Rooibos Tea - A Gift from the Cederberg Mountains

Woman drinking herbal teaRooibos Tea is a naturally caffeine-free drink that is rich in minerals and vitamins, and renowned for its many health benefits. Also known as 'bush tea' or 'redbush tea', rooibos is more of a herbal infusion than a tea. It grows in South Africa's Cederberg fynbos, a mountainous area rich in botanical diversity, with a landscape of striking rock formations, colourful shrubs and mountain streams. Although there have been attempts to cultivate rooibos in other countries, the unique subclimate and environment of this region of South Africa has proved to be the only place where it can thrive.

Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) plants are broom-like bushes that can grow up to almost two metres in height. They are able to withstand the extremes of temperature that prevail in the Cederberg region. Their small branches bear soft, needle-like leaves, and tiny yellow flowers; each flower produces a legume that contains a single seed, the outer shell of which is extremely hard. Once the seeds have germinated, they are planted out in beds. Rooibos plants are harvested by hand with sickles, then cut and crushed. The leaves are aired and watered before being laid outside in low heaps to ferment. As the leaves undergo oxidation, they change in colour from green to reddish-brown, and are then spread out in the sun and mountain air to dry. Green rooibos tea is produced from unoxidised leaves, and is thought to contain higher levels of antioxidants and nutrients than regular rooibos. The flavour is different too, having a more delicate, grassy taste.

The indigenous Bushmen of the area were the first to use rooibos leaves to make tea, centuries before the plants were cultivated for commercial use. The botanist, Carl Humberg first popularised rooibos as a beverage in the late eighteenth century, and in 1904, businessman Benjamin Ginsberg was instrumental in its production when he marketed it as as a herbal beverage called Mountain Tea. However, it is the district surgeon and botanist, Dr Pieter Le Fras Nortier who is most highly acclaimed for his research and tireless efforts to devise an effective way of preparing rooibos seeds for germination, resulting in the growth of the rooibos tea industry. The consumption of rooibos tea increased in South Africa during the Second World War, when there were difficulties with importing tea from other countries. Its popularity increased further in the early 1970s, after a book, 'Allergies: An Amazing Discovery' written by a South African mother, Annique Theron, revealed the multitude of health benefits related to rooibos. Today, rooibos tea is enjoyed in many countries of the world.

Rooibos tea is a caffeine-free, low tannin, soothing drink to calm body and mind. Its high levels of antioxidants are believed to be of benefit in the prevention of medical conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disorders. It's also thought to contain anti-allergenic, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties. Studies have suggested it can have positive effects on cholesterol levels, and be of benefit in the management of diabetes. It can offer relief from digestive problems, supports liver function, and is sometimes used as a hangover cure!

Rooibos tea can be served just as it is or with the addition of milk or lemon, and can be sweetened with sugar or honey if desired. It has a pleasant earthy flavour on its own, and is excellent when blended with fruits, flowers, herbs or spices. It also makes a great iced tea. It should be prepared just like black tea, ideally made with boiled spring or filtered water, using one heaped teaspoon of leaves to one cup of water. It is best brewed for between 4 and 10 minutes; there's no danger of bitterness with this one. In fact, it's thought the longer it is steeped, the more nutrients and antioxidants there are in the finished cup. Rooibos tea should be stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container to protect it from light and odours that could affect its flavour.

Tea-Direct.co.uk has a great choice of rooibos teas for you to try. They are just a selection from hundreds of wonderful loose leaf teas and sumptuous infusions from around the world, that can be swiftly delivered to your home, work or anywhere else!