While gardeners and horticulturists are drawn to the hibiscus plant in large part because of its large, brightly colored flowers, the petals and leaves have been used in a wide range of uses all over the globe. Hibiscus leaves have been used for cosmetics and alternative medicines, just to name a few. There are more than 250 varieties of hibiscus, and it is essential to identify the species that are safe for consumption and human use. Hibiscus should not be used as any sort of home remedy without first consulting a healthcare professional or skilled herbalist.
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, otherwise known as the Chinese hibiscus, is a popular species that is used in cosmetics. Hibiscus sabdariffa and Hibiscus syriacus, also known as roselle and the Rose of Sharon, respectively, are commonly used in herbal teas and medicines. The plant is an evergreen ornamental shrub that produces large, bell-shaped flowers with bright green, oval leaves. The overall plant size can be from 5 to 8 feet tall (1.5 to 2.5 meters).
In addition to the leaves, hibiscus petals have been used to create all natural cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners. Hibiscus leaves have a blackening characteristic that is sometimes used to make black dyes for products such as mascara and shoe polish. Mild shampoos and conditioners made with the leaves are said to be effective for softening the scalp and hair. Baby shampoos and healing lotions also may contain them.
Hibiscus leaves also are used as hair oil for the treatment of dandruff. Homemade hibiscus hair oil is made with thick, juicy, sticky leaves and a few flower petals. They are crushed and ground with a mortar and pestle and combined with coconut oil or herbal oil. These hair oil treatments are said to lead to longer, silkier tresses.
In terms of health benefits, the hibiscus plant has been recognized for several therapeutic and medicinal qualities. It is said to treat hair loss and some diseases, such as tuberculosis. It also is said to reduce labor pains and menstrual cramps, though hibiscus leaves are used in the Philippines and Cook Islands for their ability to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and/or induce abortion.
Originating in Eastern India, tropical hibiscus has become one of the most popular tropical flowering bushes in the world. Plant care is simple, with a few exceptions for those who are growing it in colder climates. In colder regions, the plant must be brought indoors during winter months. Hibiscus will thrive on pruning, although it is not required. If flowering does not occur, some pruning may help stimulate flower production.