by Katie Cyr
There is a magical beverage making a huge stir in North America—rooibos tea. This South African herb, which mean “red bush” in Afrikaans, is becoming a popular favorite for not only its smooth, versatile taste but also its nutrient-dense qualities, which rival those of green tea.
What many tea drinkers love about rooibos is that each sip offers health benefits. Rooibos contains iron, potassium, calcium, copper and magnesium. Combined, these nutrients promote oxygen flow, strong teeth and bones, skin health, nervous system function, and more. Rooibos is caffeine-free, so it can be enjoyed any time of day. It’s also a great kid-friendly drink.
Although this tea is relatively new in North America, early Dutch settlers in South Africa started drinking rooibos as an alternative to the very expensive black tea from Europe. In 1968, Annique Theron, a South African mother struggling with an allergic infant, put the spotlight on rooibos in her book Allergies: An Amazing Discovery with her claims that it soothed away her baby’s colic.
Cultivation and Production
Rooibos seeds are planted in February and March and tended for eighteen months, after which they’re harvested. Cut rooibos is bound and milled to a uniform length and then bruised between rollers to trigger the fermentation process that gives it its distinct red color and sweet flavor. It has the appearance of small, short red pine needles. Green rooibos, which doesn’t undergo the fermentation process, is also available. The green variety doesn’t possess the same sweet flavor of its fermented red cousin but is higher in antioxidants.
Crafting a good cup of rooibos is simple: For a 12-ounce cup of tea, I recommend 1–2 teaspoons depending on how strong you like your tea. Boiling water should be used, and the tea can be steeped anywhere from 3–10 minutes. South Africans like to steep the rooibos longer to bring out more of the antioxidant properties. The leaves can also be left in the water to further enhance the health benefits.
Rooibos is not limited to use as a hot beverage though; it’s often found in soaps, skin care and baking. It has been reported to help with acne, rosacea and allergic outbreaks when used topically. Rooibos can even be sprinkled in your garden to deter snails. The possibili‘teas’ are endless!