Visitors to Costa Rica at this time of the year are bound to see several of our hibiscus ornamentals with their exquisite flowers. These ornamental plants are commonly found along borders as privacy hedges or as single plants which show off their flowers. However, very few know that these beauties also share with us food and medicine. Here are some tips about the hibiscus plants.
The nutritious, edible leaves and flowers make an interesting addition to any salad; the colorful flowers, which are also edible, are used to decorate servings of food. The leaves also provide relief for painful menstruation. From the leaves and flowers together you can make a tea that helps staunch excessive menstrual flow and prevent postpartum hemorrhages and even miscarriage. To treat skin problems, use the tea as a bath, compress, or maceration.
In Belize, some people believe that only the red flowering hibiscus, Hibiscus rossi-sinensis, has medicinal properties. Costa Ricans, however, categorize both that species and Hibiscus sabdariffa, introduced by settlers from the Caribbean Basin, as medicinal plants. To prepare tea from either variety, boil a handful of leaves and flowers in 1 L of water. Drink 1-3 cups per day.
Hibiscus sabdariffa, called Jamaican hibiscus or rosa jamaica in Spanish, is a handsome annual plant related to common hibiscus, okra, and cotton; it is both decorative and useful. You can make a delicious, chilled tea with the dried red calyces of the flowers. Its refreshing citrus flavor and striking red color make it a great natural alternative to the artificial drinks kids seem to crave so much.
The leaves of this species are also edible. Hibiscus is generally propagated from woody stem cuttings that are planted directly in permanent sites. Jamaican hibiscus, however, is started from seed.
Read more of Ed Bernhardt’s monthly Home Gardening columns here.