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    Rooibos tea

    Rooibos or red bush tea is infusion obtained from the dried leaves and stems of broom-like shrub native to the mountains of the Western Cape, South Africa. In 1772 the botanist Carl Thunberg first reported on the use of rooibos as beverage from the local Khoisan people.

    Botanically, the plant is a leguminous shrub. Scientific name: Aspalathus linearis.

    Rooibos tea
    Rooibos tea. Note for rich ed color of the infusion.

    Red bush plant is a hardy, drought resistant plant and has a single basal stem that divides above the soil surface into multiple thin broom-like branches that carry bright green, needle-like leaves. The plant reaches a height of about 5-6 feet and a spread of about 3-5 feet.

    The whole plant has a lifespan of 6 years. After about 18 months after the plantation, the plant is ready for harvesting when its branches cut once a year about 50 cm above the ground.

    Health benefits of Rooibos tea

    • Rooibos tea carries no calories and cholesterol. Nonetheless, this vibrant colorful infusion holds best of the available antoxidants in the nature.

    • Its needle-like leaves and light-brown stems carry powerful polyphenolic antioxidants known as chalconoids. These are aromatic phenols which give color and fruity fragrance to rooibos.

    • Important dihydro-chalcones in rooibos leaves are Aspalathin, a dihydrochalcone glucoside and Nothofagin, a phloretin glucoside. Research studies show that both these compounds exhibit antibacterial, antifungal, anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory properties.

    • In addition, rooibos plant parts contain other important phenolic compounds present in rooibos include flavones (orientin, isoorientin, vitexin, isovitexin, luteolin, chrysoeriol), flavanones (dihydro-orientin, dihydro-isoorientin, hemiphlorin) and flavonols (quercetin, hyperoside, isoquercitrin, rutin) (E.Joubert D.de Beer).

    • These phenolic compounds in the rooibos account for anti-diabetes, lowering LDL-cholesterol, oxidant stress reduction, blood pressure regulation actions.

    • Medicinally, the infusion known to reduce skin dryness, pigmentation and anti-wrinkle, and soothing effects on skin and hairs. Traditionally, the local inhabitants use its extraction to color their hairs.

    • Moreover, rooibos tea is a caffiene-free drink. It has calming effect on the nervous system, reduces heart beat and improves digestion.

    • The shrub also carries trace amounts of minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, copper, and zinc.

    See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:

    Rooibos tea (tea, herb, other than chamomile, brewed), Nutritional value per 100 g.

    (Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)

    Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
    Energy 1 Kcal 0%
    Carbohydrates 0.20 g <1%
    Protein 0 g 0%
    Total Fat 0 g 0%
    Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
    Dietary Fiber 0 g 0%
    Folates 1 μg 0.25%
    Niacin 0 mg 0%
    Pyridoxine 0 mg 0%
    Riboflavin 0.004 mg <1%
    Thiamin 0.010 mg <1%
    Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
    Vitamin-C 0 mg 0%
    Sodium 1 mg <1%
    Potassium 9 mg <1%
    Calcium 2 mg 0.2%
    Iron 0.08 mg 1%
    Magnesium 1 mg <1%
    Zinc 0.04 mg 1<1%
    Caffiene 0 mg --

    Processing of rooibos tea

    Aspathalus linearis
    A. linearis. Note fo needle-like green leaves and light brown stems.
    Photo coutesy: Tiffany Azzarello.

    After harvesting, rooibos leaves and stems undergo further treatment to obtain end use product which is ready for infusion as an herbal tea.

    • Fermentation: This process follows the same steps practised by the local inhabitants, using traditional methods. Here, its needle-like leaves and stems are subjected to bruising and wetting with sprinkling of water. The damp leaves are then allowed to ferment (sweating) for 12 hours. A process of enzymatic oxidation takes place during which the leaves change from green to the distinctive amber-red hue. Finally, the rooibos is spread out in the sun to dry.

    • Unfermented or green Rooibos: Here, the harvested leaves are sun dried immediately, without the fermentation step, as in the preparation of green teas. It has a lighter colour compared to traditional rooibos, but composes relatively higher levels of phenolic antioxidants.

    Harvesting and storage

    Fermented red rooibos tea leaves
    Fermented red rooibos tea leaves.

    Like many other varieties of dried herbal teas, rooibos too is exotic product in the USA. Choose from novelty shops specializing in herbal products for authenticity and quality. Fermented red bush tea as well as green types displayed for sale in containers, airtight packs in the supermarkets. Select organic produce for superior quality and to avoid any heavy metals or pesticides.

    At home, store in air-seal boxes away from sunlight and moisture. Use rooibos early as it loses flavor.

    Preparation of rooibos tea

    In its traditional bastions, rooibos leaves directly added to water and boiled together in tea pots for 10-15 minutes before straining under gentle heat. Alternatively, pour on about 150 ml of hot water over 1 teaspoonful of dried leaves and allowed to steep for 7-10 minutes and strained. Add some honey or sugar for taste to the infusion. Rooibos has fruity aroma and is appealing to all tastes since it contains little tannins, and therefore, less astringent.

    Here are some other serving tips of rooibos:

    • Rooibos can be enjoyed up to 5-6 cups everyday for long-lasting health benefits.

    • It can be consumed with milk, as rooibos latte.

    • Rooibos infusion can also blend well in smoothies, soups and in mariandes as a flavoring and coloring agent.

    Safety profile

    There are no known reported cases of rooibos consumption toxicity. It can be used safely in children and pregnant women. (Medical disclaimer).

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    Further Resources and reading:

    1. South African Journal of Botany-E.Joubert D.de Beer. pdf. (opens in new window).

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