Hibiscus (Sorrel)

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Poop Friendly:Whether a food has qualities that help baby poop. Yes
Common Allergen: No
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dried hibiscus before being prepared for babies starting solid food

When can babies have hibiscus?

Hibiscus flowers, if served as part of a solid food meal (or sauce), may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is usually around 6 months of age. Avoid serving hibiscus drinks to babies younger than 12 months of age, as they could displace valuable nutrition from breast/human milk or formula.

Where does hibiscus come from?

Dazzling hibiscus flowers grow in lots of gardens as decoration, but certain varieties, like the crimson-colored roselle or sorrel, are prized for their edible sepals—the protective leaves that encase a flower bud before it blooms. These hibiscus varieties thrive wherever there is plenty of rain and sun, from their native lands of Africa and South Asia to the tropics of the Americas, where the plant was introduced by European colonizers and enslaved people from Africa. After harvest, the sepals are separated from their seed and often dried, though they also can be eaten fresh or cooked. Popular in the Caribbean and beyond, the worldwide use of hibiscus flower and its edible foliage has resulted in many names: ambadi, chin baung, flor de Jamaica, gongura, ishapa, and pitwaa, to name a few.

Amelia, 14 months, tries a small taste of hibiscus tea from an open cup.
Cooper, 20 months, eats oats cooked with hibiscus.
Julian, 24 months, drinks hibiscus tea from an open cup.

Is hibiscus healthy for babies?

Yes, when served in solid food. The calyx of the hibiscus plant, the edible outermost part of the flower, contains fiber for digestion and a healthy microbiome, as well as calcium, important for the growth of strong bones.1 Hibiscus flowers also offer a combination of iron and vitamin C—two nutrients that work together to combat anemia and promote the growth of healthy tissue. Because of their antioxidant and anthocyanin content, hibiscus may also boast anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-diabetic properties.2

Avoid serving hibiscus drinks to babies younger than 12 months of age, as they could displace valuable nutrition from breast/human milk or formula. Reserve candied hibiscus flowers and sweetened hibiscus drinks for older children. Traditionally, hibiscus may have been used as a mild laxative, so keep this in mind when serving to babies: start off with small amounts of the flower to reduce the risk of digestive discomfort.3

★Tip: Store dried hibiscus flower in a cool, dry, dark place, away from other strong-smelling products like coffee or spices, for up to 2 years.4

Is hibiscus a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes. Whole flowers, when left intact, are potential choking hazards as they are challenging to chew. To minimize the risk, finely chop hibiscus flowers with seeds removed (which is how they are typically sold) or use the flowers to infuse other foods with their flavor. As always, make sure you create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our sections on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is hibiscus a common allergen?

No. Allergies to hibiscus are rare, though individuals with allergies to hollyhock flowers or sensitive to foods with tannins in them may be sensitive. Also, those with Oral Allergy Syndrome who are allergic to ragweed may be sensitive to hibiscus.5 Oral Allergy Syndrome typically results in short-lived itching, tingling, or burning in the mouth and is unlikely to result in a dangerous reaction. Handling fresh hibiscus has been reported to result in a contact rash in sensitive individuals, so take care if you are harvesting the flowers yourself.6

Note: Hibiscus is frequently grown on the same plots of land as peanuts, in an agricultural practice known as intercropping. During harvesting of hibiscus flowers, there is a small possibility that peanut might inadvertently make its way into the supply.7 Therefore, you may see cautionary labels on packages of dried hibiscus flowers warning of this possibility.

As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity of hibiscus for the first few servings. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.

How do you introduce hibiscus to babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 9 months old: Serve rehydrated and finely chopped hibiscus flowers by folding them into soft scoopable foods like mashed vegetables or yogurt or cooked into other meat, fish, or grain dishes. Mash the finely chopped hibiscus flowers in goat cheese or ricotta cheese for a tangy topping to spread on a teething rusk or thin rice cake. Or use the water from steeping hibiscus flowers as a base for cooking grains, stewed chicken, or pulled pork. To rehydrate a dried hibiscus flower, simply soak in hot water. Once soft, finely chop.

9 to 12 months old: Continue serving rehydrated and finely chopped hibiscus flowers in balls and patties, scoopable foods like mashed vegetables, and spreads. To rehydrate dried hibiscus flower, simply soak in hot water. Once soft, finely chop. Have some herbal hibiscus tea and want to share with baby? A small sip of unsweetened, caffeine-free hibiscus drink from an open cup is okay on occasion, but generally, wait until after 12 months to offer these drinks so they don’t displace the necessary nutrition from breast/human milk or formula.

