Rooibos: Wikis


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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Aspalathus
Species: A. linearis
Binomial name
Aspalathus linearis
(N.L.Burm.) R.Dahlgr.
Green rooibos tea
A Rooibos-infused liqueur and Rooibos tea

Rooibos, (pronounced /ˈrɔɪbɒs/, like "roy-bos"),[1] Afrikaans for "red bush"; scientific name Aspalathus linearis) is a broom-like member of the legume family of plants.

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.

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.[2] 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 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. Unlike black tea, however, rooibos does not become bitter when steeped for a long time. Rooibos tea is a reddish brown colour, explaining why rooibos is sometimes referred to as "red tea". Unlike some higher quality oolong or green teas, rooibos is often only good for a very limited re-steeping as there is a sharp drop off in brewing after the first infusion.

Several coffee shops in South Africa have recently begun to sell red espresso[3], 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 and Australia as Lipton "Red Tea, Rooibos & Guarana", and in the United States as Snapple "Red Tea, Pomegranate Raspberry"[4].

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 [5] 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.[6]

Rooibos is purported to assist with nervous tension, allergies and digestive problems.[7]

Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos in South Africa include alleviating infantile colic, allergies, asthma and dermatological problems.[8][9]


Scientific study

Although human studies of rooibos are scarce in the 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.[10]

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.[11]


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" after taste. 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 are a small number of speciality tea companies within South Africa who are now 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 botanist 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.

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.[12]

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.[13]

In the 1930s, Ginsberg persuaded local doctor and Rhodes scholar Dr. le Fras Nortier[14] 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 had found a rather unusual source of supply. She came again and again, receiving a shilling for each matchbox filled with seed. She had chanced upon ants dragging seed one day, followed them back to their nest and, on breaking it open, found a granary[14]. 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[15].

Since then, rooibos has grown in popularity in South Africa, and has gained considerable momentum in the worldwide market too. A growing number of brand-name tea companies sell this tea, either by itself or as a component in an ever-growing variety of blends.

The popularity of rooibos has also gained from its association with Precious Ramotswe, the Botswana detective in Alexander McCall Smith's series of novels about The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Mma Ramotswe's favourite drink is red bush tea (rooibos), which she often promotes as a therapeutic drink to her friends and clients - and hence the readers of the books.

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.[16]

Legal protection of the name Rooibos

If passed by the parliament of South Africa, the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill [17] 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.[18]

See also


  1. ^ "Episode 23 at position 25 minutes". The ZA Show. 2005-11-16. Retrieved 2009-02-06.  
  2. ^ Antimutagenic and Cancer-modulating Properties of Two Unique South African Herbal Teas, Rooibos and Honeybush, South African Medical Research Council website. Accessed 2008-10-10.
  3. ^ Red Espresso
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Rooibos the healthy tea, Science in Africa(accessed 9 Oct 2008)
  6. ^ Krafczyk N, Woyand F, Glomb MA. "Structure-antioxidant relationship of flavonoids from fermented rooibos." Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Jan 20. [epub ahead of print].
  7. ^ 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)
  8. ^ Joubert E, Gelderblom WC, Louw A et al. (2008). "South African herbal teas: Aspalathus linearis, Cyclopia spp., Athrixia phylicoides - a review. J Ethnopharmacol. 119: 376-412.
  9. ^ South African herbal teas: Aspalathus linearis, Cyclopia spp. and Athrixia phylicoides-A review, Department of Food Science, Stellenbosch University (accessed 9 Oct 2008)
  10. ^ 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).
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "Rooibos History". South African Rooibos Council. Retrieved 2008-08-19.  
  13. ^ History of Rooibos - Dragonfly Teas
  14. ^ a b Green, Lawrence (1949). In The Land of the Afternoon. Standard Press Ltd.. pp. 52 to 54.  
  15. ^ Klein Kliphuis Hotel website
  16. ^ Rooibos Trademark Abandoned American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) press release, 2005-06-28. Accessed 2008-10-10.
  17. ^ "Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill: Draft, (G 31026, GeN 552)". South African Government Information. 2008-05-05. Retrieved 2008-10-11.  
  18. ^ Trade Environment Database entry on "rooibos" name dispute in US

External links

Simple English

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Genus: Aspalathus
Species: A. linearis
Binomial name
Aspalathus linearis
(N.L.Burm.) R.Dahlgr.

Rooibos (Afrikaans for "red bush"; scientific name Aspalathus linearis) is a member of the legume family of plants. Rooibos teas are herbal infusions made from a South African red bush. There are also green Rooibos teas that are just as delicious as the popular red teas.


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