Rooibos is a South African herbal “tea” whose popularity has grown by leaps and bounds in the course of the past decade. According to one source, worldwide export sales of the plant grew by 400 percent in a five-year span ending in 2003.
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) takes its name from an African word of Dutch origin that means “red bush.” Redbush, in turn, has become a common nickname for this beverage, which has a deep red color when steeped. Rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) is only grown in the Cedarberg region of South Africa.
The plant is grown, processed, and prepared in a manner not unlike tea and has been a fixture in this region of South Africa for hundreds of years. But it was not until the early twentieth century that it was cultivated and sold. In 1904, a Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg began selling what was called “mountain tea” in and around the Cedarberg region as a substitute for regular tea.
The popularity of rooibos swelled in the Seventies when South African author Annique Theron published a book about it called Allergies: An Amazing Discovery. Some of the many health benefits attributed to this caffeine-free brew to this day are a high antioxidant and mineral content. Ailments rooibos is said to provide relief for include allergies, sinus infection, insomnia, irritability, headache, nervous tension, hypertension, colic, asthma, and eczema.
For tea drinkers who might be sensitive to caffeine, an additional benefit of rooibos is that it produces a naturally caffeine-free beverage with a flavor not all that far removed from some varieties of black tea. Like most tea, rooibos works equally well when consumed hot or iced.
As recently as 1999, rooibos exports to the United States made up only about one percent of South Africa’s total. This amount lagged considerably behind exports to Germany, Japan and the Netherlands, which accounted for more than four-fifths of all rooibos exports. Since 1999, Rooibos sales in the United States have quadrupled annually. Nowadays buyers are likely to find a respectable selection of this product in their local grocery store, in loose, bagged and flavored varieties.