21 July 2009

Just like boerewors, braais, melktert and biltong, Rooibos tea has become part of South Africa’s way of life and is considered by many as our national beverage. Grown exclusively in the Cape Province’s Fynbos region, this unique South African plant is recognised across the world for its contribution to a healthy lifestyle, its many health properties, versatility and refreshing taste.

In June 2008 Reader’s Digest South Africa celebrated 60 years of publishing in South Africa by featuring 60 reasons for us to remember why South Africa is unique. Reason 7 read, “Best Bush. Rooibos is a uniquely South African tea now exported all over the world”. There is no alternative source of supply anywhere in the world. Rooibos’ exclusivity of growth in South Africa is a natural heritage that certainly calls for recognition.

In 1999, when the Rooibos brand was under threat by American businesses wanting to trademark the name, the argument was that Rooibos tea is part of the heritage of this country. To protect the Rooibos trademark, the South African Rooibos Council, with the support of the Western Cape’s Departments of Agriculture, and Economic Development & Tourism, as well as the University of Pretoria, is working on securing Geographical Indicator (GI) certification so that Rooibos can only be called Rooibos if it comes from the Fynbos region (just like Champagne and Parma ham).

For centuries, Rooibos tea was consumed by locals of the Cederberg region who were the first to have discovered that the needle-like Rooibos leaves can be used to make a refreshing brew that enhanced health. Generations of South Africans have since been aware of the health properties and versatility of Rooibos.

Today, these qualities are also being embraced by a rapidly growing number of loyal Rooibos drinkers internationally. Many varieties of Rooibos teas are available in grocery, specialty and natural food stores throughout the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. The Japanese have shown particular interest in this tea, and have named it “Long Life Tea” because of its anti-ageing properties, and continue to carry out research into its properties and benefits.

In Malaysia, there is a museum that was established in honour of Rooibos. The “Dr Nortier Rooibos Museum”, opened in June 2000, is named after Dr Le Fras Nortier, a South African medical doctor who promoted the agricultural potential of Rooibos to the world. The museum showcases the history, production and uses of Rooibos, as well as some of the cultural history of South Africa, especially of the Cape Malays.

Many people in South Africa don’t know that Rooibos is unique to our country and even fewer people know that it is actually part of our famous Fynbos kingdom. We as South Africans should be very proud of this special plant of ours and should honour it as a uniquely and proudly South African resource that makes a generous contribution towards our economy. Why not brew a pot of Rooibos to celebrate this Heritage Day?

About South African Rooibos Council & Rooibos
The Rooibos Council was established in April 2005 as a non-profit organisation to promote the interests of the South African Rooibos industry locally and internationally – including all products manufactured from Rooibos. South Africans have been enjoying Rooibos for generations, but not just for the refreshing taste… one of the major selling points in SA and abroad is its natural goodness and heath benefits. Find out more about its history and health properties at


International and local celebrities such as golfer Gary Player, supermodel Cindy Crawford, acclaimed actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, actress Lerato Moloi, and singer James Morrison all love Rooibos. Even President Jacob Zuma is a fan!

Rooibos is internationally renowned for its versatility and numerous health benefits, but did you know that the herb which grows exclusively in a small area in the Cape has a major celebrity following? International and local celebs such as golfer Gary Player, supermodel Cindy Crawford, acclaimed actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, actress Lerato Moloi, singer James Morrison, and Duran Duran front man Simon Le Bon all love Rooibos and its unique properties. Even President Jacob Zuma is a fan – when asked what would be the first thing he did in office, he simply replied “Drink a cup of Rooibos tea with honey and lemon!”
Rooibos has also found its way into books with Precious Ramotswe, the lead character in Alexander McCall Smith’s best-selling series The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, saying “This is a tea for people who really appreciate tea. Ordinary tea is for anyone”. In the books Ramotswe always serves Rooibos tea to her clients and guests. A television mini-series, now available on our screens, has been adapted from the books, which is set to make Rooibos even more famous.
The Rooibos brand has a strong following even in countries as far away as Canada where a local band, The Stills, have titled one of their songs “Rooibos”, after the lead singer’s fondness for the tea.
Some Hollywood A-listers that recognize the varied uses and benefits of Rooibos are Catherine Zeta Jones and Angelina Jolie. At the wedding of Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, they served Rooibos flavoured ice-cream. Angelina Jolie’s perfect pout is lathered with a lip balm that boasts Rooibos and a variety of other unusual ingredients.
Oprah Winfrey is another Rooibos fan. In a recent interview with celebrity doctor, Mehmet Oz, she said “I love Rooibos tea because it’s decaffeinated.”
The South African Rooibos Council says “We are very proud of this trend-setting treasure of ours.” Rooibos seems to be gaining in popularity daily. In South Africa alone, there are well over 20 million cups of Rooibos tea drunk every year. Rooibos even has a loyal following on Facebook with over 4000 fans and group members.


