Ultimate Guide to Rooibos Tea and its Benefits
Known to tea aficionados and health-conscious consumers the world over, rooibos tea has become increasingly sought after as a herbal tea due to its smooth refined taste and wide range of health benefits. Rooibos tea is caffeine-free, and is made from the rooibos plant (Aspalathus linearis).
Rooibos (‘red bush’ in Afrikaans) is an indigenous plant unique to the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces of South Africa, making it one of the country’s distinctive products and a source of national pride.
Known and used by the First Nations People of South Africa for millenia, what we know as today’s rooibos tea has been cultivated and harvested for over 300 years and used in the treatment of medical ailments and to provide health benefits. Today, it’s a herbal tea growing in popularity the world over that provides a range of remarkable health benefits, a rich visual appeal and a distinct, warm aroma.
If you’re interested in finding out more about rooibos tea and its benefits, you’re in the right place.
Table of Contents
All about the Rooibos Plant
Botanically speaking, the rooibos plant is a member of the Fabaceae plant family and one of the 278 species of the Aspalathus genus that grow in South Africa’s diverse fynbos biome. It’s a short bushy plant, and requires specific environmental conditions to grow, which is why its range is limited to a specific region of South Africa. These include deep, coarse, acidic and sandy soil, a Mediterranean climate with winter rainfall between 200 and 450 mm per year and a climate experiencing hot summers where temperatures can climb up to 45 degrees Celsius in summer and sink below zero in winter. Though there are a number of rooibos farms found throughout the Western and Northern Cape provinces of South Africa, we at Klipopmekaar are located at the perfect altitude and in the ideal region for the growing and production of premium rooibos.
Rooibos plants have needle-like leaves and grow to a height of approximately 1.5 metres with tap roots that can extend to around 2 metres below the surface. The rooibos plant has an average field-cultivated lifespan of 6 years, during which it is able to provide an average of 4 crops to growers in the Cederberg.
During South Africa’s pre-colonial period the rooibos plant was known to and utilised by the Khoisan people. Subsequent to the plant being identified and recorded by Carl Thunberg in 1772, rooibos became widely known and popular with early Dutch settlers in the Western Cape region of South Africa as it presented a cheaper alternative to traditional tea.
What is Rooibos tea?
Rooibos (or ‘red bush’ in Afrikaans) tea consists of the processed leaves of the rooibos plant, and as a traditional herbal tea it displays a deep reddish-brown colour that has a subtle sweet and woody aroma. Brewing up a delicious cup of rooibos tea is no different than how you’d prepare any cup of tea: rooibos tea can be used in tea bags, in a teapot, or as loose leaf tea.
Rooibos tea is often enjoyed in its pure form, and also with milk and/or sugar, and sometimes with a slice of lemon. And has a rich reddish-brown colour and sweet enticing aroma.
Though it’s usually enjoyed as red rooibos tea, the tea can also be enjoyed in a green variety. The key difference between the green and red teas is that they’re processed in different ways, about which you can find out more later in this post.
If you’d like to find out about how rooibos is grown and harvested, take a look at our Farming & Production page.
Types of rooibos tea
Rooibos tea is well known for its eye-catching traditional red-brown colour combination, but it’s also possible to find ‘green rooibos’ tea, which may be more beneficial for those seeking even more benefits from herbal teas.
Ultimately, both red rooibos tea and green rooibos tea are considered healthy herbal teas, providing similar health benefits, but with a varying chemical composition and polyphenols.
What is ‘Red Rooibos’ tea?
When harvested, rooibos is its natural green colour as would be found in our fields – but the deep red colour that it is known for is a result of the fermentation process. The best time to harvest rooibos is in summer between December and March. Once the plants are ripe they are hand-cut*, the raw leaf is collected into 10-15kg bundles and transported to our state of the art processing facility and tea court. At this stage the raw plant material is machine cut and is still a bright green.
In the afternoon, the rooibos cuttings are placed in a heap on a tea court where it is carefully aired, bruised and watered, and rotavated in order to allow enzymatic oxidation to take place – and it’s this part of the process that is responsible for changing the colour of rooibos from a striking green colour to a deep red/amber colour.
