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Rooibos Story

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The Rooibos Story

The rooibos plant, or Aspalathus Linearis is indigenous to the Cedarberg Mountains, which is 200 km north of Cape Town, South Africa. This aromatic shrub, which is a member of the legume family, grows on the mountain slopes, plateaus, plains and valleys. Many centuries ago, this tea plant was well known to the people of the native Khoisan tribe; used by these ancient folk as an herbal remedy for a wide range of ailments. But as their people whittled away, the herbal lore of Rooibos was forgotten.

After botanists discovered the plant in 1772, generations of South Africans simply enjoyed it for its sweet, refreshing taste; unaware of the startling powers this wonder of Nature possessed. It was Annique Theron who rediscovered its magic. In 1968, this South African mother stumbled across its ability to soothe and calm her baby, relieving the infant of colic and insomnia. Amazed by its natural healing potential, Annique went on to investigate and document its health-promoting properties as a caffeine-free, low-in-tannin tea. Not just for babies, but for allergies and ailments across a broad spectrum of age groups.

In March 1996 Dr. Charlene Marais obtained a doctor's degree in chemistry from the University of the Free State, South Africa, for which she has dedicated her research to Rooibos tea. The most important conclusion one can reach from her study is that Rooibos is not only harmless, but definitely beneficial in certain areas. During the past few years, Rooibos tea has become the favourite beverage of thousands of people across the globe. Most of these people are convinced or believe that the drink is beneficial to their health.

Some of these presumptions are now scientifically supported by Dr. Marais' academically founded research. Her study entailed the isolation of metabolites from Rooibos tea and the subsequent consultation of literature to determine the physiological activities of the isolated compounds. She was supported and aided throughout by her supervisor, Dr. Kobus Steenkamp and supervisor Prof. Daneel Ferreira, head of the Chemistry Department at the University of the Free State. Below is a summary of their findings.

Why Rooibos is good for you:

  • Rooibos is a completely natural and pure drink that contains no additives, preservatives or artificial colouring.
  • Rooibos contains no caffeine and has a soothing effect on the central nervous system and can strongly be recommended for people suffering from irritability, headaches, disturbed sleeping patterns, insomnia, nervous tension and mild depression or hypertension.
  • Drinking Rooibos can relieve stomach and indigestive problems like nausea, vomiting, heartburn, stomach ulcers and constipation.
  • Rooibos contains very little tannin, making it gentle on the stomach.
  • Rooibos has anti-spasmodic properties, thus relieving stomach cramps and colic in infants.
  • Rooibos has a soothing effect on the skin, relieving itching and certain skin irritations like eczema, diaper irritation and acne when applied directly to the affected areas.
  • Rooibos retards ageing. The effect of free radicals in the body (a by product of normal cell function) causes oxidation of these cells and Rooibos contains anti-oxidants that eliminate this effect.
  • Rooibos is a calorie-free.
  • Rooibos is of benefit in the management of allergies like hay fever, asthma and eczema.
  • Rooibos actually increases the absorption of iron in the body and also contains iron, potassium and copper, minerals that are essential for several metabolic functions. Rooibos also supplements the daily amount of calcium, manganese and especially fluoride, needed for the development of strong teeth and bones.
  • Rooibos contains zinc, which promotes healthy skin and magnesium, which enhances the nervous system.
  • Rooibos is most importantly a very refreshing drink; it picks you up in the morning, lets you sleep well at night and even tastes superb.
Nutrients per 200 mL
Iron (Fe) 0.07 mg
Potassium (K) 7.12 mg
Calcium (Ca) 1.09 mg
Copper (Cu) 0.07 mg
Zinc (Zn) 0.04 mg
Magnesium 1.57 mg
Fluoride (F) 0.22 mg
Manganese (Mn) 0.04 mg
Sodium (Na) 6.16 mg

The Processing of Rooibos

The tea is planted in July and August in the Southern hemisphere winter and is harvested from December until May the following year. About 95% of all the tea crops are still cut by hand with a sickle, making it a very labour intensive process, for the coarse structure of the plant still pose certain restrictions on full mechanization. The top half of the plant is cut leaving it standing about 45 cm.

From the fields it is transported with tractors to the barn where the leaves and stems are cut with either roller cutters or normal tobacco cutting machines. The tea is then spread on the tea court about 30 cm thick and covered with sheets to allow for the oxidation, or "sweat process" to occur. It is during this process that the tea turns in just a few hours from the green shrub it was in the field to a deep dark red colour. This is usually done overnight and the following morning it is thinly spread on cement courts to allow for solar drying, which usually is no longer than 3 days. This oxidation phase is probably the most critical process and has to be carefully monitored for it has a tremendous influence on the quality of the tea.

After the solar drying process the tea is screened to remove most of the stems and any debris. Various screen sizes are used to sort and grade the tea, depending on the eventual use and client specifications, ranging from a very coarse and rough grade, to Choice Grade to much finer and pure Superior Grades. Before any packing or shipping may take place though, the tea is laboratory tested by the South African Agricultural Board, to declare is hygienically suitable for human use.

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