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 www.sarooibos.co.za.
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, 376-412.
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.