The healing properties of Rooibos are well documented, but did you know that Rooibos can also have a wonderful effect on your garden!

The medicinal and healing properties of Rooibos are well documented, but did you know that Rooibos can also have a wonderful effect on your garden!

With the emphasis increasingly on finding organic methods of fertilising your soil and ridding your garden of plant-pests, Rooibos is a welcome addition to your gardening arsenal.
Rooibos tea contains heaps of nutrients and trace minerals essential to plant-growth. Sprinkle the used leaves on the soil and gently scratch them in, use cold, left-over Rooibos tea and/or leaves to feed pot plants, mix Rooibos tea leaves into the soil to improve drainage, and of course, you can also add Rooibos tea leaves to your compost pile.
Healthy, fertile soil is alive with a veritable “army” of decomposing organisms like earthworms. Earthworms feed on the Rooibos tea leaves. But snails, detrimental to a healthy garden, don’t like Rooibos, so sprinkle some Rooibos “dust” on the surface of the garden and you’ll see them “run”.



Did you know that your pets too can benefit from Rooibos, South Africa’s indigenous wonder-plant?

The medicinal and healing properties of Rooibos are well documented, but did you know that your pets can also benefit from South Africa’s indigenous wonder-plant?

When our pets have a skin irritation or redness we feel like we need to bath them, and often do so with chemical based shampoos and soaps which further aggravate the problem. By bathing your pet in a solution of Rooibos you can relieve the itchiness and prevent the onset of eczema and other mild skin problems. Pets will also benefit from Rooibos’ health-giving properties by simply pouring it over their food.



Rooibos tea, with its calming properties, is one of South Africa’s favourite bedtime drinks to promote a good night’s sleep.

Getting six to eight hours of sleep each night is essential for the body and mind to function at their optimum. This is because during sleep, the body repairs itself and replenishes its energy supplies that have been depleted during waking hours. Without sufficient rest, people often find that they become irritable and have mood swings. They also become forgetful and their ability to think clearly becomes impaired. In short, sleep is needed for survival. Rooibos tea, with its calming properties, is one of South Africa’s favourite bedtime drinks to promote a good night’s sleep.

The evidence that Rooibos reduces nervous tension and promotes sound sleep is largely anecdotal, based on generations of use, but this effect has been acknowledged by scientists.

Because Rooibos is naturally caffeine free, it is also ideal for children and babies – recommended by generations of South African mothers to aid healthy sleep patterns in the entire family.



Rooibos tea has formed part of the diet of South African children for generations, and with good reason. Given its unique ability to cure and soothe, coupled with its lack of caffeine, this remarkable tea has been used by moms to help relieve a range of little ones’ ailments such as insomnia, food allergies, stomach cramps and eczema.

These days, parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the possible effects that colourants, preservatives and other additives found in a number of beverages could have on their kids, such as behavioural changes and allergic reactions. Rooibos tea, which can be served hot or as a refreshing iced tea, is an ideal beverage choice for children as it is 100% natural and nutritious and is free of colourants, caffeine, sugars and preservatives.

