Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rooibos - Herb of the Week

In keeping with herbs good for hot tea in the month of January (which is HOT TEA month!) I decided to discuss
Rooibos Aspalathus linearis, red bush tea as the Herb of the week.

photo courtesy of
Deep in the heart of South Africa, in the mountains and valleys of the Cedarberg region near Cape Town, vast vistas, fields of verdant green bushes, fill the landscape. Traveling throughout this precipitous expanse, one may not suspect that this bright bush, which the locals refer to as "Rooibos," (pronounced roy-boss), could be such a versatile and remarkable herb. Among Rooibos' many uses, Rooibos' most popular utilization is as a tisane, or herbal beverage. Also known as Red tea, Bush tea and Redbush tea, Rooibos tea has become the hottest trend in the tea industry.

The product has been popular in Southern Africa for generations and is now consumed in many countries. Rooibos is grown only in a small area in the region of the Western Cape province of South Africa. Like most real teas (Camellia Sinensis), Rooibos tea goes through a fermentation process. Rooibos tea is finely chopped, bruised and left to ferment in heaps. Rooibos tea is then left to dry in the African sun, where it changes from a vivid green to a deep mahogany red the unique color which Rooibos tea is known and adored. This process produces the distinctive reddish-brown color of Rooibos and enhances the flavor. 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 flavor somewhat different from its red counterpart.

In South Africa it is common to prepare Rooibos tea in the same manner as black tea, and add milk and sugar to taste. Other methods include a slice of lemon and using honey instead of sugar to sweeten.

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 phenols, including flavanols, flavones, flavanones, and dihydrochalcones. Two rooibos flavonoids, quercetin and luteolin have been known to have cancer fighting qualities. Rooibos does not contain the antioxidant Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG).

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 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. The Dutch settlers to the Cape developed Rooibos as an alternative to black tea, an expensive commodity for the settlers who relied on supply ships from Europe.

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 rate, the most expensive vegetable seed in the world. Today the seed is gathered by special sifting processes. 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.

Due to the difficulties buying and shipping tea (once again, I'm referring to "real" tea) from war-ridden Asia during World War II, the demand for a substitute beverage was urgent. Since Rooibos tea was such a fitting alternative, Rooibos' popularity rapidly rose.  But it wasn't until decades later that Rooibos teas' real success began. In 1968, South African mother Annique Theron fortuitously stumbled across Rooibos teas' ability to calm her baby, relieving the infant of colic and insomnia. Gratified by Rooibos' natural healing potential, Annique went on to investigate and document Rooibos' health-promoting properties. In 1970, Annique published her findings a book titled "Allergies: An Amazing Discovery." With this publication, Rooibos tea first became widely recognized worldwide.

Widely acclaimed throughout the media and a New York Times Bestseller, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith extols the delicious qualities of naturally sweet Rooibos tea. Set in Botswana, Africa, The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency is the first book in a series (of the same title), wherein the main character, Precious Ramotswe, frequently entertains clients and visitors with a cup of what is referred to as "Bush" tea or "Redbush" tea (these, as we know, are colloquialisms for Rooibos). The enormous success of this series seems to have catalyzed a remarkable demand for Red tea, bringing Rooibos tea to the forefront of the beverage world.

No matter what it is called (Red Tea, Redbush Tea, Bush tea, Mountain tea, Long life tea, Herbal Allergy tea or Rooibos Tea), all can agree that Rooibos is a delicious, naturally sweet and versatile beverage.  When Annique first made this discovery, it was impossible for her to know the many amazing health benefits Rooibos tea can provide. Throughout many years of rigorous scientific investigation, many benefits have surfaced and more are sure to follow.  Although most health claims about Rooibos have not been entirely proven, we are very clear that Rooibos tea contains many flavinoids, free-radical fighting antioxidants (similar to Polyphenols which have made Green tea famous). Even more alluring, unconfirmed studies are showing that these flavinoids may be up to 50 times more effective than those found in Green tea.

Rooibos is purported to assist with nervous tension, allergies and digestive problems. Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos in South Africa include alleviating infantile colic, allergies, asthma and dermatological 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, no adverse side effects of consuming rooibos tea have been documented.  Being that Rooibos tea is naturally caffeine free (an especially important benefit for pregnant women, children and caffeine-sensitive drinkers), Rooibos tea can be consumed before sleep without caffeine's stimulant side effects. Rooibos tea has also been shown to soothe the body's reaction to allergy and rashes. Rooibos tea also contains anti-spasmodic agents which can relieve stomach pains. In Asia, it is known as "Long Life" tea, in that many believe that Rooibos has anti-aging effects

When added to lotions, Rooibos has been shown as an effective herbal remedy for skin ailments such as eczema and acne. In cooking, Rooibos tea has been shown to be an effective meat tenderizer and a wonderful marinade. Rooibos is also being used as a dye, a vitamin, a spice and just about anything that could be imagined.


Orange flavored Rooibos

3 Rooibos teabags
One can of Concentrated Orange Juice (341 ml Frozen and unsweetened)
Iced cubes

Prepare 1 liter of strong Rooibos (by steeping 3 bags in 1 liter of boiling water for more than 10 minutes).  Sweetner can be added to the warm Rooibos if a sweetened drink is required. Remove the teabags and add the frozen orange juice. Stir and add ice (2 to 3 trays of ice will be enough to cool down the tea and dilute the concentrate) Serve immediately with more ice cubes, garnished with fruit slices and mint. This mix can also be served later but then we recommend that you add less ice and let it cool down normally. Will serve 12 glasses.

Rooibos Fruit Smoothie

1/2 banana (preferably frozen)
3 cups fruit (peaches, berries, frozen or not)
Cold Rooibos until it reaches the top of blender

Blend and enjoy! A healthy energizing treat anytime!

Rooibos Pancakes

Using yesterday’s tea to make this mornings pancakes is a great way to use up Rooibos and add flavor, color and nutrients to your recipe.

2 cups cold Rooibos tea (or warm if it happens to be)
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat or unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon baking soda with a tsp of apple cider vinegar to activate it
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
2 tablespoons oil of any kind (I use olive, canola or sunflower would be fine)

Combine the wet ingredients (except vinegar and oil), add the dry ingredients including baking soda and add the vinegar right on top. Once it fizzes, stir dry ingredients into wet until you have a smooth mixture. If it seems too stiff, add more rooibos, water or milk. If it seems too liquid, add a little more flour. The last step is to add the oil and stir just a few times so you can see the oil coating the outside of the batter. Heat cast iron pans or some other non stick pan. Pour into fry pans by the cup and when you see bubbles across the top of the pancake flip and cook on the other side for 25-50 seconds depending on the heat. The pancakes should be a golden brown color on both sides and cooked all the way through.

Rooibos Vegetable Soup
1/8 cup olive oil 
3 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 lb of bacon, diced
2 cups broccoli, broken into florets
3 carrots, chopped  
4 potatoes, diced
2 1/2 cups green beans, cut into 1” pieces
2 cups cabbage, sliced (optional)
1 small can tomato paste
6 chicken stock cubes, dissolved in 6 cups of hot Rooibos Tea
Coarsely ground black pepper and salt to taste   
 ¼ cup Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Sauté garlic & onions in heated oil in a large saucepan until tender.  Add bacon & fry until done, but not brown.  Add the remaining vegetables and stir-fry slightly. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender. Flavor with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Sprinkle with parsley & serve.  (Serves 8-10)

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