Purple hibiscus: The sweet, calming tea

Newton Wambugu believes he is on the verge of something big.

His farm, some 15km off Nyeri town, has become an attraction to farmers.

“I started the project last year. My aim is to provide alternative tea with health benefits ,” he told the Seeds of Gold team when we visited the farm full of blooming purple hibiscus tea plants.

While the processing stages of black teas exhaust its nutrients, Wambugu says hibiscus teas are nutritious and need no preservatives added for longer shelf life.

The decision to begin growing hibiscus teas was inspired by doctors who diagnosed him with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

While at the hospital, his doctor suggested that rather than spending money on drugs, he should try taking hibiscus tea.

“I was hesitant at first but then I thought to myself why not? I decided to resign from my work and venture into agriculture to help my situation and other people,” he said.

Hibiscus tea is largely grown in Uganda, Tanzania, and in Chad in Africa and in parts of Europe. In Kenya it is cultivated in Kirinyaga and Tharaka Nithi by small scale farmers.

Wambugu, 40, is currently trying to contract other farmers who will help him produce in bulk to manage the processing and packaging costs as well as meet the growing demand.

“I am contracting more farmers to produce hibiscus for me so as to matches the market demand that is already available,” he said.

He started the venture by propagating five plants. They now cover one and a half acre.

SWEET AND CALMING

“Hibiscus is grown the same way farmers grow maize or beans and commonly the seedlings, when propagated in a seedbed, are transplanted when they are three to four inches high in an open field,” he said.

The spacing requires a farmer to plant the plant three feet apart in rows.

“I grow the teas organically with no use of pesticides to rid of aphids and white flies which are a common a threat,” added Wambugu.

He instead uses plants like the spring onions, Mexican marigold and garlic onion to repel the pest invasions.

Hibiscus tea are ruby in colour with a tart, cranberry-like flavour and can be consumed hot or cold.

While germinating, the plant first produces a flower and after three weeks it forms a fruit with seeds which is covered by purple sepals and calyxes.

“The hibiscus calyxes are best harvested when fully grown but still tender for drying which is mostly done under the sun to suck out all the moisture,” said Wambugu.

Before drying the calyxes, a farmer is advised to clean them in preparation for grinding and packaging of the teas.

The plant does not require too much water. “It actually produces more during the dry seasons while growth is delayed during the cold season. However, it does not wither during the hot seasons,” he said .

One plant can produce 200 grammes of calyxes. A 50g box contains 25 tea bags will retail at Sh330 in the supermarkets when he gets the accreditation by Kenya Bureau of Standards which is underway although he already has a good number of customers who say the product is sweet and calming.

The tea industry is in a stalemate after the industrial court’s ruling of a 30 percent pay increase for tea sector workers.

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