Japanese research and anecdotal evidence has shown that Rooibos tea can help to alleviate allergies and may even relieve asthma. In addition, because it is rich in antioxidants that fight destructive free radicals, Rooibos tea can help to strengthen the immune system which means fewer runny noses and colds. These antioxidants can also help to protect the liver, which allows the body to eliminate toxins.

Sleep is vital for children since it is during this time that growth hormones are released. Whilst your child is asleep, his or her body is busy repairing itself and replenishing the energy supplies that have been depleted during waking hours. To ensure that your child has a restful night’s sleep cup of Rooibos tea at night can help to round off the day on a good note as the calmative properties in Rooibos are known to soothe and ease nervous tension thereby promoting a good night’s sleep.



The Rooibos Council is investing over R2million in independent research this year in an ongoing programme to find out more about the properties, applications and cultivation of Rooibos.

Six product research grants, totalling R974 705, have recently been awarded to two existing research projects, plus four new projects. These latest grants are in addition to R1,2 million already allocated to cultivation research (plant improvement, integrated pest management and organic cultivation practices). Furthermore, rooibos research has been independently undertaken and is ongoing at international universities and research organisations as far afield as Sweden, the USA, Japan, and other countries.

Of the six latest South African research grants, two existing projects that have received funding examine the cancer-preventing properties of South African herbal teas (Prof. Wentzel Gelderblom of the Medical Research Council); and objective quality parameters for rooibos (Prof. Lizette Joubert of the Agricultural Research Council).

Four new research projects examine the influence of rooibos on stress (Dr Amanda Swart of Stellenbosch University); rooibos and exercise (Prof. Jeanine Marnewick of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology); the hygienic processing of rooibos (Prof. Pieter Gouws of the University of the Western Cape); and determining what exactly is in a cup of rooibos tea (Prof. Andrew Marston, University of the Free State.)

The six grants were approved after a rigorous process beginning in June 2009, when a call for expression of interest in rooibos research was issued to South African universities and science councils, as well as to all members of the Indigenous Plant Use Forum.

Researchers were invited to submit expressions of interest in three broad research areas: The chemistry, biochemistry and bioactivity of rooibos; the health promoting properties of rooibos and its potential to prevent and/or treat lifestyle diseases; and genetic improvement of the rooibos plant to optimise its cultivation, disease and drought resistance and biochemical composition.

Nine applications were finally reviewed by the SA Rooibos Council’s Product Research Committee and board of directors, plus a panel of three independent scientists.

“There is a need to gather reliable information on the kind of scientific evidence that is required to substantiate health claims (on product packaging, as well as in advertising, advertorials and editorial copy) in different countries – for example South Africa, the EU, countries in the Far East, USA, Canada and Australia,” said Product Research director Mientjie Mouton.

“Extensive anecdotal evidence also suggests that rooibos has other beneficial effects not yet fully verified or understood by science. Future research challenges for rooibos include exploring its anti-allergic properties and immune-boosting effects, better understanding the active compounds in rooibos and exactly how they achieve their anti-cancer and anti-ageing effects, the optimal use of rooibos as part of a healthy lifestyle, additional comparative studies with other herbal teas, plus more human studies.”

Researchers have already found that rooibos can prevent or slow down cancer and promote heart health (South Africa), may help to control diabetes and its complications (Slovak Republic), could contribute to hormone replacement therapy (Japan), and be used in the treatment of stomach cramps and diarrhoea (Pakistan, Canada and Germany).

The Rooibos Council was established in April 2005 as a non-profit company to promote the interests of the South African Rooibos industry locally and internationally. It serves as a representative platform for its members consisting of producers, processors, manufacturers, as well as local marketers and exporters.

Note to editors:
The research reviews listed below provide a comprehensive overview of recent research into the potential health benefits, production and quality aspects of rooibos and related products. Research abstracts are also available on the website

1.Joubert, E. & Schulz, H., 2006. Production and quality aspects of rooibos tea and related products. A review. Journal of Applied Botany and Food Quality 80, 138-144.
2.McKay, D.L., & Blumberg, J.B., 2007. A review of the bioactivity of South African herbal teas: Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia). Phytotherapy Research 21, 1-16.
3.Joubert, E., Gelderblom, W.C.A., Louw, A., De Beer, D., 2008. South African herbal teas: Aspalathus linearis, Cyclopia spp. and Athrixia phylicoides: A review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 119, 
4. Joubert, E., Gelderblom, W.C.A., Louw, A., De Beer, D., 2008. Phenolic contribution of South African herbal teas to a healthy diet. Natural Product Communications 4, 1-18.




