Gul-e-khatmi – The Queen of Tropics

Dr. Vikas Sharma, Abeeda Mushtaq
The shrub Hibiscus rosa-sinensis also known as Gul-e-khatmi, China rose, Roselle, Jasund, Urhul, Gudhal, Lalambri and belongs to family Malvaceae, is one of the 300 species of the genus Hibiscus. It is a native of China and grown as an ornamental plant in gardens throughout India and often planted as a hedge or fence plant. Hibiscus is cultivated for flowers, leaves, stems, seeds and roots. The uses of Hibiscus rosa-sinensis are wide and it includes pharmacological, pharmaceutical and cosmetical applications. It has several forms with varying colours of flowers. In medicine, however the red flowered variety is preferred. It is frost sensitive and will freeze in mild winters, but will re-sprout from the base in spring.
The juice extracted from leaves and flowers is used as natural remedy to treat various diseases. It is used to make eyeliners and shoe polishes. The leaves and flowers of Hibiscus have hair growth promoting and antigreying properties. The plant may have some potential in cosmetic skin care and has been shown to function as an anti-solar agent by absorbing ultraviolet radiation. Hibiscus may have potential uses in weight management. The ability of Hibiscus extract to maintain weight might be due to its polyphenols and flavonoids, which might decrease the accumulation of fat and thus, maintain body weight. The Hibiscus extract may have a beneficial effect on kidneys. It might reduce serum triglycerides, total cholesterol and lipids. Hibiscus may be beneficial in lowering oxidative damage to kidneys. Consumption of Hibiscus tea might produce a uricosuric effect that might be helpful in the excretion of uric acid through urine. This may benefit the deposition of calcium crystals in kidneys and thus, managing kidney stones. It is used for treating loss of appetite, colds, sore throat, heart / nerve diseases, upper respiratory tract pain, inflammation, fluid retention, stomach irritation, disorders of circulation, for dissolving phlegm, as a gentle laxative and as a diuretic to increase urine output. It also works like antibiotics to kill bacteria and worms. The flower can be used as a pH indicator; when used, the flower turns acidic solutions to a dark pink or magenta color and turns basic solutions to green. In foods and beverages, Hibiscus is used as a flavoring agent. It is also used to improve the odor, flavor, or appearance of tea mixtures. Hibiscus tea, made from dried parts (calyx) of the hibiscus plant, is deep red in color. It has a sweet and tart flavor similar to that of cranberries and can be enjoyed either hot or cold. It is a popular drink and is also known as sour tea.
In India, Hibiscus flowers and leaves are used for the cough, antifertility, contraceptive, abortion, diuretic, menorrhagia, bronchitis, emmengogue and demulcent. The flower is used as an accessory, particularly as a hairpiece. It is also used to shine shoes in certain parts, hence the common name “shoeblack plant”. Red Hibiscus flowers are also used for worship; in Hinduism, they are used for the worship of Devi, and in the Bengal area of eastern India, they are used to worship Kali. In areas of Northern Nigeria, Hibiscus has been used to treat constipation. The fleshy red calyx is used in the preparation of jam, jellies and cold and warm teas and drinks. The leaves have been used like spinach. The leaves are used in traditional medicines as emollients and aperients to treat burning sensations, skin disease and constipation. In Egypt, the plant used for the treatment of cardiac and nerve diseases and has been described as diuretic. In Japan, Hibiscus leaves are used as antidiarrheal. In Iran, Hibiscus tea is used for the treatment of hypertension. In western countries, Hibiscus flowers often are found as component of herbal tea mixture. In Thailand, people consume Hibiscus juice to quench thirst.
Traditionally, Hibiscus flowers have been reported to possess antitumor properties, as well as used as analgesic, antipyretic, anti-asthmatic and anti-inflammatory agents. Several studies have proved the presence of anti-oxidant, anti-fungal and antimicrobial properties in flowers of Hibiscus. The plant has been said to be useful against several diseases, including diabetes, inflammation and hepatic disease. There are studies that report that the herb possesses anti cancer properties. It has the ability to remove free radicals that can damage the DNA. Each part of Hibiscus contains a wide range of compounds. Some of the major chemical constituents of Hibiscus are cholesterol, compestrol, stigmasterol, glucose, fructose, flavanoids, hibiscetin, cyanin, glycosides, alkanes, etc. It was reported that phlobatannins, glycosides, saponins, terpenoids including other compounds such as thiamine, riboflavin and niacin are present in leaves, flowers, stem and roots. The pharmacological activities reported by Hibiscus rosa sinensis are immense. Studies are still ongoing to develop Hibiscus rosa sinensis into various formulations. The major advantages are its easy availability, low cost, biocompatibility, least side effects, etc
Before consuming any herb, one should consult an Ayurvedic physician because the herbs may have specific side effects.
(The authors are from the Division of Biochemistry, SKUAST-Jammu)