What is rooibos tea?
Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis , formerly A. Contaminatus ), is a leguminous shrub with needle-like leaves native to mountain slopes of western Cape Province, South Africa. Its beverage use by the Hottentots was first reported by the botanist Carl Thunberg in 1772. About 1900, it began to be marketed and then domesticated on a small scale. Seed selection and improved cultivation and processing started in the 1920s. Important advances were made in 1930. Demand for the product jumped during World War II because of the shortage of Oriental tea, then declined. The industry was stabilized in 1954 and continued to expand, with exports to Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada and, to a very limited extent, the United States. A fungus disease, then drought, followed by floods temporarily reduced the supply in 1980. The tea is gaining recognition for its freedom from caffeine, low tannin and high ascorbic acid content.It contains the antispasmodic principle, quercetin, and is said to have enoughfluoride to inhibit caries. Consumer tests indicate that rooibos tea may be an acceptable alternative to tea, coffee, cocoa and high-caffeine soft drinks. 1
The journal 2 mentioned The worldwide demand for rooibos tea grew from 524 tons in 1955 to 10,600 tons in 2003, with exports comprising 6,400 tons. Most of the tea is exported to Germany (previously West Germany), where it was first sold in 1961 as „Rotbuschtee“ or „Massai-Tee“. Some tea was also exported to the USA and sold under the trade name ‘Kaffree tea’ (MORTON, 1983). Since 1984 rooibos was sold in Japan where its „anti-ageing“ properties were an important selling aspect. Recently, the opportunities, provided by a changing herbal tea market, stimulated the development of unfermented (green) rooibos. Most of its production is sold as herbal tea or is used to prepare extracts for the food, beverage and cosmetic industries. It is only the red type, divided into the selected and improved Nortier type (cultivated), and the wild-growing Cederberg type, with its broader and coarser leaves (MORTON, 1983) that is normally used for processing. Other types, i.e. the grey, black and red-brown types, were in the early years harvested in the wild for tea processing, and also today a small quantity of wild tea finds its way to the processors. Marketing of the grey and black types was discontinued by 1966 due to their poor quality (ANON., 1967). The black type gives an infusion that is not typically red-brown, nor is the flavour characteristic (COETZEE et al., 1953).
The table shows extracts from green rooibos (TIEDTKE and MARKS, 2002; OTTO et al., 2003), containing high levels of the active principle, aspalathin, are produced for the nutraceutical and cosmetic industries. Green rooibos is preferably used because of its higher antioxidant activity. Selective extraction of fermented rooibos also provides a product with enhanced antioxidant activity (VON GADOW et al., 1997b; JOUBERT et al., 2004), but the brownish dried extract is not suitable for the cosmetic industry.
The discovery by Annetjie Theron that rooibos tea contributes considerably to the convalescence of her 14-month-old, colicky baby, started off rooibos tea as a healthy drink. SNYCKERS and SALEMI (1974) attributed the anti-allergic effect of rooibos when administered to babies to the antispasmodic properties of quercetin and luteolin that would have a calming effect on the stomach. The indication that topical application of aqueous rooibos extract helps for skin problems such as eczema and nappy rash has resulted in development of special skin creams for babies and other natural cosmetic products. Previously, these products were limited to the South African market, but are now shipped worldwide (LEVY, 2004).