Hibiscus (sorrel): The 'botox plant', and more

IT'S not yet Christmas, but you may have seen hibiscus teas (sorrel) in your health food store and you may have also seen the dried fruit being sold as a beauty aid. This plant, which grows abundantly in Jamaica and is used for traditional Christmas drinks, is good for everything from lowering cholesterol in its tea form to tightening the skin when used in a face mask.

"It has a delicious flavour so you can use it as a tea, and it has antioxidants to help you fight cancer," said herbalist Kenute Harrison. "It also helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure, keeping your heart healthy."

He said that used topically it helps to replenish the skin and tightens the pores.

"People outside our shores call it the 'botox plant' because it will stimulate collagen production and it's very hydrating, adding moisture to dry and problematic skin," he explained.

Rich in vitamin C, the tea, made from the dried Hibiscus sabdariffa, or what we call sorrel locally, has a fruity, tangy and sweet flavour that's a delight to consume. We're used to having it cold, but it's also good hot or warm.

Harrison said some people have also used extracts from the plant to stimulate hair growth, but there's not much research to confirm this.

"But the plant itself has flavonoids which enhance blood circulation, so if you massage it into your scalp it should stimulate new hair growth," he said.

HOW TO USE

As a tea:

Steep the dried fruit in hot water for a few minutes, then strain and sweeten with honey to taste. It can also be had as iced tea by cooling and adding ice cubes.

In a facial

Pound the dried fruit into a powder and mix with liquid, like rose water or witch hazel, to make a thick paste. Apply all over the face and leave on for 10 minutes. It will soften and firm up the skin.

As a body scrub

Combine the powder made from the pounded plant with a salt, like Epsom or Himalayan salt, and use as a scrub in the shower. It will exfoliate dead cells and leave your skin soft and supple.

For your hair

Mix the pounded powder with a carrier oil like jojoba oil or coconut oil and apply to dry hair and cover with a steam cap. Leave on for 15-20 minutes (you can also go under the dryer), then shampoo and condition as usual. This will strengthen and moisturise the hair.

ALAISHA THOMAS

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