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WTF is... Hibiscus?!

My first foray into making hibiscus tea didn't go particularly well. I'd the tea over at a friend's house, and it had been a flavor revolution for me. So when the hibiscus flowers bloomed at home, I gathered up a handful of blossoms, dunked them into boiling water, and... it was not as delightful as it could have been.

It turned out, as I would learn much later, that hibiscus tea is not made with the flowers of the hibiscus, but with a strange octopus-like seed pod, called a calyx. This alien pod is packed with amazing phytochemicals. But first, a brief introduction to our new friend, Hibiscus!

The calyxes used for the popular tea come from Hibiscus sabdariffa and go by quite a few names, including sorrel, roselle, and Florida cranberry. (1) It's a member of the Malvacaea family (or mallows), which includes among its rank the marshmallow and okra! (1) In fact, for quite some time, okra was considered to be a type of hibiscus. (2) Having compared the hibiscus I grow in the Ferals to the okra my mom grows, I can see why.

Hibiscus sabdariffa (or "roselle hibiscus") is native to West Africa and India but is now found worldwide. In warmer climates, hibiscus grows into a hardy shrub, while cooler regions, such as the northeast, have it limited to growing as an annual. (1)

Roselle hibiscus shares all of the hallmarks of the mallow family, mainly their production of mucilage. (3) It's what makes people turn their noses up at okra's weird texture. But in skincare, mucilages offer cooling hydration to dry, chapped, and otherwise irritated skin. (4)

But that's not what makes the roselle hibiscus stand out from the colorful crowd. It's those deep red calyxes that are so very precious! The roselle hibiscus calyx is loaded with amazing phytochemicals, including (but by no means limited to):

Flavonoids- The calyxes are loaded with an impressive array of flavonoids, including quercetin, anthocyanin, luteolin, and myricetin. (5) Quercetin helps to soothe redness, itching, and irritation, in addition to supporting healthy hydration levels. (6) A study in 2020 offered promising results on the benefits of luteolin's ability to minimize environmental damage, as well as help restore the skin's vitality and resilience. (7) Myricetin was assessed in a 2010 study, and again this year, for its suggested abilities to minimize signs of aging and help to repair damage from sun exposure. (8,9)

Phenolic Acids- Hibiscus is a wonderful source of all sorts of exciting, skin-loving acids! Hydroxy acids have been a hot buzzword in skincare for quite some time, and are part of the reason that roselle hibiscus was nicknamed "The Botox Plant" a few years ago! (10) boasting both Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and Beta hydroxy acid (BHA), these work together to keep the skin firm, plump and taut. A study in 2014 supported the claims that AHA may be beneficial both in minimizing signs of aging, such as fine lines and in smoothing the complexion. (11) A study in 1992 suggested that not only is salicylic acid (A common BHA found in skincare), as good as benzoyl peroxide for treating acne, it may actually be more efficient, and gentler on the skin! (12)

Vitamin A- Vitamin A has been getting a lot of attention, mostly because of retinol. While retinol is an awesome addition to skincare, all of the members of the vitamin A family are fantastic for the skin! A study in 2019 investigated vitamin A for its usefulness as a vulnerary and highlighted that many of the properties that make vitamin A a coveted addition in anti-aging formulas are also what would make it beneficial for healing! (13)

Vitamin C- A classic addition to the anti-aging formula world, vitamin C continues to stand the test of time and science! a study from 2017 supported the claims that vitamin C can help refine the texture of the skin and minimize the appearance of fine lines with regular use. (14) Meanwhile, a study in 2008 suggested that vitamin C may also be useful in minimizing skin damage from UV exposure. (15) And a study in 2010 posited that vitamin C would be both a gentle and effective treatment for acne! (16)

At Cinag's ALchemic, we are huge fans of hibiscus! it forms the backbone of our Garnet products, together with rosehip and St. John's Wort. You can also find it popping up soon paired with locally grown rhubarb and zesty lime, in the summer Rhubarb Crumble products, starting in June!

TALK LIKE AN HERBALIST (Vocabulary You Should Know to Be an Herbal Savant)

Understanding skincare terminology can help you make informed decisions about the ingredients in your skincare products.

  1. Alpha Hydroxy Acid- water-soluble acids commonly used in skin care products to exfoliate and improve the appearance of skin. They are derived from fruits and milk and can help reduce fine lines, improve skin texture, and enhance overall skin radiance.

  2. Annual- a type of plant that completes its life cycle in one growing season, typically from seed to flower to seed again, and then dies. It's like a one-year wonder!

  3. Anti-inflammatories- substances that reduce inflammation, which is a common symptom of many diseases and disorders. They work by blocking the action of inflammatory molecules in the body, reducing swelling, pain, and irritation.

  4. Antioxidant- a molecule that helps protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Antioxidants can be found naturally in foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, and can also be taken as dietary supplements.

  5. Beta Hydroxy Acid- a type of chemical exfoliant commonly used in skincare products. It's great for removing dead skin cells, unclogging pores, and improving the overall texture of your skin. Plus, it's gentle enough for everyday use!