South African researchers have developed a flavour and mouthfeel wheel that provides 27 descriptive attributes for Rooibos tea as a tool to facilitate communication among producers, processors, grading experts, marketers, flavour houses, importers and consumers.

Many of us have taken a sip of tea and immediately been able to distinguish the taste as either good or bland, without being able to say why.  In order to go beyond simplistic distinctions and to properly discern the great many tastes and aromas that give rooibos tea its flavoured nuances, South African researchers have developed a flavour and mouthfeel wheel for the unique homegrown brew.

The novel wheel provides 27 descriptive attributes for rooibos – 20 flavour and seven taste and mouthfeel descriptors – and will be a practical tool to facilitate communication among rooibos producers, processors, grading experts, marketers, flavour houses, importers and consumers.


The wheel is the work of a team including Ilona Koch, a Masters student at Stellenbosch University. Under the leadership of Professor Elizabeth Joubert of the Agricultural Research Council, (who designed the project proposal together with Stellenbosch University lecturer Ms Nina Muller), Koch and a team of researchers have spent over a year compiling data through numerous experiments with rooibos tea.

“This study was conducted to characterise and quantify the sensory attributes associated with rooibos flavour (taste and aroma) and mouth-feel to paint a more comprehensive picture of what is frequently referred to as ‘typical’ or ‘characteristic’ rooibos flavour,” said Koch.

The researchers studied 69 different rooibos samples originating from 64 different plantations in various production areas. These samples had been graded from A to D, representing the highest to the lowest tea quality respectively.

A strict protocol was followed when brewing the tea – 300g of boiling, deionised water was poured onto 5.8 g of dry tea leaves, which was infused for five minutes. The tea was strained and stored in a stainless steel thermos flask to keep the temperature constant, and 100 ml of tea was served to each taster in a white porcelain cup covered with a plastic lid to prevent evaporation and loss of volatiles. The tea cups were preheated in an oven set to 70°C, and kept in water baths with the temperature regulator set at 65°C throughout the sensory analysis session.

Nine judges took part in the study, selected on availability and interest. “Most of them had extensive experience with descriptive analysis of a wide range of products.  None of them, however, had previous experience with sensory analysis of rooibos,” said Koch.

During the first training stage the panellists were exposed to a number of rooibos samples to become familiar with the product and the evaluation protocol. During 22 one hour sessions, the 69 samples were analysed and compared to one another, and the panel generated aroma, taste and mouth-feel terminology.

Some 85 aroma and 38 taste and mouthfeel descriptors were generated at this stage, but this proved to be too large a field of data for the efficiency necessary to produce the wheel. The number of descriptors was subsequently reduced to eight aroma descriptors and nine taste and mouth-feel descriptors. A score card was developed which showed each of these 17 descriptors together with a 10cm unstructured line scale ranging from “none” to “prominent”.

After training was over, the panel used the score card to rate the intensity of the 17 attributes for each of the 69 samples during 40 sessions spread out over eight weeks.


Through the research, it was uncovered that the positive sensory characteristics such as floral, woody, honey and sweet could be separated from the negative attributes such as green plant, hay-like, dusty and sour. In light of this, the descriptors were grouped according to the positive or negative impact on the quality of the sensory experience.

While the research delved into a number of experiments to deduce specific data including the effect of steam pasteurisation, the effect of particle size and the oxygen radical absorbance capacity of rooibos (ORAC), the flavour and mouthfeel wheel represents the attributes of unpasteurised rooibos infusions.

The wheel will be further updated and refined with samples from another season during the three-year project, which will run until March 2012.  It is being funded by the SA Rooibos Council and the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) that aims to boost South African industry by supporting research and technology development.

