Rooibos – South Africa’s Hong Cha!


As a general rule I tend not to delve into the world of tisane – herbal or fruit infusions. To be honest I find it a mine field of possibly misleading health information in some cases, and what one herbalist or naturopath tells you another will contradict. If on the other hand you’re just looking for an alternative beverage and enjoy the taste of certain herbs or fruits brewed into a lovely drink, then join the club.

One tisane I particularly enjoy comes from South Africa, and when fresh is a beautiful reddy orange colour of leaf. Its name is one of those words that creates great fun in how we say it. If I could receive $1 for every different pronunciation of this tisanes name, I most certainly would be a millionaire by now!

The word is Rooibos – pronounced “roy – boss”.

This incredibly refreshing red brew, which many in Africa refer to as red tea, and its name Rooibos, when translated simply means red bush. Is produced from a plant known as Aspalathus linearis, and is a part of the legume family. The plant is an indigenous species to Africa and grows in the Cedarberg region of South Africa, a dry mountainous range north of Cape Town and about half way to Namibia. The branches of this broom like shrub are cut and tied in bundles of ten. These bundles are then taken to the farm or factory, where the still greenish leaves are stripped from the branches. These 2-5mm lengths of leaf are subjected to damaging (as in tea production), rolled or crushed in machines. This breaks the cellular structures and allows the natural juices to flow together, commencing the oxidization of the leaf. The leaves are then placed outside in the heat of the day, which can reach between 35C to 45C, and over the next 8 to 24 hours will turn colour to their trademark copper red. The leaves at this stage are spread thinly and placed in direct sunlight, where the oxidization process is stopped and leaves are dried. Finally, the leaves are sieved several times, subjected to a cleansing steam and quality controlled, leaving the famous Red Bush South African Tea – Rooibos.

The Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg would appear to have brought Rooibos to our attention. Thunberg wrote about a local people, the Khoisan and their brewing of the red bush tea. Like many early tea drinkers, the Khoisan people were not making a beverage from the brew but using it for medicinal purposes. By the 1800’s Rooibos had replaced the expensive and highly taxed black tea, more popular with European colonial masters. Rooibos was to become the local beverage of choice by many South Africans.

When serving Rooibos, treat exactly like a black tea. Use freshly drawn water, boil and pour over the red leaves. Allow 3 to 8 minutes for the leaves to infuse, Rooibos contains very low levels of tannin and so is not as bitter to taste compared with some teas. You can serve your Rooibos hot or cold, with or without milk, but I particularly enjoy it served with a slice of fresh lemon and a touch of honey, beautiful. You can also blend your Rooibos with fruits, spices or flower petals. Try brewing your Rooibos with cinnamon, or cloves with orange zest. It brews excellently with vanilla, a few small cut pieces from a vanilla pod and Rooibos leaves brewed together, is stunning. Rooibos makes a great substitute for tea, in the Indian spiced tea masala chai.

As for its health aspects, well South African athletes drink Rooibos as part of their dietary regime. Many Hollywood star’s including Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeta Jones and Cindy Crawford are believed to be Rooibos consumers and believers in its benefits. Rooibos, contains high levels of vitamin D and zinc, and is believed to help us with stress, asthma and depression. The polyphenols or anti-oxidants found in Rooibos are believed to help us fight various diseases including certain cancers. It’s zero caffeine content is obviously a health positive or lifestyle positive, for many people who suffer the difficulties of sleep or the lack of it. Many people also turn to Rooibos as an aid when dealing with headaches, which could be due to its beneficial hydration properties. All round Rooibos would appear to be quite a beneficial beverage to include in our daily intake of liquid and beneficial elements.

So next time you are looking for a refreshing alternative beverage, consider South Africa’s Hong Cha – Rooibos.


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