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On a high-biscus!
Imagine the rustle of grass skirts and the gentle sway of beautiful, bronzed Hula girls dancing to the tune of the ukulele. No self-respecting Hula miaden would be caught without one of these beautiful five-petalled blossoms in her cascading dark hair. It stands to reason a certain deep red-throated variety is even named after the Hula Girl.
Tahitian women wear it in the self-same way as the Hula girl; not as a decoration but to symbolise their availability for marriage – and they probably don’t stay available for very long, not when wearing the hibiscus.
Highly valued in ancient times, some varieties are dubbed the Rose of Sharon along with a few sisters from the mallow (malvaceae) family. So Rosemallow, another of its names, makes perfect sense. And yes, the delightful marshmallow was derived from the root of a plant from the mallow family.
Thought to be a native of India, Indonesia, Malaysia and West Africa, the striking colours of the hibiscus rosa-sinensis is befitting of the warm climates in these parts.
But lo and behold, this subtropical beauty blooms in our nippy New Zealand autumn! Indeed, there is more to this delicate flower than meets the eye.
For starters, it comes in all colours of the rainbow, from deep shades to light pastels. Its flowers may be short-lived (a day or two), but new buds appear every morning, and virtually all year round if conditions are right.
Gardens scattered with freshly-fallen hibiscuses can be a pretty scene, although some people may find it annoying.
Not just beautiful on the outside, the hibiscus plant also offers a number of health and beauty benefits. The flowers are known to serve as an astringent and its root is used to soothe overactive mucous membranes, which make it suitable for colds and winter ills.
In particular, the hibiscus sabdariffa or roselle, is often used in herbal remedies and studies have shown that it lowers blood pressure in hypertensive patients. It may also help in lowering cholesterol levels, mimicking the benefits of red wine.
It helps that this variety exudes exquisite flavour and fragrance, and gourmet stores including Sabato, Nosh and Farro are known to stock wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. A single flower is exceptionally dazzling when steeped in champagne or sparkling wine and imparts a pretty pink colour while also subtly sweetens the drink.
It takes the cake in desserts such as wild hibiscus pavlovas and makes starring debuts in a variety of jams, jellies and glazes to add pizzazz and amp up the gourmet factor.
Likewise, hibiscus teas are pleasant to drink and are often used in combination with other herbal ingredients to enhance flavour while maintaining health benefits.
Beauty gurus in Asia are also known to use the flower as a hair dye for that natural, glossy sheen. Its bark is also used to regulate menstruation. Fashionistas are catered for too, with the bark used in grass skirts and for wigs in Polynesia.
For some winter hydration, try hibiscus seed oil which is chock-full of vitamin E and other moisturising goodies that feeds and quenches thirsty skin effectively.
Beauty on both the inside and out is a rare find. So grow a little slice of island paradise in New Zealand, and wait for the Hula girls to dance in the garden – all through autumn.
Click here for more information on how to grow hibiscus.