For centuries in the northwest Cape of South Africa, the indigenous Khoi-Khoi tribe has brewed a ruby-colored tea from the leaves of a local flowering bush to cure nervousness, soothe skin rashes and even calm colicky babies. Today rooibos (ROY-boss, or “red bush”) tea can be found in most natural-foods stores—and modern science confirms it’s more than just a soothing, caffeine-free drink.
Studies show rooibos contains a healthy dose of quercetin and luteolin—free-radical-quenching antioxidants also found in fruits and vegetables. It’s also the only natural source of another antioxidant, aspalathin. While the combined antioxidant levels are half that of green tea, their variety is impressive.
“Rooibos fits in with our desire to heal ourselves,” says Linda Smith, owner of Divinitea, a New York-based organic tea wholesaler and blender.
What’s more, unlike other caffeine-free brews, “rooibos is flavorful enough to make black-tea drinkers happy,” says Smith. “It’s not quite a black-tea flavor, but with the same full body and a wonderful, fresh aroma.” Also low in tannins, it doesn’t become bitter with oversteeping (and longer steeping extracts more antioxidants).
Lately, rooibos has also caught the eye of specialty-ingredient suppliers, suggesting that a rooibos-enhanced wrinkle cream can’t be far away. But in the meantime, it’s best appreciated as something soothing to sip—in the words of Divinitea’s Smith, “creating world peace one cup at a time.”