Heavenly Hibiscus By Ellary Allis
The Doctrine of Signatures, a theory that dates back to Greek physician Galen of Pergamum (129-200 AD) holds that the physical characteristics of plants act as signs that betoken its medicinal uses: parts of the plant will resemble the human body parts that the plant is able to treat. In a compelling illustration of the Doctrine of Signatures, the sumptuous Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, with its showy, vulva-esque petals that encase the flower’s reproductive organs, regulates menstruation. When taken internally as tea or ground into a paste, it promotes menstrual discharge and relieves menstrual cramps. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a bisexual flower, meaning it has both stamen (male reproductive part) and pistil (female reproductive part). Hibiscus rosa-sinensis has the ability to self-pollinate when the filament of the stamen called the anther, the site of pollen development, ripens at the appropriate time for the stigma of the pistil to receive the pollen. The staminal tube of the hibiscus is one of the flower’s most pronounced features, projecting provocatively from the blossom’s center. In another nod to the Doctrine of Signatures, the hibiscus affects the human male’s reproductive organ in a manner immensely desirable to some: it functions as a contraceptive. A study conducted at the Department of Zoology and Environmental Biology at the University of Calabar in Nigeria concluded that an ethanolic extract of hibiscus petals produced a strong anti-fertility effect in adult male rats at the dose level of 300 mg/kg body weight. Rats treated with the extract also showed increases in levels of testosterone. Ayurveda has long recognized hibiscus as a female contraceptive; the Yoga Ratnākara, a classic text of Ayurvedic formulations, suggests a paste of japakusuma (the Sanskrit word for Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), kanji (rice gruel), and 400 year old guda (jaggery) to be taken in the dose of one pala (48 gm) for three consecutive days during menstruation for anti-fertility purposes. Clinical trials sponsored by the National Institute of Ayurveda in Jaipur, Rajasthan and the Dr. A L Research Center for Ayurveda in Chennai, Tamil Nadu found that a benzene extract of the flower has anti-fertility and anti-estrogenic activities in adult female rats.
Amongst the flower’s many other medicinal uses is its ability to reduce systolic (top number) blood pressure. In a study performed at Tufts University, participants were given either three cups of hibiscus tea or a hibiscus tea placebo daily for six weeks. Systolic blood pressure of the hibiscus tea drinkers was lowered by 5.5 percent, and researchers concluded that a cup of hibiscus tea with each meal is a simple and effective way to control blood pressure in mildly and pre-hypertensive adults. Hibiscus tea is beneficial for weight loss; it contains amylase inhibitors such as phaseolamine. Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down sugar and starch molecules in food, and amylase inhibitors block absorption of carbohydrates, making hibiscus a so-called carb-blocker. Hibiscus is an astringent, cooling herb, a diuretic and a mild laxative with refrigerant and antipyretic (reduces fever) benefits. It’s an expectorent (expels mucous), and its mucilaginous leaves soothe coughs. Because it absorbs ultraviolent radiation, hibiscus flower extract is effective as an anti-solar agent. Hibiscus also contains a flavonoid known as cyanidin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The flower also aids in the treatment of liver disorders, and applied topically it can accelerate the healing of wounds, sprains, and ulcers.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, also called Chinese hibiscus, China rose, shoe flower, and Hawaiian hibiscus, is a species in the Hibisceae tribe of the Malvaceae family, and native to East Asia. In Ayurvedic medicine, hibiscus is used to treat colds (it’s chock-full of vitamin C), for blood purification, to prevent premature graying, and to stimulate hair growth and treat scalp disorders. In China, the juice of the flower has been used as an ingredient in black dye for hair and eyebrows, to color liquor and to make litmus paper. In India, the crushed flower is used as a dye for shoes and to shine shoes (hence the name shoe flower). In Hawaii, raw hibiscus flowers are eaten as a digestive aid.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensi holds cultural significance in traditions birthed from the areas to which the flower is native. In India, hibiscus is colloquially called “the eye of Kali.” Kali is the goddess of the Hindu pantheon whose name means “she who is death,” born when the goddess Parvati shed her skin and released her fierce aspect known thereafter as Kali; Kali accepts hibiscus flowers as offerings. Every year since 1956 a nine day Hibiscus Festival is held on Fiji and the surrounding islands, culminating in a pageant and the crowning of a ‘Hibiscus Queen.’ One legend holds that hibiscus played a role in the creation of the Polynesian islands. According the legend, the earth at one time consisted of one ocean and two large islands, likened to two giant turtles floating on the water. One of the islands was situated in northern waters, high up on the shoulder of the earth. Because nobody wanted to live in the chilly climate of the northern island, most creatures lived on the sun-baked southern island stationed on the belt of the earth. On one unusually dew-soaked morning, the earth slipped on a wet hibiscus and fell onto its back, splintering the southern island into pieces that became the Polynesian islands. One tradition in Hawaii uses hibiscus to signify whether a woman is single or in a relationship; tucking the flower behind the left ear signals that the woman is romantically committed, while placing it behind the right indicates that the woman is searching for a mate. Meng Chang, the last emperor of the Later Shu State during the period of the Five Dynasties, was said to have a soft spot for the hibiscus He ordered his subjects to plant the flower along the city walls of Chengdu, and Chengdu became known as the “city of hibiscus flowers.”
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is a broad-leaf evergreen, drought and frost tender. It requires partial to full sunlight and abundant water and fertilization when first planted, but once established is relatively self-sufficient. Hibiscus does best in well-drained soils with slightly acidic conditions.
The mucilaginous, emollient hibiscus makes for a luxurious hair conditioner. Make your own hibiscus hair oil!
Hibiscus Hair Oil
Chop five hibiscus flowers and three leaves and grind with mortar and pestle
Pour one cup of coconut oil in a pan
Add crushed hibiscus parts to the oil and cook mixture over a low flame for 15 minutes
Strain and pour oil into a glass jar
Luxuriate in the lusciousness of hibiscus hair oil!