I’ve just recently become acquainted with the hibiscus. Yes, I’ve known about this beautiful flower for a long time but have never really taken a profound interest in it, afterall, it’s just a flower, right? Well it is, but it has much more to it than mere aesthetics.
The hibiscus is considered to have various medical uses in Chinese herbology from skincare, where it’s been shown to function as an anti-solar agent by absorbing ultraviolet radiation, to acting as an ailment for coughs, hair loss and hair greying.
It is also the national flower of Malaysia, where all my family on my mum’s side are from. There it is known as Bunga Raya, literally translated as ‘big flower’. It was introduced into the Malay Peninsula in the 12th century and was nominated as the national flower in 1958 by the Ministry of Agriculture amongst a few other flowers, such as ylang ylang, jasmine, lotus, rose, magnolia and medlar. On 28 July 1960, it was declared by the government of Malaysia that the hibiscus would be the national flower. The red of the petals symbolizes the courage, life, and rapid growth of the Malaysian people and the five petals represent the five national principles of the country. These are a belief in god, loyalty to king and country, supremacy of the constitution, rule of law and courtesy and morality. The flower is also found imprinted on the notes and coins of the Malaysian Ringgit.
That is not where it ends though. When hibiscus flowers are dried they also have multiple culinary uses. Soak them and watch whilst the water turns the brightest crimson hue! The flavour is very sour and slightly reminiscent of cherries which lends wonderfully to delicious drinks, in particular ‘Agua de Jamaica’ (pronounced Ha-mike-ah), or ‘Flor de Jamaica’ as it’s known in Mexico.
Agua de Jamaica, (Adapted from ‘Paletas, by Fany Gerson)
Makes 6 cups
1 1/2 cups dried hibiscus flowers
6 cups cold water
3/4 cup caster sugar