The theme for Heart of the Matter (HotM) this month - hosted by Ilva at Lucullian Delights - was Flowers. In Hawaii, hibiscus grows wild and is commonly found in home gardens and as an ornamental plant, but this little beauty is also extremely high in vitamin C (maybe that's what gives it its beautifully rich color?) and preliminary studies show promising results that it may lower high blood pressure and even cholesterol when steeped and enjoyed as a drink. Sounds like the perfect heart-healthy drink to me!
Hibiscus has been used as a health "tonic" of sorts in cultures all over the world for centuries, and I think it's high time we bring it back! I've been taking some herbal classes lately, learning about the herbs, flowers and plants that are both native and invasive in Hawaii that can be used for tinctures, salves and more to improve health and reduce reliance on contemporary medicine. For my entry for HotM this month, I steeped dried hibiscus flowers with ginger, a rhizome known to be great for stomach problems, but which also has cholesterol-lowering properties. For a little kick, I added a bit of peppermint to the steeping liquid and then sweetened it slightly with honey. It came out great! I can imagine it as an extremely refreshing drink for the dog-days of summer, but it's been nice for the nice days this spring too, when you get a warm day. Add an umbrella and some sparkling water (or hey, rum if you are so inclined) and you've got yourself a fruity, tropical drink that can be made with completely local ingredients. We'll be drinking much more of this in the days to come!
While the flowers themselves are much more beautiful when they are not dried, the dried ones keep well in an airtight container and impart a gorgeous, ruby color to your steeping liquid. Hibiscus has its own distinct flavor...which is actually really difficult to describe, but good! And you don't need very many! I used 15 dried blossoms (I got these at the farmer's market some time ago, but you can also dry your own to about) but you could use the same amount of blossoms in a larger amount of water I think and not lose any flavor...I had a bunch, so I didn't mind using them because I wanted the hibiscus flavor to come through.
Hibiscus-Ginger Cooler, makes 4 cups.
4 cups filtered water
15 dried hibiscus blossoms
1 inch ginger root, organic and unpeeled - sliced into 1/4" slices
1 small sprig of mint
raw honey, to taste
Bring the water to a boil, then remove from the heat and stir in the hibiscus, ginger root and mint. Let steep for at least an hour or up to 4. Strain the mixture with a sieve (or cheese cloth if you want a clearer liquid). You could sweeten it with the honey at this point, or you can sweeten each glass as you want to drink it depending on your preference and who will be drinking it later.