12 to 24 months old: Tea time! This is a perfectly appropriate time to explore unsweetened and caffeine-free hibiscus teas or make your own hibiscus or sorrel concoction. Just refrain from adding any sweeteners to give the toddler time to develop a palate for unsweetened food and drink. And be ready for the possibility of some mess! Spills are common as toddlers learn to drink from a cup, and hibiscus stains easily. You may, of course, continue to serve rehydrated and finely chopped hibiscus flowers cooked in a variety of solid foods, from warm grain dishes to quesadillas.

Which cups are best for baby? Read more in our Cup Drinking FAQs.

What are recipe ideas for cooking with hibiscus?

Hibiscus flower can be eaten fresh, but unless you live near a grower, dried hibiscus flower may be easier to find. All you need to do is rehydrate dried hibiscus flower in hot water. From there, use hibiscus flower to add bright color and tangy flavor to sauces like chutney, molé, or salsa. Try stuffing hibiscus flower into empanadas, quesadillas, or tacos, as is popular in Mexico. Cook hibiscus flower in curries, soups, or stews. Or steep hibiscus flower to make refreshing drinks like agua de jamaica, bissap, karkade, zobo, or sorrel, a popular infusion of hibiscus flower, ginger, and spices in Jamaica.

It would be wise to reserve sweetened hibiscus drinks for older children, but babies and toddlers can enjoy the tart flavor of hibiscus flower, too. Try stewing apple, pear, or your favorite fruit in water with hibiscus flower, which tints the flesh with bright pink color and balances the fruit’s naturally sweet flavor. Baby can enjoy the fruit, and the poaching liquid can be sweetened to make a tea for yourself and older children.

Recipe: Stewed Fruit with Hibiscus Flower

two apple halves that have been cooked in hibiscus water and are bright pink, with shreds of dried hibiscus flower sprinkled next to them on a marble background

Yield: 1 cup (170 grams)
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Age: 6 months+

Ingredients

  • 1 apple, pear, or firm fruit of choice
  • ¼ cup (10 grams) dried hibiscus flowers
  • 2 cups (480 milliliters) water
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

Directions

  1. Wash, dry, and peel the apple.
  2. Halve the apple, then cut away and discard the core, seeds, and stem.
  3. Place the apple halves, hibiscus flowers, water, and spice in a small pot.
  4. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat to create a gentle simmer.
  5. Cook until the apple halves are completely soft, between 10 and 15 minutes.
  6. Use a sieve or slotted spoon to transfer the apple halves and hibiscus flowers from the water to a cutting board. Let the apple halves cool to room temperature. Reserve the hibiscus flowers for another use. Discard the cooking water or sweeten it with maple syrup or honey to make a tea for yourself or older children.
  7. Serve the apple halves as finger food or, if you like, mash the apple halves for baby to scoop up with hands. To encourage the use of a utensil, simply preload a spoon and rest it next to the food for the child to try to pick up. Alternatively, pass the preloaded spoon in the air for baby to grab.

To Store: Stewed Fruit with Hibiscus Flower keeps in an air-tight container in the fridge for 1 week.

Flavor Pairings

The tart flavor of hibiscus flower pairs well with chicken, coconut, lime, pork, pumpkin, and shrimp.

Reviewed by

E. Cerda, MSN, CNS, LDN

A. Gilbaugh, RD, CNSC

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

Dr. S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

Dr. R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. Riaz, G., & Chopra, R. (2018). A review on phytochemistry and therapeutic uses of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & Pharmacotherapie, 102, 575–586. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopha.2018.03.023. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  2. Riaz, G., & Chopra, R. (2018). A review on phytochemistry and therapeutic uses of Hibiscus sabdariffa L. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy = Biomedecine & Pharmacotherapie, 102, 575–586. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopha.2018.03.023. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  3. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. 1st ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., 1998.
  4. Teatulia. What is hibiscus? Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  5. Kashyap, R. R. & Kashyap, R. S. (2015). Oral allergy syndrome: an update for stomatologists. Journal of Allergy, 543928. DOI: 10.1155/2015/543928. Retrieved September 9, 2021.
  6. Zawar, V., Daga, S., Pawar, M., & Kumavat, S. (2018). “Chaturthy fingers” caused by Hibiscus rosasinensis. Contact Dermatitis, 78(2), 161–162. doi:10.1111/cod.12875. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018). Voluntary recall notice of el guapo Jamaica hibiscus flower pouches due to unlabeled peanut allergen. Retrieved October 29, 2021.