A balmy, hot day calls for a cool, tangy hibiscus lemonade. In winter, it’s just not the same. Today was the most perfect day to lounge, soak in the sun and enjoy one of these. Summer days seem to pass by with a whisper. If you have to work all day in a sunshine deprived office where the air conditioning is too strong, glued to your desk in a sweater in June…when you get home sit outside with a hibiscus lemonade. There are few pleasures like the discrepancy of temperature between a warm day and a cool flavorful drink.
Some days I just want to drink up the sunshine. Today was one of those days when the moisture of the air actually felt like it was touching the skin, the sun warmed the back yard and a neighbor stopped by. The dogs barked at the birds as I lingered on my patio with my lemonade. I swear there is something more thirst quenching in lemonade than pure water. The tang-iness hits the back of the throat and it’s just so satisfying…ahh. My peace was almost undisturbed until Ciel, my little Miniature Pinscher, got over excited and leaped onto my lap, spilling half my drink all over my pants, shirt and patio furniture. At least now I smell like hibiscus lemonade, not all too bad except that I’m sticky. Next time I’ll use stevia.
Much of the pleasure of drinking hibiscus lemonade is just staring at that red color. It looks flavorful and satisfying and it reflects light like a ruby–it’s intoxicating. Well, not really. This recipe is non-alcoholic and I think I’d rather keep it that way because why kill the health benefits…well, if you need that cocktail, add some rum, but I’m detoxing with this drink. Hibiscus apparently has health benefits by helping those with heart disease and it helps lower cholesterol. Lemon juice helps prevent kidney stones, boosts the immune system and aids digestion.
I used to think that hibiscus was stunning and rare and I wondered how tea companies could waste so many of these rare and precious blossoms for tea until I noticed that in Florida it’s all over. My sister-in-law remarked that growing up, she thought it was a weed because it grows everywhere. I’ve grown up in New York, so I have only seen it grow rarely on potted hibiscus tree branches, looking ragged and just not quite right. It forever reminds me of restful vacations to tropical places and how it is incorporated in some fabric designs on summer skirts. The first time I saw a real palm tree, I was overwhelmed and hugged it. Palm trees and hibiscus are something I have never quite gotten used to, like when people from warm climates are amazed at snow, except eating snow has so much less flavor (unless you eat yellow snow, but that’s not the flavor you want). Surely hibiscus has so many more pleasant uses.
Some may think it’s odd–eating flowers, but hibiscus, rose and lavender taste really good. I won’t go grazing on them like a cow or even munching on blossoms, but for flavoring smoothies, iced cream and teas, they’re pretty awesome. If you’ve never tried it, hibiscus tastes fruity. The tea that I use for this lemonade tastes almost like pomegranate, but I’d say even better.
The temperature lately here has been in the 80s and I can see the flowers bloom in the garden, although some parasite is attacking my roses. I won’t try to grow hibiscus because in New York it’s just too fragile. Whether it’s the crankiness of New Yorkers or the temperature and moisture are not right, but hibiscus does not like to grow here. So it will always be rare to me.
One thing that’s important when making this lemonade is to get the sweet and sour balance right. Too sour can be a turn off and too sweet can be too intense. Be sure to get the right balance between lemon juice and honey. I highly recommend honey for the hibiscus lemonade because it gives the flavor extra complexity and blends very easily. If you’re using sugar, you have to soak it in boiling water first to make sure it dissolves, otherwise there will be all these granules of sugar. If you’re using stevia to limit calories, I still recommend blending it with a bit of honey, so that it has more flavor. Although stevia is sweet, its taste is not very complex and it really doesn’t add enough flavor to lemonade to balance the tart lemon juice.
Also there has been so much talk lately about stevia. I’ve read everywhere online that it’s bad for your health, but I’ve been using Sweetleaf brand since 2005, back when no one heard of it and every study I read seemed to indicate it was safe and healthy. Stevia was a very foreign word on everyone’s tongues. Now all of a sudden there’s all this talk of stevia and health safety…from what I understand is that as long as it is processed without chemicals, it’s safe, even beneficial, and has been used safely for 30 years in Japan, but I have read that Truvia and other brands chemically process the plant, which obviously contaminates it with substances that might have adverse effects. I saved this wonderful article by a doctor who researched this from a couple of years ago on stevia that explained the stevia question so well, but of course I lost that bookmark somewhere in my Pinterest black hole. Instead, here is an article by Dr. Andrew Weil that helps clarify the stevia issue.
Sweetener aside, drink up the summer before it’s gone. And make it good. Put on some music, get the grill going and don’t forget the lemonade.
4-5 bags of Republic of Tea Hibiscus Lychee Tea or dried 1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers
Lemon juice from 3-4 lemons
Honey or organic sugar (or stevia)
1/2 liter boiling water
1/2 liter ice water
1. Boil hot water in a tea kettle, pour a small amount over organic sugar, mix and stir until it melts. If you are using honey skip this step.
2. Use half of the boiled water and add the tea bags or hibiscus flowers and let brew for 5 minutes.
3. Squeeze lemons into the mixture and mix well. Taste and adjust the sweetness. There should be an ideal balance between tart and sweet.
4. Add iced water and mix. Again taste and adjust the tartness and sweetness.
5. Chill in the refrigerator for an hour.