What it tastes like: Not unlike a lighter black tea
Caffeine content: 0 mg
How to drink it: Plain or with milk or cream, sugar or honey, and/or lemon.
Rooibos tea is a naturally caffeine free tea made from the Rooibos shrub Aspalathus linearis, which grows only on the North Western Cape of South Africa. The word 'Rooibos' means 'red bush' in Afrikaans, and is so-called because when the green, needle-like leaves of the plant are cut and left to dry in the sun, they turn a beautiful mahogany red color.
The Rooibos Plant
The rooibos plant is actually a member of the legume family: flowering plants which also include beans and peas. This makes it quite different from conventional black or green teas, which are made from the leaves of the Camellia bush, part of the Theaceae family of trees and shrubs.
Rooibos plants grow exclusively in the Cedarberg region of South Africa, where there is very little rainfall. The rooibos plants need no irrigation or fertilizers, and so grow and are harvested today much as they have always been.
Rooibos plants produce seeds from their tiny yellow flowers, which bloom in early September. Rooibos farmers collect the seeds to propagate more plants.
For centuries, rooibos tea was drunk by the Khoisan tribe of South Africa, who used it as a herbal medicine. In 1968, a South African mother named Annique Theron accidentally used some leftover rooibos tea in her baby daughter's bottle and discovered that it had a calming and soothing effect, relieving the baby's chronic restlessness, vomiting and stomach cramps. She advertised in her local newspaper and found other mothers whose infants had similar problems, and these provided a testing ground for her theories about the healing properties of rooibos tea. Wanting to share her discovery with the rest of the world, she wrote a book on the anti-allergic qualities of the Rooibos plant called Allergies: an Amazing Discovery. She later created a range of skincare products containing rooibos extract, which are used to treat dry, irritated and allergic skin.
In 1997, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) awarded rooibos a gold medal for its anti-allergic properties, and in 1998 it awarded Annique Theron 'Woman Discoverer of the Year'.
Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, and has less than half the tannin of ordinary tea. Tannin is what gives ordinary tea its bitter taste. Rooibos is rich in antioxidants, the substances that combat free radicals in the body. Rooibos is said to be anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic and many users say it helps during headaches, colic, asthma, hay fever and insomnia. Rooibos is also said to be beneficial to pancreatitis sufferers, as it soothes the pain of digestive reflux. Rooibos is also said to be excellent for skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis. It also helps to soothe nappy rash and improves skin condition in acne sufferers. The tea can either be applied to the skin, used as a wash or a drench for the hair to relive dry, itchy scalp, or used in skincare products such as soaps and cleansers. Hospitals in South Africa routinely use rooibos in baths for children with allergic skin conditions, as well as giving it as a drink.
Rooibos is also used by some people to relieve nervous tension and stomach and bowel irritation. It is said to help in easing the painful symptoms of urinary system diseases such as prostatitis and cystitis, due to its high content of the anti-inflammatory antioxidant quercetin, which has been shown in clinical trials to relieve the symptoms of prostatitis.
This is not intended to be a medical advice. Please consult your doctor before using Rooibos if you have these or any other medical conditions.
How to Enjoy Rooibos Tea
Many people drink rooibos tea as they would black tea, sometimes adding a splash of milk, a slice of lemon or a little honey. It can be reheated by warming on the hob as many times as you like, without the flavor being impaired. Less bitter than black tea, the sweet flavor of rooibos means it's also easier to cut out those teaspoons of sugar! Alternatively, rooibos can be served as an iced tea, or mixed with fruit juice or wine.
Rooibos is also used in cooking, where it can replace any liquid usually used in a recipe, giving the dish its own color and flavor. It is also said to be a natural meat tenderizer. There are many recipes which include rooibos tea, including soups, salads, meat and fish dishes, and even puddings.