Australian native hibiscus and hibiscus like species

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DISCLAIMER: The following is a guide to information on hibiscus and hibiscus-family plants that is available on the internet as at April, 2002.

The following is not a guide to the identification of plants. The following is not a recommendation for eating or drinking plants in the hibiscus family. Nor is the following a recommendation for the use of hibiscus and hibiscus-family plants as a substitute for standard medical treatments. Consult your physician before using a herbal preparation or remedy.

Although there is a long history, dating back to Roman times,, of plants of the hibiscus family being used as a food or as a medicine, extreme care must be taken.

Firstly, it is obviously necessary to be certain of the identification of the plant. I have purchased hibiscus species from nurseries that have been incorrectly labelled so the label on the plant is not a guarantee of correct identification.

Secondly, it has been suggested that one species of hibiscus may be an abortifacient.

Thirdly, DRUG INTERACTIONS need to be considered. See the following site for information on Hibiscus sabdariffa:

"Due to the diuretic action of this herb the following drug interactions are possible: increased risk of toxicity with anti-inflammatory analgesics; if hypokalemia occurs possible antagonism with antiarrhythmics and potentiation of muscle relaxants; antagonizes antidiabetic (hypoglycemic) drugs; may potentiate and/or interfere with antihypertensives; may potentiate lithium therapy; when taken with corticosteroids there is a risk for hypokalemia; may potentiate other diuretics and increase the risk of hypokalemia. Due to the antihypertensive (hypotensive) action of this herb the following interactions are possible: when taken with anesthetics an increased hypotensive effect; potentiation of antihypertensives; when taken with diuretics difficulty with diuresis and hypertension may result; antagonism of sympathomimetics".

Finally, there are recorded instances of individual's who have had adverse reactions to members of the hibiscus family. In the Australian Food Plants Study Group Newsletter of February 1995 it was reported that one reader had suffered kidney damage from drinking Hibiscus heterophyllus tea over a few days. A message, no longer available on the internet, was posted to a bulletin board indicating that after three to four weeks of drinking hibiscus tea, the author experienced a very intense, hard heartbeat a day.

For those still interested in the edible or medical uses of hibiscus and hibiscus-like plants, the following references may be of interest.


1. Probably the starting point for whether any particular hibiscus is edible is to check sites that deal with CROPS such as, which lists Abelmoschus esculentus, A. manihot and Hibiscus sabdariffa.

The Famine Foods is one part of this site and it is worth checking the Malvaceae section Malvaceae on the Famine Foods site include Hibiscus divaricatus, H. heterophyllus, H.mutabilis, H. sabdariffa, H. syriacus, H. trionum.

Another site that deals with crops is Species listed include Abelmoschus esculentus, A. manihot, A. moschatus, Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, H. sabdariffa, H. syriacus, H. tiliaceus.

2. It is useful to check whether the species is on the Plants for a Future (PFAF) site for detailed information on the species, including edibility and medicinal uses
type in hibiscus and click on the species in which you are interested. Edible species listed include:
Abelmoschus esculentus, Okra
Abelmoschus manihot, Aibika
Hibiscus acetosella, False roselle
Hibiscus cannabinus, Kenaf
Hibiscus diversifolius, Swamp hibiscus
Hibiscus heterophyllus, Native rosella
Hibiscus mutabilis, Cotton rose
Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Chinese hibiscus
Hibiscus sabdariffa, Roselle
Hibiscus sinosyriacus, Rose of Sharon
Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon
Hibiscus trionum, Flower of an hour
Hibiscus moscheutos, Swamp rose mallow (no reports of edibility but is listed as having medicinal properties).

3. For phytochemical and enthobotanical data, refer to Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

i. Phytochemicals of hibiscus
type in hibiscus and search

ii. Ethnobotanical uses of hibiscus
Type in hibiscus and hit the search button or type in a species such as Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and hit the search button.

type in hibiscus and search


For anyone wanting to seek out seed of edible species
B & T World Seeds, formerly in UK, now in France,
have seed of many Malvaceae.
Paguignan, 34210 Olonzac


I really enjoy a tea made by pouring boiling water over the calyx of Hibiscus sabdariffa. As well, Hibiscus sabdariffa makes a delicious syrup or cordial by placing 1 kg of sugar in 1 litre of water and adding 200 grams of H. sabdariffa calyces and simmering until the liquid is reduced by a third. This is then strained through a very fine sieve and bottled while still hot. The syrup can be used with desserts, for example, a small amount can be added to fruit or to custard etc. A very small amount can be placed in the bottom of a glass and filled with chilled water for a tasty, refereshing drink. The syrup keeps well if refrigerated. I regularly eat a preserve made from the petals of Australian native hibiscus. I especially love to eat the leaves of Abelmoschus manihot, both for their flavour and high leaf protein. I also like to add the young leaves of Hibiscus acetosella to a salad.

However, I would sum up by saying that while most, if not all, hibiscus are safely edible for most people, I wouldn't eat any species if I weren't absolutely sure it was safe. Even for species that I had reliably identified and which are generally acknowledged as safe, such as Hibiscus sabdariffa, I would then only have very small quantities until I was sure that I was not going to have an adverse reaction, particularly if there were any possibility of the drug interactions outlined in the introduction in relation to Hibiscus sabdariffa.

Anyone wishing to consume hibiscus or hibiscus-family plants needs to be aware that no guarantee is made in this article that any particular individual will not have an adverse reaction even to plants generally acknowledged as safe.

Colleen Keena

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