  6. Calyx- part of a flower that protects the developing bud before it blooms. It's usually made up of small leaf-like structures called sepals.

  7. Flavonoids- plant compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and are found in many fruits, vegetables, and herbs

  8. Free Radicals- unstable molecules that can increase the risk of disease.

  9. Luteolin- a flavonoid found in plants such as parsley, thyme, and celery. Some research suggests that luteolin can have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  10. Mucilage- a gel-like substance that can be found in some plants and is used in skincare products to help soothe and hydrate the skin. It's often used as a natural alternative to synthetic ingredients and can leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.

  11. Phenolic Acids- found in plants that have antioxidant properties and can be beneficial for human health. They are often found in fruits, vegetables, and grains and have been studied for their potential role in preventing chronic diseases.

  12. Quercetin- a natural plant pigment found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. It's known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  13. Retinol- a fancy word for vitamin A, which is really good for your skin. It helps to reduce wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots and makes your skin look brighter and smoother. It's like a superhero for your skin!

  14. Salicylic Acid- a type of BHA that helps to exfoliate dead skin cells and unclog pores. It's great for people who struggle with acne or have oily skin because it helps to break down excess oil and prevent breakouts. Think of it as a gentle, yet effective way to keep your skin looking fresh and clear.

  15. Vitamin A- a powerful antioxidant that helps keep your eyes, skin, and immune system healthy. You can find it in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens. It can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots, while also promoting cell turnover and collagen production.

  16. Vitamin C- a nutrient that can be found in certain fruits and vegetables. It's known for boosting the immune system, promoting healthy skin, and helping the body absorb iron. It can also help to brighten and even out your skin tone and leave your skin looking more vivacious and radiant.

  17. Vulnerary- something that helps heal wounds or injuries. Think of it like a magic potion for cuts and bruises!

REFERENCES (in case you thought we just made this sh!t up)

  1. Wikipedia contributors. (2023). Roselle (plant). Wikipedia.

  2. Wikipedia contributors. (2023a). Abelmoschus. Wikipedia.

  3. Wikipedia contributors. (2023c). Hibiscus. Wikipedia.

  4. LisaLise. (2017, July 23). Why Mucilage is a Must. Lisa Lise Blog.

  5. Ojulari, O. V., Lee, S., & Nam, J. (2019). Beneficial Effects of Natural Bioactive Compounds from Hibiscus sabdariffa L. on Obesity. Molecules, 24(1), 210.

  6. Maramaldi, G., Togni, S., Pagin, I., Giacomelli, L., Cattaneo, R., Burastero, S., & Eggenhoffner, R. (2016). Soothing and anti-itch effect of quercetin phytosome in human subjects: a single-blind study. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 55.

  7. Gendrisch, F., Esser, P. R., Schempp, C. M., & Wölfle, U. (2021). Luteolin as a modulator of skin aging and inflammation. Biofactors, 47(2), 170–180.

  8. Jung, S., Lee, K. W., Kim, H., Oh, M. M., Byun, S., Lim, S. K., Heo, Y., Kang, N. J., Bode, A. M., Dong, Z., & Lee, H. J. (2010). Myricetin suppresses UVB-induced wrinkle formation and MMP-9 expression by inhibiting Raf. Biochemical Pharmacology, 79(10), 1455–1461.

  9. Lin, T., Yang, C., Wu, T., Tseng, C., & Yen, F. (2023). Myricetin Nanofibers Enhanced Water Solubility and Skin Penetration for Increasing Antioxidant and Photoprotective Activities. Pharmaceutics, 15(3), 906.

  10. Edit, L. (2021). The Natural Botox Plant - Hibiscus. LXMI.,collagen%2C%20thus%20maintaining%20skin%20elasticity.

  11. Izquierdo-Vega, J. A., Arteaga-Badillo, D. A., Sánchez-Gutiérrez, M., Morales-González, J. A., Vargas-Mendoza, N., Gómez-Aldapa, C. A., Castro-Rosas, J., Delgado-Olivares, L., & Madrigal-Bujaidar, E. (2020). Organic Acids from Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa L.)—A Brief Review of Its Pharmacological Effects. Biomedicines, 8(5), 100.

  12. Tran, D., Townley, J. P., Barnes, T. M., & Greive, K. A. (2014). An antiaging skin care system containing alpha hydroxy acids and vitamins improves the biomechanical parameters of facial skin. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 9.

  13. E, Z., & Weisman, S. J. (1992). Treatment of acne vulgaris with salicylic acid pads. Clinical Therapeutics, 14(2), 247–253.

  14. Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., & Vissers, M. C. (2017). The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients, 9(8), 866.

  15. Murray, J. D., Burch, J. L., Streilein, R. D., Iannacchione, M. A., Hall, R. P., & Pinnell, S. R. (2008). A topical antioxidant solution containing vitamins C and E stabilized by ferulic acid provides protection for human skin against damage caused by ultraviolet irradiation. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 59(3), 418–425.

  16. Woolery-Lloyd, H., Baumann, L., & Ikeno, H. (2010). Sodium L-ascorbyl-2-phosphate 5% lotion for the treatment of acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 9(1), 22–27.

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