Rooibos tea has gained popularity in America in recent years, as many want to take advantage of its ability to prevent serious illnesses. The tea comes from the shrub Aspalathus Linearis, which is only found on the slopes of Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. While locals have been drinking this tea for hundreds of years, it only began being commercially traded in 1904. It has a mild and aromatic taste; however, most drink it for its plethora of health benefits.
It’s quite popular in Japan, Germany, Holland and England. According to WebMD, the tea has 50 times more antioxidants than green tea. These antioxidants are known to thwart free radicals in the body that can damage cells and cause cancer. It’s also rich in Vitamin C, low in tannins and is used to ease digestive problems. Other studies have shown the tea helps strengthen the bones and teeth preventing osteoporosis, fractures and other related illnesses. Many women in Japan drink this tea for its positive effect on the skin and hair. It has been known to aid in clearing the skin of acne and thwarting wrinkles. Because it’s caffeine free, it may be consumed without limit and won’t affect sleep cycles or cause insomnia as with some other popular teas. Finally, locals have even used it as a substitute for milk in colicky babies.
While the early tea-drinking Dutch settlers of South Africa popularized the brewing of rooibos in the 1700s as an alternative to the more expensive, imported black tea of the time, rooibos as a commercial tea crop didn’t evolve until the 1930s. This young, up-and-coming herbal tea-producing plant continues to evolve. In the late 1990s, green rooibos was created, which is a less oxidized version of the more recognizable red rooibos. And in the early 2000s, the industry developed powdered rooibos for cooking, concentrated rooibos for a tea-like “espresso” beverage, and rooibos extract to use as food flavoring and as a cosmetics product additive.
The health benefits of red rooibos tea include its use as a cure for nagging headaches, insomnia, asthma, eczema, bone weakness, hypertension, allergies, and premature aging. The tea is absolutely free from caffeine content and is also low in tannins. You can enjoy the refreshing beverage all day long with no possible side effects. Drinking rooibos tea can further ease severe stomach cramps, as well as bring relief to asthma and other related conditions. It also boosts the immune system of the human body.
The health benefits of red rooibos tea, as you can see above, are abundant. Its medicinal attributes have been confirmed by The US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC, which has affirmed that red rooibos tea is capable of reducing cancer, heart disease, premature aging and other serious conditions.
Rooibos is unique because it is indigenous to South Africa’s mountainous region of Cederberg (just north of Cape Town), where it still thrives today. One of the most bio-diverse areas of the country, Cederberg boasts a World Heritage protected wildlife area, 500-million-year-old sandstone formations and a 6,000-year-old rock art legacy left by the San people, or Bushmen, who originally inhabited the area.
Locals have been harvesting and brewing the naturally growing rooibos in the Cederberg region for hundreds of years. While farmers still harvest the wild growing rooibos in this region, some of the commercially grown rooibos has been transplanted to other regions of South Africa. In fact, South Africa is the only country in the world producing rooibos, boasting upwards of 450 growers who produce up to 15,000 tons of rooibos annually. About 7,000 tons of South Africa’s rooibos is exported to more than 30 countries around the world. Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States are currently the biggest importers of the herb but that may soon change as the amazing benefits this plant has to offer are recognized by other countries around the globe.
The rooibos plant, Aspalathus linearis, is a member of the legume family of plants that flourish in dry, mountainous regions with periods of significant rainfall. The linearis description of the plant comes from its linear growing structure, which creates long, needle-like leaves. The plant blooms in early spring with yellow-colored flowers. Each flower produces a legume with a single seed inside that pops out when ripe and lands on the dry ground around the plant. The early gatherers of wild rooibos discovered that ants harvested these seeds, so they typically hunted anthills for the seeds needed to repopulate rooibos plants. Today, farmers sift the sandy soil around the rooibos plant to gather the fresh seeds that start the new crops each spring. Rooibos plants take about 18 months to go from seedling to harvest-ready and are typically harvested during South Africa’s summer months.
Rooibos is harvested and processed in a similar fashion to the Camillia sinensis tea plant.
When harvested, the bushy rooibos plant is cut by hand and its stems and leaves are bound into bundles. The bundles are sorted and then cut or bruised to encourage oxidation. Oxidation, or exposure to oxygen, is what brings out the plant’s essential oils and helps the leaves develop their rich color and flavor. The more oxidized the rooibos, the redder in color and sweeter and richer in flavor it becomes. This is the version we know as red rooibos. A less oxidized rooibos is steamed and dried immediately instead of oxidized, so it remains slightly green in color and retains a grassy, mineral-like flavor. This less oxidized version is called green rooibos.
Rooibos is also graded like tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, where the grade depends on the leaf to stem content ratio. Higher grades of rooibos contain more flavorful leaves and less stem and dust.
Like any other tea or herbal infusion, rooibos is steeped in hot water to produce a tea-like beverage. Because it’s an herb, rooibos is completely caffeine free. Which is why it is becoming a rather popular alternative to traditional caffeinated beverages like tea or coffee. Smoky, sweet, woody, grassy, vanilla, floral, geranium, honey, herbal and caramel are just a handful of the words that can describe the flavor spectrum of sipping a rooibos tea.
