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It's so real health benefits of sorrel
published: Wednesday | December 18, 2002

Sorrel being sold in Coronation Market, downtown Kingston.

Jamaica's traditional Christmas drink, sorrel, is more than mere refreshment, it provides health benefits beyond its basic nutrition.

A REFRESHING glass of sorrel, with just a touch of ginger, is a drink rarely refused by Jamaicans during the Christmas season. The deep red-coloured drink, however, is more than mere refreshment, it is coming into its own as a functional food ­ food that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition.

Local scientists at the Northern Caribbean University reported earlier this year, for instance, that cancerous liver cells, treated with an extract of the sorrel seed, decreased in activity and dramatic cell death occurred.

Even while local researchers are feverishly pursuing these studies, other scientists all over the world are interested in the hidden medicinal value of the plant. Researchers in Britain, for instance, are testing the plant's effect on essential hypertension. In their paper presented last May at the Iranian Students' Seminar, they reported that there was a convergence between the public's belief and in vitro studies on the effects of sour tea (sorrel) on high blood pressure ­ two experimental groups of 54 patients provided sufficient information linking a decline in the systolic and diastolic blood pressures to sorrel (Hibiscus Sabdariffa).

At the Mexican Institute of Social Security, 'sorrel water' was linked to a significant decline in cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood and also to protection against heart disease. Abigail Aguilar Contreras, a Mexican scientist, believe that it is a good habit to consume sorrel water daily to decrease the risk of heart disease. It also helps to prevent the clogging of arteries resulting from excessive levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.

Researchers at the Scientific Research Council (SRC), who have been studying the plant and creating new exotic sorrel products, report that sorrel contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, calcium, niacin, riboflavin and a group of compounds known as flavonoids.

These antioxidant compounds are found in the calyces (the red sepals that are used in the sorrel drink). Flavonoids are plant compounds, antioxidants, found in a variety of fruits and vegetables and also in tea and red wine, believed to boost health partly by acting against the process of oxidation in the body. It is during this process of oxidation that free radicals, substances that damage the cells, accumulates. Oxidation have been linked to an increasing risk for several illnesses such as heart disease and stroke. More flavonoids in the diet has been linked in various studies to a reduced risk for these conditions.

In India, Africa and Mexico, the plant hold significant value in native medicine. The leaves or calyces are infused and used as a diuretic (stimulating the passing of urine); a hypotensive (to lower the blood pressure) and also to stimulate the production of bile by the liver. The leaves are also heated in some parts of the world and applied to boils and ulcers. The seeds are also said to exhibit diuretic properties and is also used as a tonic.

In East Africa, the calyx is infused to make a tea ­ the "Sudan tea"­ taken to relieve coughs; Brazilians find medicinal value in the bitter roots.

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