« Tiare au mau, te tiare aute
Aue o te au e, te uvaa vaa
te ahiahi e Oteaue
la tapiri mai
E au nei au, to papari’a
Mai te tiare
Te uvaa vaamai i te ahiahi e O te au e ia tapiri mai » – Eddie Lund
Generally called tiare ‘aute in Polynesia, the hibiscus travelled a long way before arriving to our islands. From the latin “rosa sinensis”, which means “rose of China”, the one often referred to as island girl is said to be native from Asia and the Pacific islands. In ancient Greek, “hibískos” used to designate the marshmallow, the plant from which the yummy gelatinous sweet is derived.
After a smile and a tattoo, it is probably the most beautiful adornment a woman can wear. Thus, along with the tiare Tahiti, the hibiscus is the favourite flower of Tahitian women.
Unlike most flowers, known for their fragile and ephemeral nature, the ‘aute’s blossoming happens to last quite a long time and it appears to resist climatic variations. Nevertheless, if you wish to put it on the back of your ear, pick it early in the morning, right after its opening. When the sun goes down, the flower winds up around itself. Do not even think about using it as a last-minute accessory for your tête-à-tête dinner.
Used as a little indoor plant in the Northern hemisphere, the hibiscus is to be found everywhere in our islands, it is on the edge of every path and delimits every house.
Thus, the rosa sinensis is not to be mistaken for the hibiscus tiliaceus, the second variety which grows in Polynesia and that we commonly call purau.
On the island of Tahiti, the ‘aute maohi or ‘aute raau is easily recognizable due to its bright red color. Simple, unadorned, it is omnipresent and embodies the warmth, exoticism and authenticity, which are our distinctive features. If one cannot estimate the date of its importation with a certainty, in 1769 Sydney Parkinson drew some sketches of it, which testifies of its existence back then. He was part of the first expedition James Cook undertook and kept dried flowers from his expedition, which are now stocked in the British Museum of London.
The hibiscus flower is not just a fancy embellishment, it presents softening properties and therapeutic virtues. Besides, you may have already encountered it glancing through the shelf of a pharmacy or at a herbalist’s.
First and foremost, it helps draining and detoxifying the organism, purifying blood and liver and contributes to accelerate intestinal transit. A cure based on flowers, it could be worse…
Its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties contribute to protect the internal walls of the respiratory tract, the blood vessels and the intestines. As an infusion or a decoction, the flowers enable to calm cough and fight against tonsillitis.
Rich in A, C and E vitamins, it helps fighting off temporary exhaustion and strain. It is also recommended in case of slight arterial hypertension.
In powder, as an infusion, a decoction, a jelly, a marmalade or a syrup, the hibiscus is everywhere!
With its sweet and slightly acidulous taste, the hibiscus flower makes a great refreshing drink, particularly appreciated during hot summer days. In Polynesia, we call it ava ‘aute, a yummy hydrating drink many envy. Of an attracting crimson red, you can drink the beverage plain or with some cinnamon and ginger.
Nothing better than a good grandma recipe… Nowadays, the success of the flower is such that even the American giant Starbucks undertook to decline it in a range of iced teas.
Rich in minerals, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium and sodium, the consumption of hibiscus seems to only present advantages. Several gourmet restaurants already incorporate ‘aute sorbets and jellies to their meals. Eventually, parsimoniously scattered, the petals add color to your plate.
Rich in antioxidants and mucilages, these viscous vegetal substances which look like gelatine, the hibiscus works wonders on both body and hair. When you drink it as an infusion, results quickly show on your appearance but the best is definitely to apply it as a mask on your face if you want a perfect glow. Its softening, hydrating and emollient properties will make miracles as a day cream.
Real moisturizer, the ‘aute will nourish your hair and help untangle it. In addition to that, the hibiscus is said to be a great treatment to stop hair loss, it will make your hair softer, shiny, glossy and considerably thicker. Besides, if you apply it on your scalp, the rose of China will stimulate hair growth and eliminate dandruff.
Eventually, if you have white hair, note that the hibiscus will slow hair whitening and can be used as a way to revive color and add shiny tints.
If you just acquired an hibiscus, keep it nice, cosy and warm in its pot before releasing it out in the wilds. Indeed, if you repot the plant, you will disturb it and probably damage it as the hibiscus likes to be rather cramped.
Progressively, you will be able to move it in a bigger pot while taking care of placing it in the sun, sheltering it from the wind. The best is to mix soil with compost. Add small balls of clay or gravels at the bottom of the pot so as to make drainage easier and prevent the roots from suffocating.
Depending on both climate and ambient humidity, do not forget to regularly water the plants (once or twice a week), not too much since the hibiscus cannot bear to be soaked.
Eventually, even though the ‘aute maohi remains the most spread over Polynesia, other specimens come to life. Indeed, it is nowadays possible to create brand new ones by resorting to cutting, grafting or budding, which several gardening lovers strive to do.
Nevertheless, it is now possible to create hybrid varieties by artificial cross-pollination, a subtle technique only a few excel in. The only problem is that you cannot predict the result nor the color ahead.
And, as you may know, a picture is worth a thousand words, which is why you should take a look at the beauties I found in my garden this morning…