It relieves insomnia and mild depression, eases stomach cramps, and even helps clear up hay fever allergies, but unless you're a tea fanatic, the recent appearance of rooibos (pronounced ROY-boss) tea on grocery shelves probably took you by surprise. "With a body like black tea's, as many antioxidants as green tea, and the versatility of the best herbals, some say that rooibos is overdue for an American debut," reports Anita MacAuley in Fresh Cup (Dec. 2000), a magazine for the specialty coffee and tea industry.
While rooibos is available in nearly every British health food store and has become ubiquitous in Germany, international sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime kept it off the radar for most American tea drinkers. (The herb grows solely in a 100-mile radius around the village of Clanwilliam in South Africa's Western Cape region.) Several American tea manufacturers have used rooibos in their blends for years, but they haven't advertised it widely.
Rooibos became more widely available in 1993, MacAuley explains, when sanctions on South African products were lifted at the end of the apartheid regime. Since then, tea manufacturers have gradually become more willing to incorporate rooibos into their product line. And because of a wide range of health benefits, the herb is poised to become the next hot item in America's growing fascination with medicinal teas.
"Studies show that the tea relieves insomnia, nervous tension, mild depression, stomach cramps (including colic), constipation, and allergic symptoms (even those caused by hay fever and asthma)," writes Betty Kamen in Alternative Medicine (Nov. 2000). "It can also ease itching and skin irritations, thereby offering eczema and acne victims welcome deliverance from misery." Rooibos is rich in iron, potassium, calcium, copper, zinc, magnesium, fluoride, manganese, and sodium. It contains no caffeine and is low in tannins, which can prohibit the absorption of protein and iron. According to one study, the antioxidant properties in rooibos are up to 50 times more potent than those of green tea.
Indeed, the health benefits of rooibos may help spark what Tomislav Podreka, president of the American Premium Tea Institute, calls the beginnings of an American tea ritual. "Every week there is another story in the media about the medicinal benefits of tea," he writes in Fresh Cup. "This is really an introduction--a carrot that dangles--and as we chase the carrot, we find ourselves moving closer to our own tea tradition."