Now drinking tea will no longer be about whether it’s simply good or average, but a sensory experience akin to the tasting of wine where you will be able to indulge in the subtle tannins and fine distinctions in taste and aroma that rooibos infuses into each of its products.

Professor Elizabeth Joubert
Agricultural Research Council
Phone: +27 21 809 3444 – Fax: +27 21 809 3430



Homegrown herb may provide hope for diabetics

4 August 2011

Rooibos, known for its many health benefits from reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes, to preventing cancer and boosting the immune system, may also be beneficial for managing diabetes.

A number of local and international studies have found encouraging evidence that rooibos could help to control diabetes and its complications.

A 2006 study in the Slovak Republic found that rooibos provides effective protection against oxidative stress in diabetic rats. The scientists recommended the use of rooibos for the prevention and therapy of diabetic vascular complications, especially in protecting eye membranes against peroxidation.

Last year a Japanese team found that aspalathin, the most active antioxidant in rooibos, helped improve the glucose uptake of muscle cells and consequently maintain normal blood sugar levels in mice with Type 2 diabetes. They also found that aspalathin stimulated pancreatic beta-cells to secret insulin and helped to improve impaired glucose tolerance in the animals.

Two South African researchers, Professor Elizabeth Joubert of the Agricultural Research Council and Dr Johan Louw of the Diabetes Recovery Platform at the Medical Research Council, are co-applicants for a worldwide patent to develop and produce an anti-diabetic extract of rooibos for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.

These two local scientists are also leading a new three-year R1million, SA Rooibos Council-funded study – kicking off in 2011 – to determine whether rooibos can play a role in combating obesity.

Doctors believe that Type 2 diabetes and obesity are connected as many people who develop the disease are overweight or clinically obese.

“Numerous studies over the past few decades have helped us understand the complex and unique blend of antioxidants found in rooibos. These studies indicate that there may be more health benefits than we may have thought, which is why we are funding the additional research,” says Mientjie Mouton, Chair of the Product Research Committee of the South African Rooibos Council..

Aspalathin is unique to the plant species Aspalathus linearis. This fynbos plant thrives in the Western Cape’s Cedarberg region where it is commercially cultivated and wild-harvested for the production of rooibos tea. The SA Rooibos Council supports a number of local studies into rooibos’ health benefits. In addition to the obesity study it is funding several research projects into how rooibos can counter cancer and stress as well as the link between rooibos and exercise.

Research confirms rooibos is good for you

February 2011

‘Rooibos is good for you’, is a contention that’s been around for at least the past 40 years, but increasingly scientific research indicates that there’s more than a little substance to the claim.

The first evidence of people making tea with rooibos only occurs about 300 years ago. Wild plants were harvested using axes and the leaves were bruised with hammers before being left to ferment in heaps and then dried in the sun. It’s essentially the same process used today, although now the equipment is a little more sophisticated.

Rooibos became popular with the early Dutch settlers, not for its health but economic advantages. It was a cheap alternative to the expensive black tea that was imported from Europe.

Carl Thunberg, a botanist from Europe, was the first to document the rooibos plant and the tea brewed from it in 1772. After this, the scientific community doesn’t appear to have lavished much attention on the ‘mountain’ tea until the early 20th century.

That’s when Dr Le Frans Notier, a doctor and nature lover, began researching rooibos’ medicinal value and agricultural potential.

Rooibos of course is not a true tea, but a herb and the brew made from the dried leaves is a herbal infusion known as a tisane. The vibrant amber hue comes from the natural colorants that develop during the post-harvest fermentation or oxidation process and is brought about by natural enzymes in the plant.

Green or unfermented rooibos is lighter, with a milder taste. Both traditional and green rooibos are natural products and contain no colorants, additives or preservatives – although they can be stored for long periods without the taste or quality deteriorating. They have no kilojoules and contain no caffeine.