I like Rooibos tea just as it is brewed, adding nothing to it because it is delicious sipped on its own, but it also holds up to a splash of milk and a little sugar or honey, which is the traditional South African way to sip rooibos.
Rooibos is becoming a popular herb outside the teacup as well:
- Rooibos is often made into premium, flavored beverages, like lattes, ready-to-drink iced teas and modern cocktails.
- The flavor of rooibos, whether steeped or ground, pairs well with food. One rooibos tea company partnered with South African chefs to produce a cookbook full of rooibos-infused dishes like Rooibos Chicken Pot Pie, Mussels in Rooibos-Pernod Cream Sauce and Rooibos & Apple Chutney.
- The reported nutritional and health benefits of rooibos have led to its use as a popular ingredient (as an extract, powder or tincture) in health-oriented and anti-aging cosmetic products.
- The deep amber red color of brewed red rooibos makes it a great natural dying agent for hair color, Easter eggs or fabric for crafts.
Here are a few general tips for brewing a great cup of rooibos:
- Use fresh, pure, cold filtered water. Spring water is best.
- Rooibos is generally steeped in just boiled water at a temperature similar to a black tea or herbal infusion, around 200 to 212 degrees.
- If you don’t have an electric kettle with temperature control, just remember that at sea level water simmers at 190 degrees and boils at 212 degrees. The boiling temperature drops about a degree for every 100 feet in altitude increase.
- If your rooibos came with specific recommendations for brewing, use those. But using about 2 grams of loose leaf herb per 8 oz. cup of water is a safe bet.
- Cover your rooibos while it’s infusing to keep all the heat in the steeping vessel.
- Taste the brewed rooibos after the recommended infusion time and then decide if you’d like it to go a little longer (I steep my Teatulia brand rooibos for 4 to 5 minutes, but my Twinning’s brand I only steep for 3 to four minutes). Unlike a traditional black or green tea, rooibos won’t get more astringent and bitter the longer it’s infused in hot water; it will just get stronger and more flavorful.
- Good quality loose leaf rooibos can typically be infused a couple of times.
- Rooibos is nice on its own, but just like a traditional black tea, rooibos is often enjoyed with milk or cream and a little sweetener. Many tea companies are using rooibos as a base for flavored tea blends with complementary spices like vanilla, chocolate or citrus.
Rooibos, just like any other tea or herb, should be stored properly so it remains as fresh as possible on your shelf. It won’t ever really go “bad” but it can get stale. When rooibos is stale, it can taste weak, dusty or musty. And nobody likes a musty cup of tea.
Be sure and buy rooibos from a reputable company that can tell you when and how the tea was processed and packaged. Most herbs have the best flavor when brewed and enjoyed as soon as possible after their processing date. Since rooibos is oxidized in a similar fashion to black tea, it is more shelf stable than some teas and herbs and can technically stay fresh and drinkable for up to two years. To ensure your rooibos stays as fresh as possible as long as possible, take care to store it in a cool, dark place, away from light, oxygen, moisture and fragrant pantry companions like coffee or spices.
Red rooibos tea has no oxalic acid and therefore, it can be consumed by people who have kidney stones. Rooibos tea is rich in many mineral contents such as iron, calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, zinc, magnesium and alpha hydroxy acid. It also contains antioxidants like aspalathin and nothofagin, and the extremely potent and versatile phenolic compounds.
Red rooibos tea is one of the best health drinks or beverages for those who care about their health and fitness. Some of the beneficial factors that have been positively correlated with red rooibos tea can be found below.
Polyphenols: Rooibos contains polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimutagenic qualities. Polyphenols are organic chemicals that are most often praised for their antioxidant capabilities. Rooibos tea has many phenolic compounds within it, and polyphenols are some of the most important. They act as scavengers of free radicals throughout the body, which are detrimental byproducts of cell metabolism that can cause diseases like cancer and heart disease. Aspalathin and nothofagin are two other vital antioxidants that rooibos tea contains, making this a great beverage to boost your immune system and protect your body against all types of diseases and conditions.
No Caffeine: Rooibos tea is completely caffeine-free, therefore it is recommended by doctors for patients suffering from insomnia. A cup of rooibos beverage just before going to bed can help you sleep better, and by removing caffeine from your diet, you can also improve your stress levels, mood, and heart health. Being dependent on caffeine is the most common addiction throughout the world, but people don’t realize the dangers that it can pose. Rooibos tea gives you the energy and health benefits, without the dangerously addictive substance.
Hypertension: Rooibos tea is known to relieve stress, nervous tension and hypertensive conditions. Hypertension is more commonly known as high blood pressure, and rooibos tea is known as a brochodilator, which not only relieves respiratory conditions, but generally reduces blood pressure, which can lead to dangerous cardiovascular diseases like heart attacks and atherosclerosis.
