During the late 1800s, thanks to the success of a number of industries — wrecking, sponging and agriculture among them — Green Turtle Cay enjoyed a true golden age.
Perhaps not surprising, given that their British ancestors valued the flower for its beauty and perfume and used it to make medicines and teas, many Loyalist gardens in Abaco featured roses. Prized varieties were passed on by family members and neighbours.
Peach hibiscus in the garden of the Lowe Art Gallery.
Peach hibiscus – Green Turtle Cay
Pink hibiscus at the Albert Lowe Museum – Green Turtle Cay.
Pink hibiscus – Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.
Hibiscus bush at the Albert Lowe Museum – Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas.
Before they had access to local doctors, neighbourhood pharmacies or affordable transportation, many Bahamians relied on “bush medicine”, the practice of using indigenous plants and herbs to treat ailments and cure illness. My grandmother’s favourite bush remedies were aloe (for burns) and cerasee (for pretty much everything else.)
Though largely replaced in recent years by modern pharmaceuticals, bush medicine is experiencing a revival as people seek more natural and holistic remedies. To preserve and promote traditional practices, Richard (“Blue”) Jones has created a bush medicine garden at the Captain Roland Roberts Environmental Center in Green Turtle Cay. He’s promised to sit down with me next trip and teach me about bush medicine, and of course, I’ll share what I learn here.
In the meantime, I came across a simple, delicious-sounding recipe for hibiscus bush tea on the blog Everywhere with Eryn: “Cut up lemon grass and mint and pull flower petals from hibiscus and put in a tea bag. Put in boiling water and let steep until the color of the tea is a deep pink.” Add a squeeze of lime (and maybe a little honey to cut the cranberry-like tartness) and you’ve got a terrific treatment for colds and flu.
Eryn reports that this bush tea worked better than any over-the-counter medication for her cold/allergy symptoms. Makes sense, since according to bush medicine practitioners, mint is an effective treatment for congestion and digestive issues, lemongrass helps with fever and cough, and lime and hibiscus are both great sources of Vitamin C. Hibiscus is also said to be rich in antioxidants, and studies have shown that hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in adults with mild hypertension. (It should go without saying that I’m not a doctor, and nothing you read here should be construed as medical advice.)
Turns out that many cultures around the world — from Africa and the Middle East to Central and Latin America and the Caribbean — make some version of hibiscus tea (also known as roselle, sorrel, flor de jamaica or karkade). Here are just a few of the many recipes I’ve found.
If you don’t have access to pesticide-free hibiscus plants, you can buy the dried flowers at health food stores or online (I found a number of suppliers on Amazon.com.) And if you try any of these recipes, let me know what you think.