April 23rd, 2020
What is Rooibos and why should I drink it?
I can remember the first time I tasted rooibos tea as a child. My mother’s friend invited us over for tea after returning from South Africa. She delighted us with tales of bustling markets, exotic animal reserves and hiking in the Cederberg Mountains. Most exciting of all, she brought back a tea I had never heard of before. She called it red tea. At the time, I had no concept of tea types. I just knew that I liked the black stuff, not so much the green stuff and that I was enjoying this new red stuff. It wasn’t until years later that I came across red tea once again. This time it was labeled as rooibos.
There are many names for rooibos such as red tea or African redbush tea. Technically speaking, rooibos is not a true tea. True tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, which can be processed into green tea or left to oxidize and become black tea. Rooibos on the other hand comes from the Aspalathus linearis plant more commonly known as the redbush plant. The redbush plant is native to the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape province of South Africa and has been drunk as an herbal tea for centuries. Because it’s not a true tea, rooibos contains no caffeine and can be a tasty tea or coffee alternative. Rooibos, like true tea, can be dried and processed into a green version although the red version is more common. Like black tea, the raw rooibos leaves can be dried and then allowed to oxidize giving the red tea its characteristic color and sweet earthy flavor. Generally, I personally prefer black tea over rooibos. However, black tea has certain downsides that rooibos does not, particularly concerning tannins.
Tannins are a naturally occurring chemical found in true teas, wines and dark chocolates. They impart an astringent, pucker-y taste. Ironically, plants produce tannins as a way to discourage animals from eating them. Humans seem to enjoy the taste of these botanical defenses similarly to how we enjoy spicy peppers. When drunk alongside a meal, tannins will impede iron absorption and the acidity can further irritate a delicate stomach. But rooibos contains very few tannins and has been shown in studies to have no negative effects on iron absorption. Rooibos is also packed with minerals such as iron, zinc and potassium. It even contains the recommended daily amount of calcium, manganese and fluoride!
Rooibos has been enjoyed as both a beverage and a health tonic in its native region of South Africa. It is said to help manage digestive problems such as heartburn, nausea and indigestion. It is also said to have a soothing effect on the nervous system and could help those with mild anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances.
Rooibos is a great source of antioxidants. Just like comparing green tea to black tea, green rooibos has nearly twice the amount of antioxidants as red rooibos. We hear a lot of talk about antioxidants, but what do they actually do? Antioxidants prevent cell damage caused by the body’s metabolism and normal processes. When we eat something, our body breaks down the sugars in our cells using oxygen. While this gives us the energy to go about our lives, it also causes oxidative damage over time, which has been linked to heart disease and cancer. Antioxidants cancel out this effect. The human body is capable of producing some of its own antioxidants, but stress and poor eating habits can deplete our stores. Luckily, we can supplement with plant made antioxidants found in tea, blueberries and of course rooibos.
Rooibos is high in Vitamin C and could help boost the immune system. Vitamin C improves cellular function and could help the lining of your nose and throat physically block germs. Vitamin C is also found in innate immune cells, indicating that it plays an important function in our immune system’s first line of defense against illness. There are other metabolic processes that depend on Vitamin C so it is important keep your reserves high when combating a cold. For this reason there are a multitude of immune supplements containing Vitamin C that can be found at your local drugstore. Here at MarketSpice, our immune booster of choice is rooibos.
If rooibos is so beneficial for the inside of the body, can it help the outside, too? Cool rooibos tea applied topically may smooth skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles. This effect is supported by a 2010 study where rooibos outperformed ginkgo and soybean extracts. It can also alleviate itching caused by allergies and eczema.
It’s always a pleasure to find out that something you love is good for you; especially the opposite is so often true. As a natural product, rooibos is completely free of additives, preservatives, dyes and artificial sweeteners. It can be a great alternative to sugar-laden soda or highly caffeinated coffee. If you’re looking for a health-supporting beverage that’s also delicious, consider this delightful herbal tea.
Note: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Please be aware that rooibos can cause allergic reactions in people who have allergies to it and may interact with supplements and medications.