Bone Health: Red rooibos tea is rich in calcium, manganese and fluoride minerals that assist in maintaining good bone structure and stronger teeth. By increasing the bio-availability of minerals in your system, you can reduce your chances of developing conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, and chronic joint pain. Manganese actually works on an even deeper level, and stimulates the enzymes which are required top build new bones and repair damage. Flouride is related more commonly to dental health, which is why flouride compounds are so often found in mouthwashes and toothpastes. Whether it is teeth or bone structure, red rooibos tea gives you an advantage!
Cardiovascular Health: Quercetin, another powerful antioxidant found in rooibos tea, has been linked to preventing a wide variety of heart conditions. It is anti-inflammatory, which reduces blood pressure, and it also scavenges free radicals like other antioxidants. It promotes an increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and inhibits the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) from binding to the walls of arteries and blood vessels. This means added protection against various heart conditions, including atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
Infant Health: Rooibos tea can be useful for small children who suffer from colic or stomach pains. You may add some sweetened milk to the tea to improve the flavor and make it more palatable. This is actually what first began rooibos tea as a well-known health aid. Various South African women claimed that this plant was very soothing for their colicky infant. Word began to spread and rooibos tea was suddenly being thrown at any number of health issues to see what else it could help. 50 years later, the world knows all about this powerful little herb! The exact mechanism by which it soothes colic and stomach pain is unknown, but the general anti-inflammatory properties of the herb are most likely responsible.
Diabetes: Aspalathin is one of the rare antioxidants that are found in rooibos tea, and it has a number of unique qualities. It can help to balance blood sugar, improve insulin resistance, improve the glucose absorption by muscles, and boosts the insulin secretion from the pancreas. This all results in an ideal defensive shield against developing type II Diabetes, one of the most widespread and dangerous conditions that is currently sweeping the world. By balancing blood sugar, rooibos tea can also protect people that already have diabetes by preventing the spikes and drops of blood sugar that are so detrimental to their overall health.
Good for Skin: The alpha hydroxy acid and zinc content of red tea are very good for the skin. You can also try applying some red tea powder directly to the skin to relieve acne, pimples, sunburns or related skin conditions. Alpha-hydroxy acids are not found naturally from too many sources, but in terms of cosmetic products, it has become very popular, particularly because it can reduce the signs of wrinkles and other premature aging symptoms. Also, they are commonly found in chemical peels, which revitalize the skin and leave it fresh and invigorated with a healthy glow. However, there has been some controversy about commercial uses of alpha hydroxy acid, so it is always better to get it from a natural source, like red rooibos tea!
Kidney Stones: Even people with kidney stone problems can drink as much red rooibos tea as they want as there is no oxalic acid in the beverage. Many times, people with kidney stones are discouraged from drinking too much tea of other varieties because of that exacerbating ingredient. Oxalic acid is a crystal-forming substance, so it can make the presence of calcium stones or other painful growths in the kidney even worse by making them larger. That won’t be a problem with rooibos tea!
Antispasmodic properties: The tea is rich in antispasmodic agents, which can ease severe stomach cramps and abdominal pains. This is mainly due to the activation of K+ (potassium ions) in the body without antagonizing the activities of Calcium. Together, this can reduce the presence of hyperactivity in the gastrointestinal tract, preventing diarrhea and other intestinal issues.
Allergies: In many parts of South Africa, red tea is used as an effective curative to treat allergies like eczema, hay fever and allergy-related bronchitis. It has anti-inflammatory qualities, thanks to its phenolic content, and this is why it is also prescribed for asthma and topical allergic reactions of various types throughout the body.
Premature Aging: The antioxidants present in rooibos tea slow down the human aging process and they also boost the strength of the immune system. Antioxidants seek out the free radicals that damage skin, hair, bones, and other organ systems by making them vulnerable to disease and degeneration. Rooibos tea is one of the most potent beverages in terms of antioxidant content. It also has anti-aging effects in terms of cognitive ability, because it reduces the impact of oxidative byproducts in neural pathways, stimulating concentration and focus!
Great beverage: Red rooibos tea is an excellent thirst quencher and does wonders for active people like professional athletes, hyperactive children and those who travel often, whether for pleasure or business. Most people prefer to drink rooibos tea in its natural form without any sweeteners, and those who simply want a refreshing drink without a caffeine boost, rooibos is the ideal choice.
Rare nutrients: Rooibos tea is said to contain rare nutrients like Quercetin and Bioflavanoids that assists in good blood circulation and obstructs hemorrhaging.
A Few Words of Caution: Despite all of these health benefits of rooibos tea, there can be a downside for some people. Since rooibos is so powerful, it can interfere with treatments for various conditions, including chemotherapy for cancer patients. Also, rooibos has shown estrogenic activities in certain studies, so it might not be a good idea to use if you have a hormone-sensitive cancer like breast cancer. Finally, if you have existing kidney or liver conditions, rooibos might be more harmful than helpful. It should be used as a preventative measure for these conditions, not a cure. Make sure you speak to your doctor before adding any new dietary elements or beverages to your normal routine, particularly one as powerful as rooibos tea!
Other than that, enjoy and drink to your good health and Happy Gardening!!