Hibiscus Tea (Zobo drink)


Hibiscus Sabdariffa or roselle water extract or hibiscus tea, popularly called zobo drink in Nigeria is a readily available and refreshing drink sold by street vendors in most cities in Africa. It is vended from coolers with ice blocks to keep it chill and preserve the zobo drink.

Hibiscus sabdariffa is also called soborodo and is originally from Angola in Africa. It is grown in northern Nigeria and sold as dry flower petals in open markets.This plant is mainly grown for its flower petals and seed which has some medicinal properties. In addition, it has good nutritional value, as it is a good source of some vitamins, minerals and even protein.

zobo drink
zobo drink Ivaschenko Roman/Shutterstock
  • In its raw form, it is often sweetened by boiling it with fruits and presented for consumption without preservatives or additives. Although nowadays, bottled zobo drinks laced with artificial fruit flavours, additives and artificial sweeteners are also available.
  • This natural drink is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron.
  • It is rich in antioxidants, thus helps reduce inflammation which is the initiating process in many chronic diseases. In addition to preventing destruction and death of cells, antioxidants help to repair destroyed body cells. Zobo drinks are rich in antioxidants : flavonoids, beta-carotene and lycopene.
  • Hibiscus sabdariffa has some anti-microbial properties which are attributable to the anthocyanin content, a chemical that has been found to play a vital role in reducing the growth of certain types of bacteria.
  • Zobo drinks as a rich source of iron have been found to increase red blood cell levels in animals. Iron plays a vital role in red blood cell production hence zobo drink may prevent anaemia or help in its treatment.
  • Zobo prepared as herbal tea has been used as an anti-hypertensive tea. It has been shown to reduce blood pressure significantly and when taken in large quantities with antihypertensives, has an additional effect in reducing blood pressure. It is best to monitor your blood pressure closely if you are on antihypertensives and taking zobo drinks regularly. Here, moderation is key.
  • It has been shown to reduce blood sugar in animals but this has not been shown in humans. The addition of sugar and fruits with high glucose contents as a sweetener, makes it very unlikely that the popular street vended zobo drink will reduce blood glucose.
  • In preparing it, the addition of fruits and spices may give additional health benefits. They may also make the zobo drink unsuitable for some persons, for instance addition of large volumes of lemon juice may increase stomach acidity and cause or worsen gastritis with associated burning tummy pain. This makes it unsuitable for an individual with peptic ulcer disease or gastritis.
Hibiscus Tea benefits
Hibiscus Tea benefits/ Double Brain/Shutterstock

Zobo drink and pregnancy


No human studies have been done to ascertain the safety of zobo drinks in pregnancy. No doubt, some people take it in pregnancy and do not observe any side effects. It has been found in animal studies to cause reduction in weight gain for the pregnant mother, by reducing fluid and food intake by the mother. This thereby leads to delivery of low birth weight babies. There are other far reaching effects in these babies namely: delayed puberty, delayed growth spurts and obesity. This is the reason it is best avoided by pregnant women.
It may also cause uterine contraction, so some have used it to induce labour in the final trimester of pregnancy.

Zobo drink in nursing mothers


In nursing mothers, the reduction in fluid and food intake after taking zobo drink, reduces breast milk volume. Of course you need to have enough water to produce breast milk, since breast milk constitutes mainly water.
Secondly, although the drink is from the flower petals, the seed may sometimes be inadvertently included in the dried flower petals. Hibiscus sabdariffa seed contains alcohol which is secreted in breast milk and harmful for a baby. There is evidence that it increases milk production as it increases prolactin secretion.
It is risky to expose a newborn to alcohol because of the negative effects of alcohol, hence it is best for nursing mothers to avoid zobo drinks.

Zobo drink on a low carbs diet


It has very little carbohydrate content hence you can safely take it if you are on a low carbohydrate diet. However, bear in mind that addition of sweeteners and fruits increases the glucose and carbohydrate content.

How to prepare zobo drink


You can prepare zobo drinks by boiling the dried zobo leaves in water to extract the juice. Zobo drinks taken alone taste sour hence the need to add fruits such as pineapple, watermelon and oranges while boiling to sweeten it. You can boil it for 30 minutes to an hour depending on the quantity. The shorter the boiling time, the less the concentration of the juice you can extract. Some people boil it together with fresh spices to improve the taste and to give it a nice aroma. The spices such as ginger, turmeric, garlic and cinnamon could be added to the dry zobo leaves to boil together or you can blend it separately, extract the juice and add to the extracted zobo juice. You need to try both methods to decide your preference.

How to preserve zobo drink


Zobo drink needs to be preserved as soon as it cools to avoid fermentation. It ferments easily at room temperature because of the weather in the tropics. It is best preserved in the refrigerator to keep the temperature low and unconducive for germs to grow.
Addition of lemon juice and ginger may reduce the rate at which it ferments, because these reduce the growth of fungi and bacteria that cause the fermentation of zobo drinks.
Those who prepare it in large quantities for commercial purposes, add other preservatives that further prolong the shelf-life of zobo drinks, making it more tasty and thicker. Fermentation increases fungi, some types of bacterial bacteria growth as well as the protein and vitamin C content of zobo drinks.

Side effects of hibiscus tea

Side effects of consumption of Zobo drink
Although Hibiscus sabdariffa has various health and nutritional benefits, it is not beneficial for every one. This is because some individuals have unique attributes or health conditions that might make it harmful.

Hibiscus tea
Hibiscus tea Leka Talamoni/Shutterstock

In summary, Zobo drinks are a rich source of vitamin C, iron and calcium. Moderation in consumption is key. It is best homemade such that you know the exact constituents for your own health conditions. It is better to avoid it if you are pregnant or if you are a nursing mother.

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Grace is an internist currently practising in Nigeria. She has gained experience practising both in the private and public health sectors over the last ten years. She is passionate about giving patients adequate information about their health conditions. She believes that a large part of the management of chronic diseases lies with patients' understanding of their illnesses and the need for lifestyle modifications and medications.