prevent dandruff. The use of these flowers in food could be a fairly recent trend,” says Sumayya.
Goa-based artisanal tea label, Tea Trunk, lists hibiscus tea among its best-sellers. “People have become more aware of the different options available now and are open to trying out new tastes,” says Snigdha Manchanda, the founder of Tea Trunk, over a phone call from Goa. The brand sells two variants — hibiscus petals and hibiscus green tea. An iced-hibiscus tea is also available.
“Its natural ruby red colour and tangy taste makes it ideal for an iced-tea… a little bit like cranberry juice,” says Snigdha. She recommends the tea for a cocktails, too. “Hibiscus flowers have antioxidants, so it works well as a relaxing drink,” Snigdha adds.
Pollachi-based single-origin chocolate brand Soklet sells a hibiscus chocolate topped with pumpkin seeds. The tang of the flower, says its makers, add to the unique flavour of the chocolate sourced from their plantations at the foothills of the Anamalai. Done as an experiment for a chocolate festival in Seattle, two years ago, the chocolate made it to their best-seller list. “We found that the sourness of the hibiscus paired well with our chocolate, and the pumpkin seeds give a nutty crunch,” says Karthikeyan Palaniswamy, co-founder of Soklet. “There is plenty of hazelnuts and almonds in the market, we wanted something distinct that goes with our brand’s ethos,” he adds.