The country of origin of rooibos is South Africa. Natives used rooibos to make a fruity, sweet tea long before Europeans did. The branches of the shrub were dried in the sun and then cut into small pieces. The tea was first exported to far away countries in the 19th century, and its export has been growing ever since. This resulted in a controlled cultivation of the once wild growing shrub. A high-quality rooibos tea can be identified by its ruby color and the soft, sweet, characteristic, aromatic taste. The leaf points out rather long needles.
The generic name comes from the plant Calicotome villosa, aspalathos in Greek. This plant has very similar growth and flowers to the redbush. The specific name linearis comes from the plant's linear growing structure and needle-like leaves.
The plant is used to make a herbal tea called rooibos tea, bush tea (esp. Southern Africa), redbush tea (esp. UK), South African red tea, or red tea. The product has been popular in Southern Africa for generations and is now consumed in many countries. It is sometimes spelled rooibosch in accordance with the old Dutch etymology, but this does not change the pronunciation.
Rooibos is grown only in a small area in the region of the Western Cape province of South Africa. Generally, the leaves are oxidized, a process often, and inaccurately, referred to as fermentation by analogy with tea-processing terminology. This process produces the distinctive reddish-brown colour of rooibos and enhances the flavour. Unoxidized "green" rooibos is also produced, but the more demanding production process for green rooibos (similar to the method by which green tea is produced) makes it more expensive than traditional rooibos. It carries a malty and slightly grassy flavour somewhat different from its red counterpart.
In South Africa it is common to drink rooibos tea without milk, but instead with a slice of lemon and sugar or honey to sweeten. The flavour of rooibos tea is often described as being naturally sweet (without sugar added) and slightly nutty. Rooibos can be prepared in the same manner as black tea, and this is the most common method.
Several coffee shops in South Africa have recently begun to sell "red espresso", which is concentrated rooibos served and presented in the style of ordinary espresso. This has given rise to rooibos-based variations of coffee drinks such as red lattes and red cappuccinos. Iced tea made from rooibos has recently been introduced in South Africa, Australia, and in the United States.
Nutritional and health benefits
Rooibos is becoming more popular in Western countries, particularly among health-conscious consumers, due to its high level of antioxidants such as aspalathin and nothofagin, its lack of caffeine, and its low tannin levels compared to fully oxidized black tea or unoxidized green tea leaves. Rooibos also contains a number of phenolic compounds, including flavanols, flavones, flavanones, and dihydrochalcones.
Rooibos is purported to assist with nervous tension, allergies and digestive problems.
Although human studies of rooibos are scarce in scientific literature, animal studies suggest it has potent antioxidant, immune-modulating and chemopreventive effects. In addition, rooibos tea has not been found to have any adverse effects.
It is often claimed that "Green" rooibos (see above) has a higher antioxidant capacity than fully oxidized rooibos. However, one study, using two different ways of measuring antioxidant activity, found conflicting data, with green rooibos showing more activity under one measure, and less activity using the other. The study also found conflicting data when comparing both forms of rooibos to black, green, and oolong tea, although it consistently found both forms to have less activity than green tea.
In 2010, eleven poison dart frogs were raised at WWT Slimbridge by amphibian keepers in pint glasses of water, topped up with shop-bought Rooibos tea. Rooibos was used because it contains antioxidants with anti-fungal properties. This successfully protected the frogs against infection by chytridiomycosis.
A recent study performed by Japanese scientists also suggests that Rooibos tea is beneficial in the topical treatment of acne. This is due to levels of alpha hydroxy acid, zinc and superoxide dismutase present in the herb.
Rooibos grades are largely related to the percentage "needle" or leaf to stem content in the mix. A higher leaf content will result in a darker liquor, richer flavour and less "dusty" aftertaste. The high grade rooibos is exported and does not reach local markets, with major consumers being EU, particularly Germany, where it is used in creating flavoured blends for loose leaf tea markets. In development within South Africa are a small number of specialty tea companies producing similar blends.
