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Names of Rooibos, past and present

Greek: aspalathos
Afrikaans: rooibos
Dutch: rooibosch
English: rooibos (adapted) / redbush / red bush / red tea / bush tea
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Aspalathus linearis

Rooibos - Background and History

While somewhat popular nowadays as a tasty alternative to true tea, rooibos tea was once a very obscure herb that grew in prolific numbers in the Cederberg region of South Africa and in select areas in the Cape of Good Hope. Nowadays, it is commercially sold as a caffeine-free alternative to true teas, and is distinctly known for its beautiful red liquor and wonderful sweet aftertaste. In recent years, the interest in rooibos tea has increased not only due to its once novel red-hued liquor and unique flavor profile, but due to the vast array of medicinal uses and health benefits associated with its consumption.

The rooibos plant is a unique species of legume that is notable for its broom-like appearance and the profusion of needle-like leaves that grow in linear patterns all throughout the stem-parts of the plant. Rooibos tea is typically harvested, processed, oxidized, and subsequently dried to its distinctive reddish hue. Unprocessed rooibos leaves are also available, albeit in rarer quantities. This unprocessed variant is typically called 'green' rooibos, typically due to the fact that it lacks the distinctive red hue and sweet aftertaste associated with rooibos-proper. Despite the fact that rooibos is typically marketed as a beverage, the recent discovery of its myriad health benefits have somehow raised it to the level of medicinal plant, with a range of teas, supplements, and even specially formulated beverages designed to function therapeutically. Its introduction to the Western world is credited to one Benjamin Ginsberg, a Rhodes scholar of Russo-Judiac descent who first discovered the wonders of the tea in his sojourns to uncover wild varieties of tea or plant-matter that may be used as tea in the area. Prior to his innovation of allowing the rooibos leaves to oxidize, the natives of the area have long employed the raw or 'green' leaves as both a beverage and a medicine. It was thanks to Ginsburg however, that rooibos as it is known and loved today exists. [1]

General Uses of Rooibos

In the traditional context, the leaves of the rooibos plant have been decocted by natives of South Africa into a refreshing and healthful drink since prior to its introduction to the European consciousness sometime in the latter parts of the 17th to 18th centuries. This unprepared version was typically slightly grassy, and somewhat redolent of the taste of high-quality gyokuro or matcha. Thanks to the experimentations of the scholar Benjamin Ginsberg, who adopted the practice of 'fermenting' the raw leaves, rooibos, as it is now known today was born.

Both red and green rooibos holds potent medicinal benefits, with the former having been used by the natives of the area as a topical antiseptic, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory. Brewed into a very strong decoction, the ensuing grassy liquor was also used to treat colic, asthma, coughing, colds, and general pulmonary complaints. [2] In Western applications, traditional medicinal uses for rooibos are still applicable, although it is rarely used except by those in the know. [3] Rooibos is most commonly drunk as a beverage, chiefly due to its antioxidant properties and for its inherent ability to protect the body from the ravages of ageing, heart disease, and a wide assortment of degenerative diseases. Recent scientific studies conducted on the possible beneficial effects of rooibos consumption have yielded the following results: that rooibos helps to lower the risk of heart disease by fighting bad (LDL) cholesterol, that it may help to prevent certain types of cancers, and that it has immuno-boosting capacities that help to fortify the body's defenses against illnesses. [4]

Further studies conducted on its benefits yielded amazing results on its capacity to prevent or stave off brain aging, as well as in its ability to boost the immune system of individuals who suffer from HIV. [5] While rooibos food supplements are now available in health food stores alongside loose-leaf tea and tea bags, the traditional method of rooibos consumption is advisable in lieu of the quicker 'pill-popping', as excessive consumption of rooibos may have adverse side effects in spite of its relative safety. Rooibos tea is also a very soothing and comforting drink, and is a perfect beverage for young and old individuals alike.

Rooibos - References & Further Reading


Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, © 2013

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