Published: 04/15/2006 - Updated: 08/13/2019
Author: Dra. Loredana Lunadei
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is the name of a plant in South African language meaning red bush. Also known as Red Tea or Rooibos but really is not the tea plant. With Rooibos you can produce an infusion with very pleasant taste which is slightly sweet and without caffeine. So both children and people with hypertension or nervous problems can take it.
The history of rooibos
The history of rooibos is not as old as black tea or green tea, or has ancestral links with philosophy. However, in its history there are some legendary individuals.
The number of inquiries about its healing properties has increased
In recent years, though, undoubtedly, it has not yet achieved the recognition it deserves for its delicious taste and health benefits.
The rooibos is the national drink of South Africa. The next country with the largest number of followers is Japan, where is currently conducting numerous studies on its healing properties.
The discovery of a plant
We can not specify how many thousands of years ago it existed, as a species itself, and does not know for certain when it started to be used in the Cedar Mountains, located close to Cape Town who prepared tea.
In 1904, descendants of those first who baked the rooibos were observed by Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian pioneer who later initiated the spread of this plant. Since he was born the son of a former family dedicated to the tea trade, Ginsberg knew perfectly how marketing the rooibos. One of his ideas, for example, was made public by distributing bags of rooibos in the streets of Cape Town. Thus, it was not only popular among the white population of South Africa, but came by sea to cities of Europe.
Dr. Nortier, physician and botanist, has undoubtedly a prominent place in spreading the rooibos. He was the first to discover its healing powers and to develop a specific culture method.
Demand increased rapidly
The increasing demand for rooibos was impossible to meet soon with wild shrubs and the few crops that existed in the region. That was when, in 1930, Dr. Fras Nortier appeared, a passionate botanist and physician, in collaboration with some farmers managed to develop a method to create fields of crops of rooibos. Some important tips collected from the immigrants from India, which they had extensive experience in tea plantations, a plant at that time in his homeland had been a spectacular boom. Dr. Nortier's efforts and his colleagues got finally a variety of Rooibos both received the name of the doctor and for many years the basis for the entire production of rooibos.
Rooibos can be collected a year and half after their first planting. Later, you can still harvested for eight or nine years.
The euphoric fifties
After a few years, rooibos had flourished a cultivation around the small South African town of Clanwilliam, precisely the place of birth of Dr. Nortier. The euphoria of the farmers and the peasants of the place that was not stopped to improve farming methods, and each time produced a greater quantity of rooibos. With enthusiasm, they forgot that a substantial production also requires the relevant market for profit. Therefore, in the mid-fifties rooibos prices plunged and many farmers, especially small ones, were declared bankrupt.
After this, in 1954 and at the request of the farmers, created a state commission that ensures not only the volume of production of rooibos, but also monitor compliance with certain measures of quality and hygiene: the call was NetB-Tea-Control-Board. Rooibos cultivation was confined to certain boundaries, which were basically the west of Cape Town between the district of Paarl and the Vanrhynsdorp-Calvinia. Since then the "Board" in 1993, conducts research in collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch and cultivation properties of rooibos and herbal teas that are prepared with it.
Like tea, rooibos can also purchased in bags, but it tastes best when prepared with loose leaves.
Current scientific research
The chemical and therapeutic profile of rooibos is now very well studied, though of course there are still some questions without response. A prominent place in this respect it occupies naturally South Africa, whose research in the fields of medicine and chemistry have a high academic level. The two leaders in the study of rooibos are the Department of Chemistry, University of Orange Free State in Bloemfontein Infruitec Institute and the University of Ste-Ilenbosch. However, also in the U.S. and Japan have been doing some research on the rooibos. In contrast, in Europe the majority of dietitians, chemists, doctors and pharmacists have barely heard of it.
The rooibos is exported worldwide
There are now over 300 farmers engaged in cultivation of rooibos. The Rooibos is exported to over 140 countries, although sometimes in a picturesque names such as "Masai" and "Tea of the Bushmen." Also in Europe it's easy to find at any establishment that has a good assortment of teas or organic produce stores. In general, it is more economic than teas from India, China or Japan.
However, despite its exotic name, its multiple beneficial effects scientifically-proven, and its price, well below the other teas, rooibos has not made the move to win black tea on the world market. Still, we must not forget that green tea also needed some time to emerge from the shadows to which "its brother", black tea, pushed to; although it is proven that it is much healthier. One might imagine that this is only a matter of time, and that the rooibos too shall end prevailing in our world as a healthy and delicious drink.
Botanical aspects and cultivation of rooibos
Many names for the same drink. The South Africans call it "rooibos" and pronounce the 'o' of 'Rooi' as a particularly long and the vowel "i" as a short vocal. However, it is also known by other names such as “redbush”, “rotbuschsie”, “NetB" or "Koopmans”. As already mentioned, in Europe also appears with the name "tea of the Maasai”, although the rooibos does not keep any relation with these people (the Maasai living in Kenya and Tanzania, while the rooibos grows in South Africa).
The scientific Latin name of rooibos is Aspalathus linearis. The family of Aspalathus-within the group of legumes, has more than 200 species, all of which grow only in South Africa. However, the Aspalathus linearis is the only one which can be drunk without any problem.
Some of the other species can also be drunk, and indeed in South Africa are made from time to time, but its consumption is somewhat problematic due to of the toxicity of some containing substances, so it is not recommendable doing it. By contrast, Aspalathus linearis is completely harmless and even doesn’t contain caffeine. Furthermore, the Organization Rooibos Limited is responsible for not mixing with other types of rooibos of Aspalathus.
Rooibos belong to the legume, i.e. to the same family of the lupine plants, the bean, the vetch or clover. However, it only grows in South Africa.
Preparation of rooibos
Its time of harvest: The harvest of rooibos is between January and March. During this period, the daytime temperature in South Africa is 40 ° to 45 ° C, and the night of 20 ° C. The rooibos must have a minimum of 18 months before being harvested. Optimal production of its age when it is usually three years, from then gives good results for about eight or nine years. When it reaches the ten years, make way for a young plant, but in reality could be even twice that age. The ideal time for collection covers the entire summer to early autumn, which is precisely where bush growth is being rest. During the harvest cut branches about 30 to 40 centimeters above the ground with a sickle or machine, then tied in bundles.
Fermentation and drying: An infusion of rooibos of good quality should have a brown and reddish tone, a color that is reminiscent of sunsets in Cape Town. The preparation of freshly harvested rooibos is made to collection points controlled by the South African Ministry of Health. First, with a machine, branches are cut into segments measuring about 4 mm in length, and then passed through rollers which crush. Then wetted with water and spread to form mounds up to 15 or 20 centimeters tall.
From the moment the grass is left to ferment for between 8 and 24 hours, i.e., similar to the procedure followed by the black tea. The rooibos is exposed to natural chemical processes in which some substances are broken down and, in turn, are formed again. The branches of rooibos, which are naturally green, get a special reddish brown, very characteristic of this infusion. It is during the fermentation process that rooibos develops the peculiar fruity aroma that sets it apart.
When done, branches are put in the sun to make their moisture content is around ten percent. At this time, the first checks are carried out: tests with fermented rooibos prove their commitment to purity, cutting its length, its aroma, color and moisture.
Washing and pasteurizing: The next step in the preparation of the rooibos is done by special machines that filter impurities and discard the larger branches. Then, in order to protect from insects and parasites, leaves pass through steam. Finally, it is weighed and packed in bags.
The contents of the packets pass a check, in which, besides the smell, taste, length of cut and the moisture is found there is no problems.
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