This process takes roughly 12 hours and fills our tea court with the sweet, warm, woody aroma that lovers of this herbal tea know well. The process takes place overnight (taking roughly 12 hours). In the morning it’s set out to dry in our tea court, where the baking heat of our Cederberg summer days dry it to the desired consistency.
Once the natural process of maturing to a tea-ready state is complete, the now reddish-brown rooibos undergoes further processing before delivery. This may include cutting the rooibos further to meet specific long and short-cut forms of rooibos required by our clients.
The cutting, fermenting & drying processes are completed in less than 24 hours, and the freshly made rooibos tea is “picked/sucked up” by a special machine (called an “Opteller” in Afrikaans) and fed into our 400kg bulk bags.
The rooibos is then sampled, tested, graded and labelled for quality assurance and traceability.
Next the bulk bags are then allocated to our dedicated rooibos tea store; where they can be safely stored for up to 10 years. Upon receiving bulk rooibos orders from customers, the Rooibos Processing & Packing phase begins.
*little-known fact: our rooibos is hand-cut using sickles, the traditional manner of harvest.
What is ‘green rooibos’ tea?
Green rooibos is the form of rooibos tea that undergoes negligible fermentation, or none at all. Once the leaves have been hand-cut in the fields and collected into bundles, green rooibos is cut to the desired consistency by our cutting machines and immediately set to rest on a steam blanching conveyor belt and processed. By being prepared in this way, green rooibos retains its natural colour, as it does not go through the ‘sweating’ or fermentation that produces red rooibos.
The raw green rooibos is then dried, either using machine driers, or by being laid out on our tea court (where the sweltering summer temperatures of our Cederberg summers provide all the heat needed). Using machine dryers can produce a brighter green rooibos than a tea court may produce in this instance – but brighter colour doesn’t necessarily indicate a higher quality product.
A common question asked is ‘What’s the difference between the two types of rooibos tea?’ The answer is that green rooibos tea is said to boast more antioxidants, while red rooibos tea may fight the growth of cancer cells at a slightly higher rate. In terms of taste and aroma, green rooibos tea is slightly more tart, while red rooibos tea has a fuller and naturally sweet and woody aroma.
Green rooibos is not to be confused with green tea, which is created from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Green tea is commonly grown in Asia, Kenya, Rwanda, India and a variety of other countries around the world, whereas green rooibos tea is exclusively cultivated and processed in South Africa in a limited number of suitable areas in the Western and Northern Cape provinces.
Benefits of rooibos tea
With high levels of antioxidants, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and being free of additives, caffeine or preservatives and colourants, it’s no surprise that rooibos tea has become a firm favourite for health-conscious tea lovers around the world. These and many other specific benefits of rooibos are also why it’s now sought out as a raw ingredient in a wide variety of products.
It’s worth noting that we don’t wish to make bold claims about the science behind the benefits of rooibos tea below, and thus, we have relied on reputable online sources to help us describe the valuable aspects of this remarkable plant.
Rooibos tea and sleep
For those that suffer from insomnia, rooibos tea (being caffeine-free) can help to promote relaxation and better sleep because rooibos contains calcium and magnesium, two of the essential elements that assist with sleep.
Calcium levels peak during one’s sleep, as melatonin, our sleep hormone, is produced by the brain using calcium. Consuming rooibos before bedtime can help increase the body’s natural levels of calcium, and help you produce more melatonin for a deeper sleep. Magnesium deficiencies have also been shown to inhibit sleep, as magnesium has a gently sedating effect on the nervous system.
One of the main reasons why one might not be able to sleep during a busy work week is stress – and thanks to the polyphenols contained in its leaves, rooibos is particularly good at lowering the body’s stress levels.
Rooibos tea and stress
Stress in the body is brought about by the hormone cortisol. Often called the ‘stress hormone’, cortisol causes an increase in blood pressure and resting heart rate, which add to fatigue and anxiety.
Rooibos contains two key natural antioxidants – aspalathin* and nothofagin – that assist in lowering stress. By helping to lower cortisol levels in the body, they act to reduce your stress levels – and this is why drinking rooibos tea at bedtime can help you sleep better.
