Rooibos, the red delight.
Derived from the Afrikaans word for 'red bush', Rooibos is not a true tea. It comes from a plant called Aspalathus Linearis, rather than the Camellia Sinensis, which is generally used for making tea. But, as Shakespeare rightly said: 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' Or, in this case, taste as sweet.
And Rooibos teas are certainly that. This shrubby bush with thin, needle-like leaves produces a brew that is light, sweet and delicious. The difference in color, which is indeed a light red, even adds to the experience. The color is a nice change from the green or dark brown of more traditional teas.
But then, tradition is different in different places. In South Africa, the home of the native Rooibos bush, the tea has been providing the populace with a wonderful brew for generations. When WWII restricted imports of Asian teas, those who supplied the millions wanting their afternoon cup went looking elsewhere.
They found it in the Cedarberg mountains where farmers harvest its low-volume seeds to produce a drink that has become popular worldwide. The tea is finely chopped, then left in the hot South African sun to dry.
The leaves are originally green, but turn red from this oxidation process, called 'fermentation'. In tea parlance fermentation bears no similarity to the word as used by wine producers. No sugars are fermented to make alcohol from the plant. The result is a leaf ready to make a delectable drink.
But Rooibos has more benefits than simply good taste. As if anything more were needed!
Rooibos is caffeine-free, yet retains the same anti-oxidant value that is found in green teas. That makes it heart-healthy and a value for those who drink tea for its cancer fighting properties and other health benefits. It's low in tannin, so you can have numerous cups without concern. Tannins lower the absorption of iron and other minerals.
Like other teas, there is some evidence that it has additional health-boosting abilities. Some studies suggest it helps the immune system, just like other teas. It also has been reported to aid in relieving stomach cramps. Since it has no oxalic acid, it can be drunk by those with a tendency to produce kidney stones.
You may find the product labeled Herbal Allergy tea, owing to its reputed ability to aid allergy sufferers. Or it may be labeled Red Bush and available in the section used to treat skin disorders, such as eczema.