Deep in the heart of South Africa, in the mountains and valleys of the Cedarberg region near Cape Town, vast vistas, fields of verdant green bushes, fill the landscape. Traveling throughout this precipitous expanse, one may not suspect that this bright bush, which the locals refer to as “Rooibos,” (pronounced roy-boss), could be such a versatile and remarkable herb. Among Rooibos’ many uses, Rooibos’ most popular utilization is as a tisane, or herbal beverage. Also known as Red tea, Bush tea (no relation to our 40th or 42nd President) and Redbush tea, Rooibos tea has become the hottest trend in the tea industry.
It ain’t easy bein’ Red
Like most tea (Camellia Sinensis … AKA “real” tea), Rooibos tea goes through a fermentation process. Rooibos tea is finely chopped, bruised and left to ferment in heaps. Rooibos tea is then left to dry in the African sun, where it changes from a vivid green to a deep mahogany red the unique color which Rooibos tea is known and adored (and consumed).
The Dark Age of Rooibos Tea
Rooibos tea remained virtually unheard of for centuries, known only to the Khoisans, a tribe of South African Bushmen. It was used frequently by these people as an herbal remedy for a wide range of ailments. The secret of this delicious herb nearly vanished into oblivion due to the environment and landscape, as the isolated tribe dwindled away and eventually disappeared.
Luckily, Rooibos tea was re-discovered in 1772 by botanist Carl Humberg, who then brought it back as a beverage. For generations after this, Rooibos tea was enjoyed (primarily by the South Africans) for it’s cool, sweet, refreshing flavor. In 1904, a Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg realized Rooibos’ untapped marketing potential, and began offering Rooibos tea globally calling Rooibos “Mountain Tea” as an herbal substitute to tea. Thus, the Worldwide Rooibos Revolution had begun.
A Place in the Sun
Due to the difficulties buying and shipping tea (“real” tea) from war-ridden Asia during World War II, the demand for a substitute beverage was urgent. Since Rooibos tea was such a fitting alternative, Rooibos’ popularity rapidly rose.
But it wasn’t until decades later that Rooibos teas’ real success began. In 1968, South African mother Annique Theron (possible relation to my favorite “Monster” star Charlize Theron?) fortuitously stumbled across Rooibos teas’ ability to calm her baby, relieving the infant of colic and insomnia. Gratified by Rooibos’ natural healing potential, Annique went on to investigate and document Rooibos’ health-promoting properties. In 1970, Annique published her findings a book titled “Allergies: An Amazing Discovery.” With this publication, Rooibos tea first became widely recognized worldwide.
Rooibos tea has since expanded from a small herb indigenous to a select region of South Africa, known only to a small group of tribesman, into one of the most consumed and well-known herbs in all the world. The wonderful flavor and startling versatility make Rooibos worth the praise it has received, a mainstay for the converted and a must-try for the not-yet enlightened.