Jamaica – the other kind – and a healthy heart

Jamaica Drink

Flowers can be good for more than beauty. I learned about this one while living in a farm valley in Northern California. Summers were very hot, shimmering heat trapped between the surrounding mountains. Farm laborers worked the vegetable fields, hoeing and weeding, then harvesting the crops. They wore long sleeves and covered their heads with hats, fabric falling down from the brims to cover their necks. This was to keep from sunburn. Alongside, narrow roofed wagons provided resting stations with benches. There was also a large thermos for a refreshing drink. More often than not, the thermos was full of a bright red drink, Jamaica (pronounced hahMYca).

The farm workers were often from Mexico and they were often interested in picking up paid work on the side, after their duties in the field were finished. I was introduced to Pablo and Jesus in this way. These gentlemen trimmed the trees in my walnut orchard and mowed my grass. They became friends. And they showed me how to make Jamaica, a refreshing and healthy drink that quenches thirst and lowers blood pressure. I began drinking it regularly and served it to them when they came to my house. It was a godsend in the heat, but healthy anytime.

Jamaica is a species of hibiscus that grows in the hot arid climate of Mexico. The red flowers are steeped in hot water, just like any other tea. The water turns a beautiful red and has a slightly tart, refreshing taste. You can buy jamaica in most Mexican groceries and in some health food stores. In Mexican groceries, it is often seen loose-leaf (although it is really a flower) in huge bins, sold by the pound.

As found in markets: dry Jamaica blossoms

Recipe for Jamaica Tea

One handful of dried Jamaica blossoms, tossed into…

one-half gallon very hot water

Let steep for thirty minutes.

Notes on recipe: Where I lived, it was so hot that I usually made sun tea by adding a handful of blossoms to a large glass jar of water. I’d let it sit in the hot sun most of the day. Then I’d cool it. I prefer to drink jamaica cold, because I think it’s more refreshing, but hot tea is fine. Sugar or not? Some people add sugar to their jamaica tea. I preferred the natural tart taste; and it’s more healthy that way.

Health benefits: Jamaica tops some lists of foods that lower blood pressure. My doctor gave me such a list when she discovered my blood pressure was slightly elevated, and jamaica was listed number one. High blood pressure causes all sorts of problems including heart attack and stroke. Lowering it through frequent drinking of jamaica was very pleasant. Jamaica is also high in vitamin C and anti-oxidants. Drinking the tea also keeps you hydrated, which benefits all body systems.

Cultural Notes:

Jamaica is a favorite drink in many countries. I saw it for sale by Afghan street vendors, as well as on the streets of Cairo, Egypt. West and east African countries, Caribbean countries, Asia countries…it is a part of all their cultures although it goes by different names. If you want to try one tradition, here are two recipes I’ve adapted from traditional Christmas foods served in the country of Jamaica: hibiscus tea and sweet potato wedges.

Sorrel Drink (dried hibiscus blossoms are known as Sorrel in the country of Jamaica):

Prepare tea as for Jamaica (above), but add 2 TBSP ginger before steeping. Another version calls for mixing the steeped tea with purple grape juice. Yummy and doubly healthy.

Sweet Potato Wedges

Wash and slice sweet potatoes into wedges. In a large bowl, toss the wedges with just enough olive oil to lightly coat. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper and 1 tsp paprika. Spread wedges on a nonstick tray and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a fork.

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