Rooibos

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Posted by admin | Posted in Rooibos | Posted on 20-12-2010

Aspalathus linearis

Family: Leguminosae

Names: bushman tea, red bush tea

Description: Variable upright to weeping shrub with red-tinged branches and linear bright green leaves that turn red-brown when fallen. Tiny yellow pea flowers are borne in clusters during the summer.  Height and spread to 6 feet.  Zones 9-10  It is in flower from July to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite. It can fix Nitrogen.

Cultivation: Requires a very well-drained acid sandy soil and a warm sunny position. When grown in pots it needs to be kept dry but not arid in the winter.  This species tolerates several degrees of frost in its native habitat.  Plants are said to be frost-tolerant in one report, but in general plants are usually pot-grown in greenhouses in this country and can be brought into the garden for the summer.  Rooibos is one of the few wild species to have been developed as a commercial crop in the last 100 years. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby.

Sow seed late spring in a greenhouse. It will probably be beneficial to pre-soak the seed for 12 hours in warm water prior to sowing. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots of well-drained sandy soil as soon as they are large enough to handle. Grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter and plant them out in late spring or early summer after the last expected frosts. It will probably be wise to give the plants protection from the cold and from excessive rain for at least their first winter outdoors. Cuttings of half-ripe wood in a closed frame in early summer.

Pinch out to encourage bushy growth. Cut back plants hard to control growths from old wood.  Plants are cut 14 inches above ground, fermented and sun dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, and lotions.

History: A large genus of 255 luguminous, mostly spiny shrubs found only in southern Africa.  In the 19th century they were cultivated as greenhouse shrubs for their attractive flowers.  Rooibos tea, made from the dried, fermented leaves tastes similar to oriental tea but is les astringent due to the lower tannin content.  It is caffeine-free but has a higher fluoride content than oriental tea, which may help protect against tooth decay.

Constituents: Rooibos is completely caffeine-free and, unlike black tea, does not reduce iron absorption. Additionally, Rooibos possesses many nutrients including iron, potassium, copper, calcium, manganese, fluoride, zinc, magnesium and sodium.  many flavonoids and polyphenols with powerful antioxidant activity including a new diastereomeric pair of the flavanones, (S)- and (R)-eriodictyol-6-C-beta-D-glucopyranoside, which is also formed via the oxidative cyclization of the dihydrochalcone, aspalathin, under conditions which mimic the fermentation process. The tea also contains many polysaccharides and oligosaccharides. The ascorbic acid content of rooibos tea varies between 121,8 and 154,9 micromoles/l, depending on the method of preparation. Rooibos tea also contains small amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride and potassium.

Properties: An aromatic, pleasant-tasting, mildly astringent herb that benefits the digestion and relaxes spasms.  It relieves some allergic symptoms and skin conditions.

Medicinal Uses: A tea made from the dried fermented leaves tastes similar to oriental tea made from Camellia sinensis. It is less astringent, however, due to the lower tannin content. It is caffeine-free, but has a higher content of fluoride which might help to protect against tooth decay. Internally used for allergies, especially eczema, hay fever, and asthma in infants.  Externally used for skin infections and irritations.  Japanese research in the 1980s showed that rooibos contains a substance similar to the enzyme superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant compound thought to retard aging. Recent studies have reported rooibos tea as having antimutagenic and anti-HIV activity. The antimutagenic and antioxidant properties of Rooibos are far greater for unfermented shoot and leaf teas.

Culinary Uses: Mainly infused as a refreshing drink and as a base for soups, sauces, fruit drinks and in baking.  Extract is used locally in liqueur (buchenbosch) and schnapps.  The Japanese use Rooibos as an ingredient in bread, cosmetics, and sweets, as well as a favorite beverage.

References:
Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses
Plants for a Future Database

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