Edition 33: July 2011
What Herb is That?
Rich red rooibos: the delicious wonder tea
THE HISTORY of Rooibos tea is rooted in the beautiful Cederberg region of South Africa, where it has been used medicinally by generations of Khoisans, the indigenous Bushmen of the region, for centuries.
Knowledge of rooibos tea almost ended with the dwindling of the Khoisan tribes, however thanks to 18th Century botanist Carl Thunberg, the tea was discovered by the western world and interest in it revived.
Russian immigrant Benjamin Ginsberg was the first to commercialise the tea in 1904, trading with the Bushmen and cultivating it on special Rooibos farms.
It was marketed as a herbal alternative to expensive black tea and readily adopted by early settlers from Europe.
The demand for rooibos rose considerably during World War two and accordingly became scarce and expensive.
A South African woman, Annique Theron, wrote a book on the remarkable health attributes of rooibos which was a catalyst for much research on the medicinal properties of this plant.
The tea's popularity increased upon verification of its virtues, as did its cultivation. Rooibos (pronounced 'roy-bos' - Afrikaans for 'red bush') is made from the leaves of the red bush plant, which grows only in the small Cederberg mountain region, 250km north of Capetown in South Africa.
The rooibos leaves, harvested in summer, are cut or chopped and left to ferment and during this process some chemicals are oxidised by enzymes resulting in the typical red colour and rich flavour of rooibos.
Initially, wild-growing rooibos was harvested by chopping them with axes and then bruising them with hammers, leaving them to ferment in heaps, before drying them in the sun. Today the basic method of rooibos production, from planting to harvesting, is largely unchanged except that the plants are cultivated rather than collected from the wild and production methods are far more mechanised and refined.
Rooibos a healthier choice for all tea drinkers
Not being derived from the camillia sinensis plant like black, white, green or oolong teas, rooibos is considered more of a herbal drink or tisane than a ‘true’ tea in South Africa.
Efforts to cultivate rooibos in other areas or countries with similar climates have failed because rooibos needs a very specific climate and soil to grow.
Rooibos is a member of the legume family of plants and can grow up to two meters in height. The rooibos shrub produces small yellow flowers in spring through early summer and each flower produces a one seeded small bean.
The erect stems contain many dark-green, needle-shaped leaves and it has a long tap root, sometimes up to two metres in length, enabling the plant to survive periods of drought.
Rooibos is better suited for babies and children than ordinary teas because of its low level of tannins (tannic acid). Tannins decrease absorption of certain nutrients such as iron and protein, which are important for growing children and especially women who require extra dietary iron.
Scientific research has shown that fermented rooibos tea has significant cancer-preventing ability; even protecting cells from irradiation with x-rays. This resistance to mutation prevents some cancers from forming and inhibits the growth of some tumors already in existence.
More potent antioxidants than green tea
The antioxidants in rooibos are called polyphenols, and it’s the catechins in the polyphenols that support your overall health and boost your immune system.
These polyphenols are water-soluble and have antiviral, antibacterial, and anticancer properties.
The polyphenol group is divided into subgroups such as the flavonoids; these are the plant pigments that are found in fresh fruits and vegetables and are very beneficial in helping to protect the body against infection.
American authorities claim that the antioxidant activity of rooibos is more potent than that found in 22 fruits and vegetables including orange juice, carrots, and broccoli.
Its potent antioxidant content protects your body from free radicals – the unstable molecules that can severely damage the DNA in cells, which in turn can cause cancer.
Rooibos contains a particularly outstanding antioxidant that mimics Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD), which could account for its famous anti-aging qualities. SOD is one of the best-known enzymes in the human body capable of neutralising free oxygen radicals as soon as they are formed.
Free oxygen radicals cause damage to body proteins and fats, as well as to our DNA - our hereditary material.
An imbalance in the body’s oxidant levels is believed to be a contributing factor in a broad spectrum of diseases, including arteriosclerosis, inflammatory disease (for example, arthritis)
heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The Japanese call rooibos ‘Long Life Tea’ for its anti-ageing properties, referring particularly to brain health.
'Red bush' helps delay the ageing process
The antioxidant properties of rooibos are also of great assistance with cardiovascular health, high blood pressure and hypertension because free radicals can also oxidise cholesterol, which leads to the clogging of blood vessels and consequently might cause heart attacks and strokes.
Antioxidants bind to these free radicals before they cause any harm.
Rooibos is the only known source of the flavonoid aspalathin, an active that decreases the permeability and fragility of veins and lymph vessels. This means that rooibos can be used to treat tiredness of legs, cramps and various skin and circulatory disorders. Rooibos’s protective action supports liver function.
Not only is rooibos naturally caffeine free; but it actually can help with sleeplessness, counteract anxiety and mild depression. The theanine contained within the tea helps prevent stress-related issues.
Regular usage is believed to improve memory as well as help reduce headaches and chronic nervous tension.
Drink Rooibos to help you recover after a hangover; plus it also helps to control your appetite thus can be beneficial in weight loss. In fact, Rooibos is one delicious drink that contains no kilojoules at all.
The tea makes a great thirst-quenching drink for athletes, due to its copious mineral content that restores the body's equilibrium after strenuous exercise.
Suitable for all ages
Rooibos is of benefit for a range of digestive problems including wind, stomach ulcers, nausea, constipation, and heartburn. Brew and cool a cup to give to babies and children who suffer from stomach cramps.
In South Africa it is very commonly bottle-fed to babies for colic. Rooibos contains no oxalic acid and can therefore be enjoyed by persons suffering from kidney stones.
Rooibos tea or extracts are relevant for skin lotions and cosmetic products. Tinderbox is so confident in anti-ageing rooibos that we are using it as a main active in our new Precious Eye Cream, which is currently under redevelopment.
Rooibos contains flavonoids that are often anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic and rooibos extracts can be used in ointments to treat eczema.
A recent study shows that rooibos is beneficial in the treatment of acne and skin irritations such itchy skin, eczema, sunburns, nappy rash, due to levels of alpha hydroxy acid, zinc and superoxide dismutase present in the herb.
Cold rooibos tea could be applied externally as a easy home remedy to calm acne.
Latin name: Aspalathus linearis
Other names: red bush, red tea
Medicinal Properties: anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic effects, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune stimulant, anti-allergic, nervine, febrifuge, asthma, antiviral, antibacterial, carminative, antispasmodic, tonic, detoxicant, digestive, hepatic, hypotensive, restorative.
Brewing Rooibos Tea
IT’S EASY to make a delicious cup of rooibos tea, especially because the brewing process is the same as with black tea. The standard ratio of tea to water is one heaped teaspoon of tea leaves per cup of water. Be sure to use boiling water before steeping the tea, which has a longer steeping time than most other teas; steeping rooibos for five to ten minutes greatly increases the amount of antioxidants and nutrients in the finished cup. In South Africa rooibos is traditionally prepared similar to English black tea and served with milk and sugar, although many people prefer the tea on its own or with a bit of honey. Rooibos tea also creates a wonderful iced tea that can be infused with a variety of flavours. A properly brewed cup of rooibos tea will be a rich red colour and have a sweet, nutty and fruity flavor with woody undertones. Rooibos tea can also be used in cooking and baking to replace the liquid content in soups, marinades, sauces, stews and cakes. Unlike other teas and herbs, rooibos stores well and can be kept for longer periods of time without deterioration.