*as its name suggests, aspalathin is only found in the Aspalathus family of plants, which is of course the rooibos family.
Rooibos tea and the skin
Before rooibos infusions in skincare formulations became a popular wellness trend, rooibos tea was consumed on its own to assist in alleviating skin symptoms and conditions.
Rooibos contains zinc, superoxide dismutase, and also aspalathin and nothofagin. As potent antioxidants with anti-bacterial, antiviral and antibacterial qualities, these natural ingredients can assist in combating different aspects of acne, and preventing breakouts.
The antioxidants found in rooibos also provide anti-inflammatory properties, useful in treating underlying skin inflammation and visible inflammation caused by acne and other skin concerns. Due to rooibos’ high antioxidant content, it can also be effective at reducing wrinkles caused by free radicals. Drinking rooibos as a tea or using skincare products that contain rooibos as an ingredient can’t make you look decades younger – but the antioxidants present in rooibos can help to to combat wrinkles by having a neutralising effect on the free radicals that contribute to wrinkles.
These days, a wide variety of skincare and beauty products are available that include raw rooibos or extracts as an ingredient – look out for them, and try them for yourself to enjoy the benefit of the health-giving properties of this humble but versatile plant.
Rooibos tea and heart health
Excess inflammation in the body caused by lifestyle and diet can lead to poor heart health, resulting in a higher risk of heart attacks and strokes. Thanks to the natural compounds it contains, rooibos is useful in combating inflammation, and in turn can help to improve overall cardiovascular health.
It’s worth mentioning that rooibos also suppresses Angiotensin-Converting Enzymes (A.C.E’s). ACE’s, and specifically angiotensin II, are produced in the body and narrow the body’s arteries and veins, putting more pressure on your heart. Rooibos, as a natural ACE inhibitor, relaxes your veins and arteries to lower blood pressure and promote better heart health and function.
Rooibos tea and diabetes
Rooibos has been shown to be beneficial for diabetics by helping regulate blood sugar levels and improving the absorption of glucose. The plant’s main polyphenol – aspalathin – is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to help fight insulin resistance at a cellular level, helping to regulate blood sugar levels.
It’s also worth noting that diabetes sufferers may prefer consuming green rooibos, which has been found to have higher levels of aspalathin. The reason for this is that aspalathin decreases in potency during the oxidation and fermentation process that provides traditional red rooibos tea with its rich colour.
Rooibos tea and allergies
For those that suffer from hayfever or experience allergies during the year, good news: rooibos contains natural compounds that can enable your immune system to fight allergic reactions.
This is because rooibos is believed to have antihistamine properties, thanks to a bioflavonoid called quercetin being amongst the many other beneficial natural compounds that rooibos contains. Quercetin works to prevent immune cells from releasing histamines which are the chemicals responsible for allergic reactions such as hives, skin swelling, rhinitis, runny noses and watery eyes.
Will drinking plenty of rooibos tea beat hayfever or prevent allergies? On its own it can’t be considered a miracle cure when it comes to these common maladies – but increasing your daily consumption of rooibos tea will work alongside other remedies to bring greater relief from the allergy blues.
Rooibos tea and cancer
In recent years, significant interest has been generated around the potential for rooibos to help prevent tumour growth and kill cancer cells. At the moment, it can only be said that rooibos may reduce the risk of cancer, working off of the logic that rooibos contains quercetin and luteolin, which have been shown to prevent tumours and get rid of cancer cells in test-tube studies.
That being said, it should be noted that those suffering from hormone-sensitive cancers should exercise caution when it comes to drinking large amounts of rooibos tea, as too much rooibos can increase the production of the estrogen hormone.
Rooibos tea and weight loss
Rooibos is calorie free, with a naturally sweet taste – making it a perfect addition to a weight loss diet. It has been associated chemically with weight loss, as a result of the polyphenols it contains which have been linked to combating obesity. Test tube studies have concluded that rooibos tea may be able to speed up the weight loss process by increasing levels of leptin, which can help regulate the body’s metabolism.
