Monday, 2 February 2015

Healing with Hibiscus

This is a Hibiscus flower, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, of the Malvaceae or Mallow family, one of an abundance growing near my parents' home in Penang, Malaysia, where it is loved as the national flower.

Its five petals represent the five Malaysian principles, and the red colour symbolising courage. They remind me of the billowing, twirling, flamenco dancer's skirt, with the red hot colour of passion to match.

Hibiscus grows widely in tropical and warm temperate countries all over the world. So different to the wild flowers I have growing around my home in Edinburgh, these are not only gorgeously beautiful but also edible. The flower is used as a garnish and ingredient in many Pacific Islanders' salads and cocktails.

I used to pick these as a child and suck the nectar out from where the flower meets the stem, honey sweet, in the same way I show folk to do with white deadnettle flowers in Scotland, although hibiscus nectar is sweeter.

If you find these growing plentifully near you, pick and collect them to dry or use fresh, foraging with consideration for the environment, aiming for less than 10% per plant to ensure plenty left for the plant to thrive and wildlife. To dry, hang them upside down in a dry shady place for a few days (depends on humidity) when crisp to touch, store in airtight container in cool, dark place.

It makes a lovely uplifting iced tea with honey when in hot countries or on a hot summer's day, with its tart taste and vibrant red colour. As a student, I used to work in a Sudanese cafe called The Nile Valley who serve hibiscus tea hot or cold, called Karkaday. It's a popular refreshment in North African countries.

As a healing herbal remedy, the leaf, flower and bud is used traditionally in many Asian, Ayurvedic and Chinese Traditional Medicine formulations. This flower is rich in Vitamin C with its well known benefits on boosting immunity, skin health and organ repair. 

Its astringent properties are helpful for women's health, excessive menstruation, some gynaecological issues and menopausal symptoms, such as sweats and flushing. 

Hibiscus has been shown to have high antioxidant value, benefits on reducing high cholesterol, supporting the liver and cardiovascular systems, and even anti-depressant properties in research studies. 

The leaves and flowers infused in oil, rich in hyaluronic and linoleic acids, are used as a nourishing hair and scalp tonic, particularly with coconut oil in Ayurvedic herbal practice.

When I make up herbal blends for my Herbal Medicine and AstroTarot clients, I consider not just the nutrient properties and therapeutic actions, but also the effect of the colour and taste on the mind and more subtle body. 

Red is indicated where a root chakra imbalance and related emotional issues are manifesting, such as lack of grounding or security, feeling unstable, lacking firm roots, a sense of fear and anxiety due to lack of safety.

Hibiscus flowers are offered regularly in the spiritual practices of India and Hindu communities, particularly sacred to Lord Ganesh, the elephant headed deity, remover of obstacles, as his favourite flower.

There are also surprising practical uses of Hibiscus. Nicknamed Shoe Flower, its petals have a moist texture that are used by some to shine their shoes.

To me, simply gazing at a hibiscus flower, or the instant exotic glamour of wearing one tucked behind the ear, is a magnificent to uplift the spirits. 

Do you have any hibiscus tips, stories or memories to share? I'd love to hear them in the comments below :)

Hibiscus blessings,
Fiona Morris 

Medical Herbalist, 
Massage Therapist 
AstroTarot Reader

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