Originally published September 27 2013
Roobios tea - A history lesson
by Willow Tohi
(NaturalNews) A member of the legume family, rooibos "red bush" is a shrub with needle-shaped leaves that grows in South Africa's fynbos, one of the richest botanical areas in the world. It is used to make a flavorful caffeine-free herbal tea with many healthy nutrients, and has been very popular in South Africa for generations.
Sometimes called bush tea, redbush tea, or South African red tea, rooibos tea is grown in a small area of the Western Cape. The leaves are oxidized, not fermented, as is often said by way of analogy. The oxidation process produces the distinctive reddish brown color the tea is named for, and enhances the flavor. Unoxidized "green" rooibos is also available, but its more involved production process means it is more expensive. Even with twice the flavonoids, it is not as popular as the red. The taste is different too, with a malty and slightly grassy flavor whereas the red has a sweet, nutty flavor.
The history of rooibosDelicious and nutritious, the indigenous Bushmen of South Africa have harvested the leaves from the aspalathus linearis plant for centuries. They were used as herbal remedies for many ailments (http://www.rooibostea.com/history-of-rooibos-tea.php). Then in the 1700s, Cape Town became a very busy Dutch East India Company port town, and a starting point for all sorts of botanists, biologists, and other scientists and explorers wanting to have an adventure in the fynbos, the natural shrubland of vegetation along the Western Cape. It is mountainous, coastal area with plenty of winter rainfall and a climate similar to that of the Mediterranean known for its biodiversity. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fynbos)
A botanist named Carl Humberg rediscovered the rooibos red bush in 1772 and helped to spread interest. As many of the adventurers and settlers were missing the herbal and China teas they had enjoyed in their homelands, rooibos tea caught on. People discovered they could take a donkey high up into the mountains, pick the leaves of the herb, wrap them in hessian cloth, and head back down to the valleys. The movement of the donkey climbing down the mountain would heat the bundles of leaves, oxidizing them. After chopping and drying, they were ready for brewing. It was also a source of commerce, allowing the locals to trade for household goods. (http://www.ticktocktea.co.uk/History-of-Rooibos.html)
In the early 1900s, a Russian tea merchant, Benjamin Ginsberg, visited the area. His knowledge of Chinese and Indian teas was instrumental in helping establish the first successfully cultivated field of rooibos, and in marketing it as "mountain tea" - an herbal alternative to tea (http://www.rooibostea.com/history-of-rooibos-tea.php). He immigrated, and his son continued his work farming and cultivating high quality rooibos tea. His grandson introduced it to the UK and other international markets, where it was well received. Much of the Ginsberg family's processes are still in use today.
During World War II, importing tea from Asian countries was nearly impossible. This increased the demand for rooibos, and it was shipped around the world. It was still fairly expensive and difficult to buy, due to the high price of seeds. Then in the 1960s, a South African mother published a book outlining the amazing health benefits of the tea. It sparked several studies which discovered the amazing antioxidant content, and other health benefits, causing the popularity of rooibos to burst wide open. (http://www.rooibostea.com/history-of-rooibos-tea.php)
Modern use of rooibosThe popularity of rooibos tea continues to grow worldwide, especially among the health conscious. It has many of the same health benefits of green and white teas without the caffeine and high tannin content. It is high in antioxidants, which fight free radicals and the oxidation they incur on our organs and tissues, helping to keep the body healthy and strong.
In addition to anti-aging antioxidants, including some found in no other food sources, rooibos contains several essential minerals, including: magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, (organic) fluoride, and zinc. It's very good for the skeletal and digestive systems. It's also good for skin regeneration because it has alpha-hydroxy as well. Some use the tea topically to treat acne and eczema. Lack of tannins means it won't interfere with iron absorption or cause headaches. Its antispasmodic properties make it useful for soothing colic and stomach cramps. It's considered safe for pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as infants. In fact, some South African mothers use it in place of water to mix baby formula. With no oxalic acid, it's a nice choice for those with kidney stones. (http://www.naturalnews.com/031536_rooibos_tea_South_Africa.html)
Rooibos is also credited with easing tension, boosting the immune system, and hydrating the body. It is increasingly available in the United States where it can often be found in coffee shops. Coffee shops around the world have begun offering rooibos-based variations on coffee drinks, such as "red espressos," "red lattes," and "red cappuccinos."
Studies on rooibos' phytonutrients and their applications are ongoing and still being discovered. From quenching the thirst of athletes to calming hyper children, rooibos tea is a wonderful beverage with many uses and health benefits, and varying tastes that will delight tea enthusiasts.
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