In addition, rooibos is said to be able to suppress the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause hunger spikes and changes in your metabolism’s activity, halt the formation of new fat cells and encourage a quicker fat metabolism.
Can rooibos tea help you detox?
As its antioxidant and health-giving properties have become widely known, so rooibos is increasingly being sought out by those that take part in the occasional or seasonal detox.
The idea behind detoxing is to limit or cut out the amount of harmful ingredients and toxins consumed by the body. Due to being caffeine-free, loaded with antioxidants, magnesium, iron and calcium, and being free from chemicals and harmful substances, rooibos is a natural choice if you’re looking to detox.
As an additional health benefit, drinking rooibos can also give you a better chance of absorbing iron than regular tea, which can contain more harmful tannins that can limit your body’s absorption of iron.
Rooibos promotes healthy liver function
Rooibos has long been promoted as a healthy alternative for those that enjoy beer, whisky, wine and other alcoholic beverages to wind down during the evening and before bed time.
In studies conducted at the C.P.U.T (Cape Peninsula University of Technology), it was found that rooibos could improve liver function and protect the liver against oxidative damage.
It does this by protecting the liver against structural, enzymatic and biochemical damage. It may even help reverse the effects of mild damage in the liver with regular consumption. If you find you’re opening the drinks cabinet a couple times a week before bed, and you’re looking for the healthiest alternative to help you wind down at night, rooibos is the best choice to help you relax and reduce stress. Being caffeine free, it won’t affect your sleep patterns, and will likely do you good while you rest.
Rooibos is low in harmful tannins
Rooibos boasts lower levels of tannins that are naturally present in other types of teas, such as traditional green and black teas derived from Camellia sinensis (aka ‘Ceylon’ tea).
It’s worth noting that while most tannins found in tea are beneficial and include valuable antioxidants, some negative effects can be the result of high concentrations of tannins. Among these negative effects are a reduction in the ability to absorb iron in foods, mild digestive problems and a reduction of the regular function of your metabolism.
If you’re a high-frequency tea drinker and experience potential issues that could be caused by high levels of tannins, tuck into the rooibos: its health-giving benefits could reduce your tannin levels while you enjoy delicious cups of sweet red tea.
Other uses of Rooibos
Rooibos has been incorporated into a variety of popular products as a key or supporting ingredient. It’s often used for the key benefits it can provide as a plant that is high in antioxidants, and/or for its natural sweet, woody aroma.
Let’s dive into some other uses for rooibos, besides delicious tea, below.
Rooibos tea and skincare
The antioxidants contained in rooibos aren’t just useful when consumed. When incorporated into skincare formulations and applied directly to the skin, these antioxidants are incredibly useful.
Antioxidants are most widely used to combat signs of aging in a variety of ways. antioxidants contained in rooibos are antibacterial, and anti-viral in nature – making them useful for treating skin symptoms associated with acne and breakouts.
As mentioned earlier on, antioxidants are useful for combating free radicals, which are responsible for many signs of aging – most notably an increase in wrinkles. Of course, with its appealing aromatic combination consisting of woody and lingering floral notes, it’s also amazing when used as the key fragrant component in formulations.
The dried rooibos tea leaves are a great ingredient for exfoliating the skin. The roughness of the woody leaves make for a natural and biodegradable alternative to microbeads with the woody, fragrant aroma of rooibos.
We supply premium grade organic rooibos.
Rooibos is an amazing plant with a wide range of health benefits whether consumed as rooibos tea, skincare products, or even wine! Make sure you choose organic rooibos for maximum benefits and best quality taste – find out more about what makes organic rooibos unique.
Do you want to use organic rooibos in your products? Or are you looking for a reputable supplier of premium rooibos for your tea brand? As one of the largest organic rooibos farms in the world, situated in the Cederberg in South Africa, we supply local and international markets with a range of ethically farmed and organically certified high quality rooibos products. From our most popular short cut teabag rooibos, to longer cut rooibos utilised for premium rooibos byproducts, we have a range of packaging and ordering options to suit your specific requirements – and can provide invaluable support in building your value chain and marketing your brand.
For all of your premium, organic bulk rooibos needs, you’re welcome to get in touch with us to discuss how we can assist you.