July 2, 2010

Hibiscus is my favorite natural soap colorant. Not because it creates a vibrant color in my soaps but because hibiscus has so many beneficial uses. I learned about hibiscus as a tea when I was a student living in Mexico during the early 1990's. In the town I lived in the Jamaica Tea (hibiscus) was plentiful, at every corner and every restaurant. When I'd visit my then fiances family home I'd always get Jamaica Tea with my dinner. My mother-in-law in later years told me that Jamaica Tea was used to detoxify ones body. After learning this I did some research and sure enough, it has many health benefits including an ability to cleanse the liver (something modern science is just learning but the ancients of Mexico already knew). 

As for soap, I just tried it because I always have it on hand. I was hoping it would create a beautiful red/pink soap but as with most natural colorants mixed with lye, that wasn't the case. Instead, hibiscus creates a nice tan color. Anytime I want a tan soap that doesn't contain honey (another way of making soap tan), I use hibiscus.

Where to find hibiscus locally?

It can be found at local ethnic food stores. We get ours from El Burrito Mercado (Mexican Market)

Steps to Creating the Tea:

This is done the same way any tea is done. These steps probably aren't necessary for those who make tea regularly but I'll just go through them anyway.

I take out how much hibiscus I think I'll need, which is usually a handful, but for the purpose of this soap I measured an ounce and mixed that with 16 ounces of simmering water.

I let it simmer until I feel like most of the color has been absorbed from the leaves. Usually 5 minutes. Then I strain it.

I don't mix hot water with lye (no no no), so I just pop the tea in the freezer while I get my oils and other things ready to go. The freezer cools the tea pretty quickly.

Proceed with mixing lye into water, etc... After you pour the lye into the water you'll SEE and SMELL the different. You no longer have a beautiful maroon-ish tea but instead a pukey brown that stinks equally as bad as it looks.

Mix it with the oils as usual... it will still smell pukey. Additives included as usual. Pour in mold and this is the color you'll see:

And this will be your final bar: (some things can affect the final bar color, things like fragrance and other additives but usually in terms of how dark of a tan you'll get)

NEXT WEEK: Parsley
Jennifer Young said...

I love Agua de Jamaica! I haven't had it since the last time I was in Mexico! I don't think I can get it where I live here... so please have a glass of cold sweet Agua de Jamaica for me.... I had never thought to use it in soaps. Interesting idea. Thanks for the post. xo Jen

Anonymous said...

Hey M, do you know the specific variety of hibiscus of this? I was just wondering if I can grow my own here in IN. :) Thanks!

Michelle said...

Hey T,

I've always purchased it prepackaged but from everything I've read about the tea and the health benefits, it says Hibiscus Sabdariffa is the one you will need.

"Hibiscus tea is a caffeine free herbal tea from a special type of hibiscus, called Roselle, the scientific name is Hibiscus sabdarrifa. Specifically, the tea is made out of the dried fruit part of Roselle, called calyx. It is in red color and tastes like berries."

Here is a write up about it in Internal Medicine News that you may find interesting:

Michelle said...


I think you'd like it as a natural colorant because, depending on the eo's you use, you can get really nice shades of tan to brown. Sometimes dark brown and sometimes light tan.

It does taste really good, doesn't it?! I tried it once without the sugar added though and that was a bit tart for me. LOL!

Dawn said...

Hi, thank you so much for your step by step instructions. I am new to the soap making scene and found that natural colorants have not been working as some sites say. I tried to get red and to no avail. I thought I was doing something wrong. Thank you for your post. Such a great help.

Michelle said...


It is true, lots of sites say hibiscus gives a red color. I've only found that to be true in a lotion or lip balm, sadly, not in soap :(

Rose Marie said...

I wish I had read this a few hours ago! I had a lovely, deeply steeped batch of Jamaica Tea that I hoped would make the soap at least a pale pink. When I added the lye it turned greenish brown and reeked, so I thought I screwed up and disposed of it! At least I now know that's what it's supposed to look like. Do you think pulverizing the dried hibiscus flowers to a fine powder would work for coloring?

Michelle said...

Hi Rose,
Pulverizing it won't change the way it reacts in soap unfortunately :(