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Hibiscus syrup is a mixture of steeped, dried flowers from the Hibiscus sabdariffa L. mixed with sugar to reduce the tartness of the flower. It might be used as an ice cream topping, over pancakes, or as a glaze for roasted meats. Hibiscus syrup might not be readily available in all regions, but can be made at home from dried hibiscus flowers bought at tea shops, spice stores, or health food stores.
The product is common in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Egypt, where it can be purchased in regular grocery stores. Called flor de Jamaica in Mexico, hibiscus syrup is diluted with water to create a refreshing, cold drink on hot days. Tea made from hibiscus syrup is so popular in some parts of Mexico it can be ordered at fast-food restaurants as an alternative to carbonated beverages. Dried hibiscus flowers are also available in stores and at fresh markets.
Some cooks add hibiscus syrup to gelatin dishes or puddings. A tangy jelly can be made from the syrup, which contains natural pectin and has a flavor similar to cranberries. Hibiscus syrup might be added to a cocktail punch to give it a rich, red color. In Jamaica, a traditional Christmas drink consists of hibiscus tea and ginger.
Hibiscus syrup provides health benefits and contains a wide range of amino acids. One study found extract of hibiscus might lower the level of harmful cholesterol in the blood and prevent fatty deposits from clogging arteries. It lowered triglyceride levels in animal studies and showed antioxidant properties. This syrup is rich in calcium, iron, carotene, phosphorus, and niacin.
The shrub commonly grows from India to Malaysia, and has been exported to many tropical and subtropical regions. It can be propagated from seeds or cuttings. Flowers are harvested when they begin to wither and turn a dark red. These dried flowers can be purchased in bulk or packaged in smaller quantities. The food and drug industry has shown interest in hibiscus flowers as a natural dye.
All parts of the plant were used for medicinal purposes by native people. Research shows hibiscus might lower blood pressure and naturally thin the blood. Scientists believe it lessens the harmful effects of alcohol on the liver and other bodily organs. In some areas, hibiscus syrup or tea represents a cure for a hangover. It may also have antibacterial properties.