Rooibos: Much More Than Tea
By Karyn Maier
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), also known as red bush, is a bushy plant in the legume family that is indigenous to the shrubland of South Africa’s Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces, specifically the small mountainous region of Cederberg. The needle-like leaves, from which the herb yields its characteristic rust color and earthy, slightly sweet flavor, are harvested and fermented much in the same way as black tea (Camellia sinensis). While rooibos has been a staple in Africa for centuries, it has only become popular in the U.S. in the last decade. Because the plant is naturally caffeine-free, it’s an appealing alternative to those who want a robust and full-bodied tea but without stimulating effects. Rooibos tea also has fewer tannins than black and green teas, making it easier on the sensitive stomach.
Photo by FelixRenaud/iStock
Cooking with Rooibos
Like true tea, rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) is typically prepared as an infusion, served hot or iced with honey and lemon. But the herb also has culinary value. For example, the loose leaf can be combined with prepared mustard, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic and other herbs and spices, and used as a marinade for baked chicken or poached salmon. This mixture is also interesting when stirred into cubed potatoes before roasting. A simple syrup made from rooibos tea may be used to flavor panna cotta, ice cream, puddings and a variety of beverages, from chai-spiced latte to mojitos and other cocktails. Red bush tea alone adds vibrant color and flavor to soups and stews.
Natural Beauty from Roobios
Used as a final rinse after shampooing and conditioning, rooibos tea adds shine and softness to your hair. If dandruff is of concern, mix a bit of apple cider vinegar into the tea before rinsing hair. The vinegar will also add softness, while helping to restore the proper pH to your scalp. Final rinse means just that—you don’t wash it out.
A simple hand and facial lotion can be made from infusing two or three rooibos tea bags in a cup of hot milk. Let steep for 15 minutes, then strain and reserve the liquid. To this add 1/4 cup raw, organic honey and, if you wish, the contents of one vitamin E capsule. Stir well to combine and store in a clean, glass jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Drink to Your Health
Rooibos offers a number of benefits for the body. Rich in polyphenols, drinking generous amounts of the tea can help to prevent dehydration and premature aging of the skin. The plant also contains several antioxidant flavonoids, such as quercetin, luteolin and aspalathin. Studies have shown that rooibos compounds combat oxidative stress in a number of ways – by inhibiting lipid peroxidation, decreasing the presence of stress-related metabolites, regulating glutathione metabolism and by preventing the degradation of certain proteins.1 It should also be noted that consumption of the green, unfermented form of rooibos, which imparts a malt-like flavor, has been found to exert significant liver-protecting activity over its red counterpart.2 Among rooibos flavonoids, aspalathin is of particular interest as an anti-diabetic agent that may reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes and the risk of heart disease associated with it.3 Aspalathin is unique to rooibos and does not occur in any other plant on earth.
Rooibos is vulnerable to salmonella contamination during processing, so be sure to purchase rooibos tea from a reputable supplier that uses ozone treatments or other deterrents. Also, be sure to prepare rooibos tea with boiling water to eliminate potential pathogens.
Drinking large amounts of rooibos tea may increase the effects of diuretic medications. It may also increase the production of liver enzymes. Some of the compounds in rooibos tea may promote estrogenic activity, so you might want to avoid this herb if you have a history of a hormone-driven cancer.
How to Brew Roobios Tea
For each cup of boiling water, steep one heaping teaspoon of cut and sifted rooibos (if using loose tea). Otherwise, one tea bag of rooibos will do nicely. Bring the water and tea together in a cup or pot, cover and steep for 3-5 minutes. Strain and serve. The tea is already on the sweet side, but a bit of honey or tiny pinch of stevia can be added after steeping, if desired.
Increase the amounts according to make a pitcher of iced tea. Some lovely flavor-enhancing garnishments for iced rooibos tea include fresh mint leaves and slices of lemon or orange. Try it iced with a splash of bourbon and a drop or two of vanilla extract!
Rooibos Simple Syrup
• 1 cup filtered water
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 6 rooibos tea bags
• 1 tablespoons raw, organic honey
• 1 one-inch cinnamon stick
• 4 black peppercorns
• 1 whole star anise
• 3 whole, green cardamom pods lightly crushed
• 1 vanilla pod, sliced length-ways with seeds removed (reserve seeds for another use, like vanilla-infused sugar)
Combine ingredients in a heavy saucepan and gently heat over a flow flame until the sugar is completely dissolved, stirring often. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil for 15 minutes; stirring often. Strain and let cool before using. Keep refrigerated, and use within two weeks.
1. Hong IS, Lee HY, HP Kim. “Anti-Oxidative Effects of Rooibos Tea (Aspalathus linearis) on Immobilization-Induced Oxidative Stress in Rat Brain.” PLoS One. 2014; 9(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3897768/
2. BD Canda, OO Oguntibeju, JL Marnewick. “Effects of Consumption of Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and a Rooibos-Derived Commercial Supplement on Hepatic Tissue Injury by tert-Butyl Hydroperoxide in Wistar Rats.” Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014; 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967803/
3. PV Dludla,E Joubert, CJF Muller, et al. “Hyperglycemia-induced oxidative stress and heart disease-cardioprotective effects of rooibos flavonoids and phenylpyruvic acid-2-O-β-D-glucoside.” Nutr Metab (Lond). 2017; 14: 45. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504778/
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