Bringing South Africa's Favorite Drink to the World Market (Continued from previous page)

Some Facts About Rooibos
Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis, Fabaceae) is a delicate shrub with bright green, needle-like leaves that is native to the Cedarberg Mountains of the Western Cape. It grows about one-half to two meters tall (1 - 5 feet), with small yellow flowers in the spring. Rooibos thrives in hot, dry conditions such as those found in and around Wupperthal. This is part of the reason that rooibos tea from that region is considered the finest in the world. Rooibos is botanically unrelated to Camellia sinensis, the plant whose leaves are used to make black, green, and oolong teas

The mountain-dwelling people of the Khoi tribe were the first to develop a method for making tea from rooibos. Though the process has become more automated, the steps remain the same: the leaves (and sometimes twigs) are picked, bruised, fermented, then sun-dried. It is the bruising step, in which the leaves are hammered or crushed, that gives the material its distinctive red color.

Rooibos was first cultivated in the 1930s. Seeds can be planted between February and March, but greenhouse-raised seedlings have to wait until July or August to be planted outdoors. Harvest takes place once a year, between January and March. Leaves from a new plant can be harvested after just 18 months, then again every year after. One hundred metric tons of fresh leaves yield 40 tons of dried material.

Like other kinds of tea, dried rooibos is graded according to its color, aroma, flavor, and cut length. Because it comes from the best growing region in the world, nearly all the rooibos produced by A-SNAPP partners is considered the highest grade, or "supergrade." This grade is acceptable for export, and is currently sold in England, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Malaysia, China, Japan, and the United States.

Health Benefits
South Africans have traditionally used rooibos tea and leaves for treating a wide variety of medical conditions. Scientists have recently begun researching some of these uses and have found that rooibos' reputation as a healthy beverage is well deserved. Rooibos leaves are naturally low in tannins and contain no caffeine. That makes rooibos tea easy on the stomach and nervous system, so that even babies can drink it. In fact, South African mothers often use rooibos as a milk substitute for colicky babies. Rooibos also contains trace amounts of essential minerals.

Three key flavonoids - quercetin, luteolin, and aspalathin - give rooibos antioxidant properties, which means it protects cells from damage caused by pollution, aging, and excessive sunlight. A longer brewing time releases more of these beneficial compounds. Alpha hydroxy acids in the leaves have a soothing effect on irritated skin, which explains rooibos' use as a cosmetic ingredient in Japan. Preliminary research suggests that rooibos may have potential as a treatment for HIV. More research on the health benefits of rooibos is currently under way, but there are still plenty of reasons to enjoy it now. Cheers!

Nancy Hoegler, Herb Research Foundation

Visit the Cape Natural Tea web site to order some rooibos tea today! www.rooibostea.co.za

Coming soon! A-SNAPP Update Goes to Print

In an effort to make information about A-SNAPP accessible to all, HRF will be sending out a monthly print version of A-SNAPP Update, featuring the top stories from weekly online issues. Copies will be distributed in Africa by ARC-Elsenberg. To add your name to the mailing list, please contact the Herb Research Foundation at (303) 449-2265 or email mblank@herbs.org


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