Since I live in Florida, I have the opportunity to grow various types of plants pretty much year-round. In the past year, I’ve started growing sugarcane, harvested one bunch of lackluster bananas, and started a raised bed vegetable garden that has given me as many as six okras. After all that work, imagine my surprise when I learned that I had shrubs already growing in the yard that I can make tea from! Wow!
The plant in question is a common ornamental yard plant in south Florida called hibiscus. It’s part of the mallow family (along with marshmallow and okra) and produces beautiful flowers that can be bred into almost any color, although most common varieties are red, orange, pink, or white. The plant is an important symbol of many Asian and Pacific countries including South Korea and Malaysia. Most of the plants I’ve seen here are used for show, but it turns out that using the flower’s petals to make a tea is a common drink in other parts of the world. The leaves can also be used to make tea, but I haven’t tried that out yet.
My hibiscus flowers only last for a few days on the plant, at which point they fall off. The flowers also close up at night, presumably to protect the interior of the flower from the elements. This is why they appear closed in the picture; they fall off the plant after closing for the last time. The petals can be opened and separated from the rest of the flower.
At this point, I either make the tea right away or set the petals out in the house to dry so I can store them for later. This time I made fresh tea though!
I boil the water on the grill’s side burner. I’m not sure if this is more energy efficient than the electric stove in the house, but at least if I spill anything outside I don’t have to clean it up. I bring the water to a boil, add a whole bunch of sugar, then turn off the gas and add the petals to steep for about 15 minutes.
The petals lose their color quickly and take on the appearance of boiled cabbage. This is fine! From here I either strain the petals out of the tea or scoop them out of the pot with a wooden spoon. I also like to chill it in the refrigerator for a couple hours (hot beverages haven’t really sat well with me since moving to Florida). I experimented with adding lime as well but didn’t really care for it.
So that’s it! There’s no caffeine in hibiscus, though, but apparently there are some health benefits and it also tastes pretty good. Score! After finding this out I added a few more bushes to my yard to make sure I have a fresh supply of petals at all times.
Photo: a flower on my hibiscus that I definitely plucked from the plant to make this batch of tea.