Through the 17th and 18th centuries, European travellers and botanists visiting the Cederberg region in South Africa commented on the profusion of "good plants" for curative purposes. In 1772, Swedish naturalist Carl Thunberg noted that "the country people made tea" from a plant related to rooibos or redbush.
Traditionally, the local people would climb the mountains and cut the fine needle-like leaves from wild rooibos plants. They then rolled the bunches of leaves into hessian bags and brought them down the steep slopes on the backs of donkeys. The leaves were then chopped with axes and bruised with hammers, before being left to dry in the sun.
In 1904, Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian/Jewish settler to the Cape, riding in the remote mountains, became fascinated with this wild tea. He ran a wide variety of experiments at Rondegat Farm, finally perfecting the curing of rooibos. He simulated the traditional Chinese method of making very fine Keemun, by fermenting the tea in barrels, covered in wet, hessian sacking that replicates the effects of bamboo baskets.
In the 1930s, Ginsberg persuaded local doctor and Rhodes scholar Dr. Le Fras Nortier to experiment with cultivation of the plant. Le Fras Nortier cultivated the first plants at Clanwilliam on the Klein Kliphuis farm. The tiny seeds were difficult to obtain, as they dispersed as soon as the pods cracked, and would not germinate without scarifying. Le Fras Nortier paid the local "volk", some of whom were his patients, to collect seeds. An aged Khoi woman came again and again, receiving a shilling for each matchbox filled with seed. She had found an unusual seed source: having chanced upon ants dragging seed, she followed them back to their nest and, on breaking it open, found a granary. The attempts by Dr. le Fras Nortier were ultimately successful, which led Ginsberg to encourage local farmers to cultivate the plant in the hope that it would become a profitable venture. Klein Kliphuis became a tea farm, and within ten years the price of seeds soared to an astounding £80 a pound, the most expensive vegetable seed in the world. Today the seed is gathered by special sifting processes, and Klein Kliphuis is now a guest farm.
Since then, rooibos has grown in popularity in South Africa, and has also gained considerable momentum in the worldwide market. A growing number of brand-name tea companies sell this tea, either by itself or as a component in an increasing variety of blends.
US trademark controversy
In 1994, Burke International registered the name "Rooibos" with the US Patent and Trademark Office, thus establishing a monopoly on the name in America at a time when it was virtually unknown there. When the plant later entered more widespread use, Burke demanded that companies either pay fees for use of the name, or cease its use. In 2005, the American Herbal Products Association and a number of import companies succeeded in defeating the trademark through petitions and lawsuits, and after losing one of the cases, Burke surrendered the name to the public domain.
Legal protection of the name Rooibos
If passed by the parliament of South Africa,[dated info] the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill of 2008 will provide for the protection and restriction on commercial use of the name Rooibos in that country. Similar legislation (protection of the names Champagne and Port for example) already exists in Europe. This is despite Rooibos South Africa's decision to contest the Burke trademark on the grounds that "rooibos" is a generic term, rather than claiming it as a geographic indication.
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- ^ Quantitative Characterization of Flavonoid Compounds in Rooibos Tea (Aspalathus linearis) by LC-UV/DAD, Istituto Tecnologie Biomediche, CNR, Via Fratelli Cervi 93, 20090 Segrate (Milan), Italy, and Department of Food Science and Microbiology, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Milan, Via Celoria 2, 20133 Milan, Italy (accessed 9 Oct 2008)
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- ^ Diane L. McKay, Jeffrey B. Blumberg, "A review of the bioactivity of south African herbal teas: rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia)", Phytotherapy Research, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 1-16 (2006).
10. ^ A. Von Gadow, E. Joubert, C. F. Hansmann, "Comparison of the antioxidant activity of rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis) with green, oolong and black tea", Food Chemistry, Vol. 60, No. 1, Sep. 1997, pp. 73-77.
11. ^ "Exotic frogs reared in redbush tea in Gloucestershire". BBC News. 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
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- South African Rooibos Council
- South African Medical Research Council research findings
- The ZA Show - Episode 23 - 16 November 2005 - Discussion about Rooibos, 25 minutes into the show.
Text retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rooibos