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Red tea: Even better for you than green tea?

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It’s called Rooibos (roo-ee-bosh), which means red bush. It’s delicious, widely available, and super high in antioxidants. And it’s totally caffeine-free. Oh, and kids love it.

When I was conducting research into South Africa’s native herbs, I was served rooibos everywhere I went. Red in the cup, fragrant to the nose and pleasing to the palate, rooibos soon became a favorite. In every meeting, I looked forward to that red tea, which is one of the only native herbs of South Africa to achieve significant commercial status.  My wife and I keep it in the tea cupboard at home, and we often turn to rooibos when we want a cup of tea without caffeine.

Indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa, rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a shrub with long, needle-shaped leaves that turn red upon fermentation. When you drive through the countryside north of Cape Town, you see rooibos everywhere. Rooibos is a traditional beverage of the native Khoi people of the Cape area, though it has become more popular in recent years due to word spreading about its high antioxidant value. Traditionally, the native people harvest the leaves, bruise them with hammers, ferment them and dry them. The result is a red, astringent tea that refreshes and does not cause jitters.

Sometimes given to babies suffering from colic, rooibos is known for anti-spasmodic activity. A growing body of evidence suggests that the health benefits of rooibos may be quite broad, including evidence that the antioxidants in the tea may reduce the risk of heart disease, and may inhibit some parameters of aging. Rooibos even shows use as a cosmetic ingredient for soothing, protecting and repairing skin.

Research conducted in Japan shows that rooibos possesses antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and antiviral activity. Translation – it is powerfully protective. Additionally, rooibos appears to have anti-allergic properties.

Rooibos is especially rich in the super-antioxidant compound quercetin. A titan among the antioxidants, quercetin imparts benefits to the heart, helps to reduce the risk of various types of cancers, fights viruses and is significantly anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is part of all known chronic degenerative diseases. The anti-inflammatory activity of quercetin means that it helps to reduce the risk of many types of health disorders.

Additionally, rooibos is a source of two comparatively rare antioxidants, aspalathin and nothofagin. Aspalathin helps to modify hormones in the body and reduces the output of adrenal hormones specifically, thus reducing stress and helping to inhibit metabolic disorders. Aspalathin also helps to regulate blood sugar and therefore can play a role in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes and excessive fat production. The antioxidant nothofagin also demonstrates significant anti-inflammatory activity and, along with aspalathin, may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Both appear to protect nerves.

Light and crisp, Rooibos can be sweetened or un-sweetened, with or without other flavors. I sometimes make a cup of rooibos tea and add lemonade, which complements the tea nicely. Companies like Numi, Traditional Medicinals and Republic of Tea all offer rooibos teas, and the company Roobie Red makes a delicious bottled rooibos tea with other natural flavors added. Kids love it, and they don’t even notice they’re drinking something uber-healthy.

It isn’t difficult to live the high antioxidant lifestyle, taking in foods, herbs and teas that will protect your body in many ways, reduce the risk of various chronic and degenerative diseases and make you feel good. As Hippocrates remarked in his credo “Let thy food be thy medicine.” Drink Rooibos for taste or drink it for health. In either case, you’ll derive innumerable benefits.

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide.  His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com

Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at MedicineHunter.com.