What is Rooibos?
Whichever way it is written: Rooibosch, Rooibos (pronounced roy·buhs) or Redbush, refers to the legume Aspalathus Linearis. At first glance, it appears an unremarkable plant. With thin pale green leaves, growing no taller than a metre in sandy soil, among the wild mountains in the Western Cape of South Africa where leopards roam. Unlike the tea plant it is very hardy, seeming to relish in extremes. After being planted in the cold June winter, Rooibos is then harvested in the hot summer.
The plants produce yellow flowers which contain the seeds. These are gathered by farmers to grow in the nurseries. After planting, the first two years growth is only pruned back. It is not until years three and four that harvesting takes place, then the whole process must start again.
The leaves are picked and laid out in the hot summer sun to dry and oxidise. This turns them from green to a rich red. They are then graded and readied for shipping.
Rooibos taste and preparation
The manufactured leaves are small, straight and red like little needles. As a result, they need to be infused longer than most traditional tea leaves. Up to 8 minutes will produce a rich full flavour with a sweet top note and a malty body. I prefer it drunk straight, without milk because of its deep mouthfeel. What has always surprised me is how invigorating a drink Rooibos is considering the lack of any stimulants.
What are the health benefits of Rooibos?
There are many elements within traditional teas that make them healthy enough to drink. For example, teas are full of antioxidants. But of course for anyone sensitive to caffeine or pregnant, they may not be so suitable. In contrast Rooibos has no caffeine content. Caffeine within plants acts as a natural insect repellent, but not all plants have the capability of producing it and Rooibos is one of them. This makes it perfect as a 'just before bedtime' drink.
The very low tannin levels are also beneficial for anyone who is pregnant, as high tannins interfere with iron absorption.
There are many antioxidants within Rooibos which are important for health, especially of the heart. Medical research studies have shown that it can help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure.
The antioxidant Aspalathin has been shown to play a role in helping those with diabetes reduce the risk of vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of Rooibos have also been shown by inhibiting the effects of diesel exhaust particles on the immune response system.
Studies also show that Aspalathin helps to reduce stress, along with another compound present in Rooibos called Nothofagin. Nothofagin is rarely found in other natural products.
Indeed, the plant is mentioned in numerous studies which suggest the antioxidants within it have positive effects against some cancers, hypertension, and promoting immune responses against disease.
What's better? Rooibos or Green Tea?
From all this research if you were to ask ‘is Rooibos good for you?’ The answer would be a resounding yes. However, if you were to ask if it is better for you than green tea? The answer is more complicated. Rooibos contains different antioxidants than green tea, and fewer overall. But green tea contains caffeine, and often a high caffeine content. I enjoy green tea too, but I don’t drink too much, and certainly not late in the evening.
For me personally, I enjoy the unique flavour of Rooibos. And above all, that I can drink it before I go to bed and still get a good night’s sleep.