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As if I didn’t have enough on my plate already, I decided to enroll in a 6-week online herbal course through Herbal Academy. As the program’s aims included sustainability, stewardship, and affordability, I knew this was the place for me! So I jumped right into the Herbal Materia Medica course. The lessons and a number of print-outs were free. The herbs I would be studying were left up to my discretion. I decided to learn more about plants that I had readily available here in Mexico. So I chose cilantro (coriander), jamaica (hibiscus), sabila (aloe vera), feverfew and wandering jew. It was more than I bargained for, probably because once I started researching herbs, I couldn’t stop. I kept adding more and more herbs to my list of useful local and medicinal plants. I’d like to share some of what I learned about the hibiscus flower today. Agua de flor de jamaica is one of my favorite aguas frescas here in Mexico. When this is an option, who would every choose a coke? Its deep red color reminds me of Kool-aid, although the flavor is a bit on the tart side. Making it is nearly as easy as Kool-aid as well. The calyx (the sepals of a flower, typically forming a whorl that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud) are added to boiling water until thoroughly wet. Strain the mixture, getting all the juice out, add sugar to taste and stir. Dried jamaica (hibiscus) calyx are easily obtainable at the market, so I went out and obtained some “for my class project.” I opted to add piloncillo (Mexican brown sugar) and canela (cinnamon) to my tea. My son said it tasted more like ponche (fruit punch) but drank an enormous quantity of it. I only used a handful of flower petals, so I have plenty left to perfect my own agua de jamaica. Not only is it delicious, but it is good for you too. Agua de jamaica has citric acid, malic acid (giving it its tart flavoring) used in treating fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome because of its energy increasing properties, tartaric acid which is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound useful in treating inflamed joints, pancreatitis and liver inflammation. Tartaric acid has also been shown to improve glucose tolerance and intestinal absorption of nutrients. The flower also contains polysaccharides which aid in reducing fatigue, regulating healthy blood pressure and blood sugar, encourage a positive mood, soothe irritation, support the immune system, and increase libido. No wonder this is a drink recommended to reduce menopause symptoms! (See also A Beautiful Transition In Life: Dealing With Menopause Naturally Without HRT and Health Benefits Of Hibiscus) It’s been used to reduce pain from menstrual cramps, restore hormonal balance which reduces mood swings and depression. Furthermore, jamaica has cyanidin and delphinidin, antioxidants found to have anti-carcinogenic properties found to be effective in skin, breast and colon cancer prevention. Studies have shown that extract of hibiscus (jamaica) is toxic to cancer cells. Why isn’t everybody drinking this? As if that isn’t enough, flor de jamaica contains anthocyanins which have long been used to treat high blood pressure, colds and urinary tract infections. As the drink is a natural diuretic, it’s easy to see how it could be just the thing for these all-too-common ailments. Jamaica has been used to successfully treat obesity and head lice. Drinking agua de jamaica can reduce anxiety and depression. This tea is low in calories and caffeine-free and can be enjoyed hot or cold. What more could anyone ask for? So how much should you drink? Superfoods Scientific Research recommends a typical adult should drink one cup of hibiscus tea twice daily. Take 2 tsp of dried blossoms or 1 tsp of crumbled blossom with 1 cup of boiling water, steep for ten minutes. There you have it, folks! I would be lax if I failed to mention that there have been reported side effects from drinking this tea. As mentioned above, it lowers hormone levels which is great for menopausal women but might not be what someone trying to get pregnant would want. So avoid this drink if you are undergoing fertility treatments or are in the first trimester of pregnancy. As it lowers blood pressure, if your blood pressure is already low, don’t drink it. As it reduces anxiety, you may feel utterly relaxed or drowsy after drinking it. In fact, some people have reported hallucinations, although I have yet to experience that particular side effect myself. Did you know you can make taquitos out of flor de jamaica too? Check out this recipe! Well, I have my packet of organic hibiscus seeds and am going to give it another go this year. I made an attempt before, but the seeds didn’t sprout (See Failing at Container Gardening.) Once I get my first batch, I’ll walk you through the drying process. If you can’t wait until then check out the steps at HIBISCUS: A TASTY ADDITION TO YOUR EDIBLE LANDSCAPE OR GARDEN. So, as you can see, I learned quite a bit as a result of my free course at Herbal Academy. Totally worth it! Stay tuned for more informative herbal posts in the future!