The scorching temperatures experienced in large parts of South Africa, could put many at risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Babies, children and the elderly are particularly sensitive to the heat.

Appropriate hydration is key to avoiding heat-related ailments and illnesses, but before you reach for something cold to cool you down – a warm cup of (Rooibos) tea might be a better option, say experts.

It sounds illogical that a hot drink could cool you down, but there is now hard science behind this old wives’ tale that dates back hundreds of years.

A series of studies conducted by the University of Ottawa found that ingesting a hot drink on a summer day lowers the amount of heat stored by the body, provided that the sweat produced by the hot beverage can evaporate.

Research Director for the SA Rooibos Council (SARC), Joe Swart explains that sweating is the body’s way of cooling us down.

“As sweat evaporates from the surface of the skin, it cools and removes excess heat to keep our body temperature in check. It’s interesting to note that during one of the studies, researchers also tested the effect of a warm drink on those participating in exercise for 75 minutes at a relatively low intensity, in 24 ºC at 23% relative humidity, while consuming water at different temperatures. It was only after participants had consumed the warm drink, when their overall body temperature dropped.

“However, it is important to keep in mind that because conditions, such as airflow and humidity were controlled during the trials, the results could be different in an environment where sweat evaporation is limited, such as in hot, humid weather where one is dripping with sweat. In these circumstances, the cooling effect of hot drinks is likely to be less effective, in which case colder drinks should be taken,” he says.

In South Africa, our climate is quite temperate with plenty of sunny, dry days, so drinking a warm cuppa in summer might not be such a crazy idea after all…

Swart says Rooibos tea is a healthy and affordable cooling option for everyone, including babies. “It contains no caffeine, is low in tannins and you can drink as much of it as you want, unlike other hot beverages that may have a diuretic effect.

“Rooibos tea can also be enjoyed hot or cold and comes in a variety of fruit and spiced-infused flavours. On a hot, dry summer day, cool down with a warn cup, while in hot, humid weather, it can be turned into a delicious iced tea, to help regulate your body temperature in a healthy, natural way.

“It also won’t add any additional calories as it contains no fats or carbohydrates and is naturally sweet, which illiminates the need for sugar.”

So, if you live in the Mother City or Gauteng, hydrate with something warm, while cold drinks in more humid regions, such as Durban could provide some much-needed reprieve in the summer heat.

Try any one of these Rooibos iced tea recipes to help quench your thirst:

Rooibos, lemon and mint iced tea:

  • 6 bags of Rooibos tea
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 20 mint leaves

Place tea bags, lemon and mint leaves in a large pot, pour 3.5 litres of boiling water onto it and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Remove tea bags when tea is cold and refrigerate. Add honey for a sweeter taste.

Rooibos and berry iced tea:

  • 3 Rooibos tea bags
  • 3 cups water, 1 boiling, 2 cold
  • 1.5 cups raspberries
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
  • 1tsp vanilla bean paste or use a Rooibos-Vanilla tea infusion instead
  • 8 mint leaves
  • Ice cubes, fresh raspberries and lemon wedges for serving

Make the tea using 1 cup of boiling water and three tea bags. Set aside for a few minutes to steep. Then remove the tea bags and add the remaining cold water. Set aside to cool. Heat up the raspberries, sugar and vanilla in a saucepan for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Put the mixture through a sieve by squashing the fruit to help separate the pulp and juice from the seeds. Once the tea has cooled completely, add the raspberry mixture, lemon juice and mint leaves. