Agua de Jamaica | Caribbean Compass

Hibiscus Tea | Sour Tea | Saril | Abe | Sorrel | Agua de Jamaica

This little plant connects more cultures than many are aware of. Across the Caribbean basin, from Mexico to Trinidad & Tobago then all the way to Australia.


Hibiscus sabdariffa goes by many names around the world; Sorrel in the English speaking Caribbean, Rosella in Australia, Saril/ Flor de Jamaica in Latin America or 洛神花 (Luòshénhuā) in Chinese. This globe trotter plant’s origins have been heavily disputed with 2 main theories.

Theory 1: It originated in West Africa, migrating to the West Indies by the 16th century as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade picked up steam and then Asia by the 17th century as trade routes opened up.

Theory 2: The palnt is native across South Asia, from Malaysia to India and trekked its way to Africa. Each region localised the plant to create their own way of consuming it but Hibiscus sabdariffa was not truely commercialy planted until the 1920s in Indonesia.

The Dutch colonies of Asia, particularly Indonesia, domesticated the crop in order to make fiber for bags to store sugar according to Britannica. The fibers from the bark of the plant can be blended with jute and woven to create durable bags similar to the burlap/crocus bags.Careful not to confuse the Sorrel drink with a totally different plant called Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa)

In spoken language ” Tea” is used to refer to actual Tea, leaves derived from the Camelliasenensis plant as well as Tisanes, made from the infusion or decoction of plant material such as leaves, stems & flowers. In the case of Agua de Jamaica (Sorrel) drink, the calyxes are steeped in hot water for hours, to release the benefits of the plant, precisely an infusion.

Maps of Tea

What’s in a name?

The names for this plant largely depend on the region & culture it’s grown in but 2 of the most interesting happen to be in Central America, “Agua de Jamaica” in Mexico & “Chicha de Saril” in Panama. Why Jamaica? In Mexico, history has it that the plant was introduced from the neighbouring colony, Jamaica and the name “Agua de Jamaica” has stuck. In Panama, large numbers of Jamaican labourers were contracted to build the Panama Canal and in migration they took their food & language with them. The term “Chicha de Saril”literally translates to infusion of sorrel with “Saril” closely resembling the Jamaican patois pronounciation of Sorrel.

Uses & Properties

Diuretic: The juice made from the calyxes is commonly used around the world as a diuretic as it contains the compound quercetin. This increases the consumer’s rate of kidney filtration, passing urine more frequently, helping to flush the system.

Manages hypertension: Roselle extract has been observed to create a similar effect to captopril in managing mild to moderate hypertension. One study showed that regular consumption of Roselle extract resulted in lower daily systolic & diastolic blood pressure.

Pectin: A common source of pectin which is a plant based gelatine alternative.

Antioxidant: Sorrel is high in poly-phenolic acid, flavonoids and anthocyanins accounting for its deep red colour. Flavanoids are renowned for their ability to slow cell damage by eliminating free radicals & slowing the oxidation of cells.

Antimicrobial: In parts of Africa, the leaves are used to make a poultice to dress boils & abscesses. The juice of the Roselle leaves are also squeezed directly into the eye of someone suffering from Conjuctivitice (Pink Eye) in Senegal.

Throat Lozenges: Sudanese people consume the “sour tea” made to ease a sore throat

Emollient: A paste made from the leaves can be used to soften the skin, especially places such as the heels that often get cracked


Ways to Eat Sorrel/ Roselle

  1. Ground seeds are a common coffee substitute across the African continent

  2. Food colouring

  3. Desert garnishes & flavouring in Egypt in the form of Roselle syrups

  4. Soda in Mexico

  5. Chutney across India

  6. Wine

  7. Tea

  8. Lemonade

  9. Roselle Seed oil is used for cooking in Tanzania, China & Chad though it’s now deemed unhealthy to ingest & safer as a cosmetic

Doctor’s Opinion with Dr. Knight @adventuresfromelle

I’m glad more and more Jamaicans are consuming sorrel outside of Christmas season because it’s a flower with so many amazing health benefits as Mia listed. While sorrel isn’t a replacement for blood pressure lowering medications if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, it can be used as an adjunct to control the condition. There have been drug interactions between sorrel and chloroquine, a drug used to treat or prevent malaria, so avoid drinking sorrel if you’re taking a quinine derivative. Also, limit sorrel consumption if you’re taking medications for diabetes as sorrel can lower blood sugar levels as well and you don’t want to end up with hypoglycemia. Lastly, for sorrel to be considered a healthy drink, don’t add too much sugar or alcohol since that’s conterproductive to its health benefits.

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