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The Ancient Egyptian Drink of the Pharaohs: Hibiscus Tea- Karkadeh

posted on: Sep 20, 2022

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

We can learn a lot from ancient civilizations, as they intuitively knew that food and drink can have dual medicinal value, and the Pharaohs of Egypt were no exception. Hibiscus tea, otherwise known as Karkadéh, was the preferred drink of the pharaohs, and the popularity of this beverage continues to this day. Karkadéh is a tea made by boiling the hibiscus flower, but there is so much more to this plant than its sweet fragrance and bright pink color. 

This tea is also an elixir for overall health. According to Web MD, hibiscus improves heart health, cholesterol, diabetes and even hypertension. In one medical study, patients who drank this tea three times a day lowered their systolic and diastolic readings. This tea is also touted for being an appetite suppressant, a great beverage to aid in combatting junk food cravings. 

Rich in vitamin C, calcium, and iron, the flowers, leaves, and seeds of the hibiscus are all edible. However, the calyx is the main part of the plant,which becomes big, red and juicy after the flowers die. Thus, the calyx has been used for tea, syrups, and jellies. As for flavor profile,  hibiscus has a hint of sweetness and fruitiness. Imagine a cross between pomegranate and cranberry, which pair harmoniously with lemons for a tangy yet floral lemonade.

Vendors sell Karkadeh, or hibiscus lemonade, throughout the streets of Egypt, clanging cymbals to get attention the way an ice cream truck plays children’s songs. The vendors meander through the busy streets, train stations and bus depots with the grace of a ballet dancer, often wearing a bouquet of the trademark flower on their sash as they pour the tea into long glasses for a quick sip on the streets.  

This drink has even been part of ceremonial traditions. Wedding parties In both Egypt and Sudan love toasting the bride and groom with a glass of this festive tea. Even in China the hibiscus flower represents good luck and happiness during marriage ceremonies. 

To prepare hibiscus lemonade, all you need are hibiscus flowers, which you can order online, or tea bags if you want an easier option. However the flowers are far more fragrant and rich tasting than the tea bags. You will also need orange blossom water, which you can find in any middle eastern or Indian market. As for sweetener, Egyptians use honey but you can use regular sugar or stevia for a sugar free option. Garnish the tea with fresh mint and berries to bring out the flavor of the hibiscus even more. 

For a video tutorial of how to make Karkadeh, click on the link below:


  • ¼ cup dried hibiscus flowers, or 3 hibiscus tea bags
  • Juice of 3 lemons, or ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp orange blossom water
  • ¼ cup of honey or sugar, you can also use stevia or monkfruit for a sugar free option
  • Fresh mint and berries for garnish
  • Add the hibiscus flowers to the infuser of a tea kettle, or add tea bags instead. Fill the kettle up to 75% full, bring to a boil and bring the water to a rapid boil. Let the hibiscus steep in the hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. In a pitcher stir the lemon juice, orange blossom water, and honey. Remove the flowers in the diffuser from the tea. Add some of the hot tea to the lemon mixture, and stir to dissolve the sugar or honey. Add a couple of cups of ice, then add the remaining tea to fill to the top. Garnish with mint and berries and serve. 

Blanche Shaheen is the author of the cookbook called “Feast In the Middle East, a Journey of Family and Cuisine”  which you can order here:   She is also a journalist, and host of the popular cooking show called Feast in the Middle East. She specializes in Arab cuisine of the Levant and beyond.  You can check out her cooking video tutorials at    Her recipes can also be found at: