Rooibos 101 and What it Can Do For You
More than likely you’ve heard of rooibos and, hopefully, you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy a cup. It’s delicious, healthy and shrouded with just enough mystery to make it an interesting choice. Rooibos is often referred to as tea and commonly known as red tea and red bush tea, yet technically it’s not a tea but a tisane. (Want to better understand the difference between a tea and a tisane? Check out my blog post Tea and Tisane: What’s in Your Cup?)
Every rooibos blend comes from the leaves, stems and bark of the Aspalathus linearis, a scraggly little shrub that grows only in South Africa. It’s hot and dry summers, winter rainfalls and coarse sandy soil make it uniquely ideal for growing the rooibos shrub. Because there are no tea leaves in rooibos it can’t be called a true tea, thus it’s categorized as a tisane and…bonus…it’s naturally caffeine-free.
While those living in South Africa have been enjoying the benefits of rooibos for centuries, it’s really only been introduced to the rest of the world in the last 80 years. The rooibos shrub grew wild primarily on the western coast of South Africa and harvests were minimal. In the 1930’s farmers found a way to gather its tiny seeds and began to cultivate the shrub; yields were greatly increased. A decade later, as World War II raged in Europe, the importation of tea from Asia was almost impossible and rooibos became a feasible alternative for tea drinkers missing their cups of black tea.
However, it was a slow climb to popularity for rooibos. Another surge in interest occurred when Dr. Annique Theron published a book detailing the health benefits of rooibos in the 1960’s, yet it still didn’t become a mainstream product. Only in recent years has rooibos become a hip new staple in tea shops all over. It’s also become a star subject of scientific studies in regards to the prevention and alleviation of diseases and critical health issues.
What Does Rooibos Taste Like?
Similar to how black tea is processed, rooibos is oxidized (formerly referred to as fermented), but in the 1990’s, a process to develop green rooibos was discovered. Green rooibos, like green tea, is not fully oxidized, but instead withered and directly processed—leaving it “green”. And, just as green tea has higher levels of antioxidants, so does green rooibos. It’s certainly less common to find green rooibos and when it is, it’s typically in red rooibos blends.
We have three rooibos flavors that include green rooibos—Lemon Souffle which is rich and creamy with a bright lemon flavor that compliments the lovely natural flavor of the rooibos. And, Olaf’s Song and Figgy Pudding are both warmly flavored tisanes with the smooth, sweet flavor that rooibos is known and loved for.
Whatever color of rooibos is in your cup, you’re drinking in something truly special, both in taste and in benefits. Rooibos on its own, without any flavorings, has a naturally sweet flavor that leans toward a woody note with hints of vanilla. Smoky, woody, floral, honey and caramel are a few other words that can be used to describe the flavor of this tisane. However, the addition of anything from tropical fruit, berries, citrus and even almonds are commonly used to naturally flavor rooibos blends.
Our most popular rooibos flavor is a naturally caffeine-free version of our signature tea (and our #1 top seller) Paris in a Teacup Black Tea with creme brulee and French caramel flavor. Our rooibos version is appropriately named French Caramel Creme Brulee. The deep caramel notes compliment the natural, rich flavor of the rooibos. My personal favorite is Tchaikovsky’s Memory, a marzipan scented rooibos with a hint of sweet papaya. I can drink a mug anytime of day because, like all rooibos, it’s naturally caffeine-free. I can also drink it with a good conscious knowing that something that tastes really good to me is also really good for me.
Benefits of Rooibos
Why is that? What’s in rooibos that makes it such a powerhouse? Reliable studies have shown that rooibos tisanes contain high levels of antioxidants and, more importantly specific antioxidants that support the body’s fight against a number of diseases and serious health crisis.
Here are seven benefits of adding rooibos to your daily tea routine:
- Rooibos consumption can alleviate hypertension and lower blood pressure.
- Rooibos consumption can promote heart health and play a part in preventing cardiovascular disease.
- Rooibos consumption can increase the level of glutathione (an unique antioxidant produced by the liver). This potent antioxidant neutralizes carcinogens, improves liver function and helps reverse fatty liver disease.
- Rooibos consumption can help lower blood sugar (also performed by that amazing glutathione antioxidant).
- Rooibos consumption provides anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Rooibos consumption lowers production of cortisol, the so-called “stress hormone” that may create health problems and complicate existing health issues.
- Rooibos consumption provides vital minerals critical for good health
In addition to high levels of antioxidants, rooibos tisanes contain high mineral content. It’s important to note here, these minerals are found naturally in rooibos. Rooibos tisanes are not “fortified” with these minerals; they are present on their own. While the amounts in your cup will vary depending on the way the leaves, stems and bark were harvested and oxidized (or not), almost all rooibos tisanes will provide these minerals into your diet:
- Calcium – to build strong teeth and bones and also regulate heart beats
- Fluoride – to strengthen tooth enamel and prevents decay
- Iron – to increase iron absorption
- Magnesium – helps regulate body temperature, build bones, manufacture proteins, and release energy from muscles
- Potassium – regulates blood pressure and heartbeat, protects against cardiovascular disease and
- Sodium – necessary for regulating many of the body’s functions, the sodium in rooibos tea is a healthy source (unlike table salt) and does not contribute to hypertension
- Zinc – boosts the immune system and metabolism
I think rooibos just dropped the mic!
As tempting as it might be to want to drink a gallon a day, it’s best (as with all things) to drink rooibos in moderation. Some sources suggest up to six cups of rooibos a day as the recommended amount. I believe, a healthy tea and tisane regimen would include two cups each of black tea, green tea and our super-hero rooibos, plus a cup of white tea and another cup, or two, of a fruit & herb tisane.
That may sound like a lot, but consider that a “cup” equals 8 ounces (check your favorite tea mug, it’s likely 14 ounces or even more) and you’ll see that’s about what we should be drinking in a day anyway. Before anyone thinks, “Yeah, but I have to drink water, too!” Studies are showing us clearly that the composition of tea, true tea, is such that it does in fact hydrate our bodies despite its caffeine content. Of course, if caffeine is an issue for you and you avoid any true tea, then by all means, increase the cups of rooibos and fruit & herb you drink in a day. Just limit cups of rooibos to no more than six per day.
How to Prepare Rooibos
There are actually a couple of different traditions in preparing rooibos. Some believe rooibos should be boiled anywhere between 5-10 minutes and then allowed to steep another 5-20 minutes. Personally, I bring only the water to a boil and then infuse the rooibos for 10 minutes. That’s much like how we infused rooibos for our guests in the tea parlor, except we set the timer for eight minutes. In most cases that is.
Years ago, we had a tea parlor guest from South Africa who was very excited to see rooibos on our tea menu. She was so disappointed with the pot we served her and I was sad for her disappointment. She graciously walked us through the proper method of her homeland in steeping rooibos. Boil it, she said, boil it long and hard. I willingly did as she asked, but I was thinking to myself that surely I was going to burn the life out of it and serve her something dreadful. I served the new pot to her (with a lot of trepidation), but she declared it perfect.
I hope it was to her liking. I’ll never really know if it was or not, but it showed me the importance of regional tradition and personal taste. I’ve actually prepared rooibos in that manner and it’s definitely stronger than when I prepare it as I would a true tea by pouring boiling water over the tea filter and allowing it to infuse for a length of time. It’s good, but, wow, it’s intense. And maybe that’s how you would like your rooibos. Taste is so personal, it’s impossible to say which is better, because better is how YOU like it.
And that’s what’s really important here, anyway. Drinking teas and tisanes that YOU like and look forward to drinking. I hope you try a cup of rooibos and I hope you love it. I also hope it becomes a part of your daily tea routine and you start to notice some improvements in your overall well-being. I know I have. It’s been a small, but significant change to make in my daily habits. When I find one that’s this tasty, it’s an even easier change to make!
Who Should Avoid Rooibos and Why?
Now, a note on who should not be drinking a cup of rooibos or any herbal tisane for that matter. Anyone with estrogen-sensitive cancers and those taking chemotherapy should speak with their doctors before adding rooibos or any herbal tisanes to their diet. Herbs have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. While our western practices rarely include healing herbs, that does not negate the fact that those herbs contain potent compounds and can be used to alleviate symptoms and even to heal. However, those same potent compounds that can heal can also unintentionally interfere with life saving treatments.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), “There is growing evidence that supplements [*like rooibos and herbal tisanes] may intensify or weaken the effect of chemotherapy drugs and in some cases, may cause a toxic, even lethal reaction. Supplements [*like rooibos and herbal tisanes], defined as plant or plant parts used for therapeutic purposes, can interact with chemotherapy drugs through different mechanisms.” If you are currently receiving treatment for any health issue, particularly cancer treatment, please discuss your tea and tisane choices with your doctor.
The purpose of drinking functional teas and tisanes, like rooibos and herbals, is to help heal our bodies. There is a bit of irony in warning tea and tisane enthusiasts undergoing certain medical treatments to stop drinking our beloved, uber-healthy beverage, but we would never recommend anything that might compromise your medical care. Once your treatment is complete, however, and with your doctor’s approval, we are certain there are teas and tisanes to help with your recovery. As Mom Connie and I are both cancer survivors, we can attest to this. If this word of caution is for you, then “May you prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.” 3 John 1:2. Our blessing to you is for an easy recovery and complete healing…and also for lots of hope and love to fill your life.
Cancer Association of South Africa, https://www.cansa.org.za/files/2018/01/Fact-Sheet-on-Rooibos-Tea-December-2017.pdf
South Africa Rooibos Council https://sarooibos.co.za/health-fact/