Scientific interest in rooibos remained muted until after 1968, when Mrs Annetjie Theron used rooibos to help soothe her allergic baby’s colic. She published a book called ‘Allergies: An Amazing Discovery’ and went on to launch a range of health and skin-care products with rooibos as the main ingredient.

Although Mrs Theron’s evidence was anecdotal rather than scientific, there’s little doubt that her claims stirred considerable interest in rooibos’ health benefits. Since then there’s been considerable research done in South Africa and abroad into how rooibos might help prevent or treat a variety of illnesses.

Rooibos contains a complex and unique blend of antioxidants, the most active of which – aspalathin – is found only in the plant species Aspalathus linearis. Antioxidants bind with free radicals, preventing them from damaging cells and causing cancer or oxidising with cholesterol to clog blood vessels resulting in heart attacks and strokes. Research over the past decade has proven the therapeutic ability of rooibos to fight cancer, protect the liver against disease, boost the immune system, relieve allergies and treat digestive disorders.

By investing in research in South Africa and keeping a close eye on studies done overseas, the South African Rooibos Council is able to provide scientific evidence to confirm the plant’s health benefits as well as police inaccurate or unsubstantiated claims.

Its research budget is R1 million a year and it is currently supporting studies at several local universities and science councils on how rooibos can counter cancer and oxidative stress as well as the link between rooibos and exercise. A project on rooibos and obesity has been approved for funding in 2011.

Scientists here and around the world continue to research rooibos to gain a better understanding of this unique herbal tea. Some are investigating the health benefits of rooibos and its potential to combat a range of diseases, while others are trying to understand how the bioactive components in rooibos work.

Recent and ongoing research:

International researchers found the antioxidants in rooibos are potent enough to measurably elevate the antioxidant levels in blood, boosting the body’s natural defences. The effect peaks an hour after drinking two cups of rooibos.
“That’s why we recommend drinking up to six cups of rooibos spaced throughout the day for a sustained health benefit,” says Professor Jeanine Marnewick from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, who led a local study that showed the beneficial effect of drinking rooibos to promote heart health.
The benefits are the same whether the rooibos is drunk hot, as tea, or cold as iced tea. Six cups also provide the recommended daily hydration.
South African scientists from the Medical Research Council’s PROMEC Unit and the Oxidative Stress Research Centre at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology have found that rooibos could help prevent skin cancer. The implications are particularly relevant in South Africa which, with 20 000 reported cases annually and 700 deaths, has the second highest incidence of the disease in the world after Australia.
The CPUT study concluded that the polyphenolic-rich extracts from rooibos and honeybush have anti-tumour and photoprotective properties. This indicates potential for use in cosmeceuticals for sun protection and as part of a strategy for preventing non-melanoma skin cancers in humans.
The MRC team found that rooibos exacerbated cell death in UV exposed cells, which could play a role in cancer prevention. It also concluded that rooibos may prevent skin cancer by delaying the progression of abnormal cells, interfering with their growth and viability.
Researchers in Pakistan, Canada and Germany joined forces to explore the use of rooibos to treat gastrointestinal upsets, using an animal model. Their results explained the biochemistry of how the flavonoids and other active ingredients in rooibos achieve a calming effect on the digestive system. They concluded that it is justified to use rooibos for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders such as gut spasms.
Two South African researchers, Professor Elizabeth Joubert and Dr Johan Louw, are co-applicants of a worldwide patent (filed in 2007) to develop and produce an anti-diabetic extract of rooibos, particularly for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.
A Japanese study showed that rooibos could reduce inflammation in rats with colitis (open sores in the colon) via increased antioxidant activity and a consequent reduction in damage to DNA caused by oxidation.
Researchers in Japan showed that the active ingredients in a water-soluble fraction of rooibos restored immune function in immune-suppressed rats. These results hold significant potential for future research into the immune-boosting properties of rooibos that might benefit people living with HIV/Aids.
Researchers from the Slovak Republic have demonstrated the anti-ageing effect of rooibos in Japanese quails. The birds were given rooibos to drink and had ground rooibos added to their food. The hens on the rooibos diet laid more eggs and kept laying eggs as they were getting older, compared to the control group.