Karkadeh – Pharaoh’s tonic

Karkadeh (hibiscus tea) كركديه عناب

One of the many things I love about Egypt is Karkadeh/Karkady or Hibiscus tea, which can be served hot or chilled. It is refreshing in summer and warming in winter. This luscious deep ruby red drink is made from the Hibiscus sabdariffa plant using the dried calyces (surprisingly this is not the actual flower but the casing that forms around the seed pod.) It can be drunk hot or cold and even spiced up with cinnamon and cloves should you desire it. Delightfully refreshing cold on a hot day or warming and soothing as a tea in winter. It is mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus (an ancient Egyptian medical document) as a remedy for coughs. As it is packed with vitamin C and other lovely things, it is excellent as a gentle remedy for colds and sore throats; it is popular as a diuretic and remedy for high blood pressure, especially for type 2 diabetics; it also contains vitamin C, essential minerals and polyphenols….and tastes delicious, similar to cranberry juice in its tartness.

Hibiscus from Upper Egypt is highly prized and the dried calyces can be found on any herb and spice stall in the souks and markets and have a beautiful pungent, tart odour.

Egyptian hibiscus plantations are mainly found in the Upper Egypt regions of Qena and Aswan and in the oasis of Fayoum. John Feeney has written a fascinating article on ‘The Red Tea of Egypt’ here 

A recipe for Karkadeh

¼ cup dried hibiscus calyces

10 cups cold water

½-1 cup sugar (optional –  the juice is quite tart and you can either add the sugar now or add a teaspoonful when in your cup; replace with honey if you prefer – if drinking the juice cold you may appreciate sweetening at this point)


Place the water and hibiscus in a pan and bring to the boil. Add the sugar (if wanted) and then simmer for around 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture in a sieve or coffee filter paper – be careful hibiscus stains everything bright red!

If drinking the juice cold, leave it to cool and place in the fridge; you can then add ice cubes and a slice of lemon or lime if you wish.

For a spicy, warm punch (similar to a mulled wine but without the wine!) add some cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise and orange/lemon slices before you leave it to simmer. It is delicious to poach pears in as well.


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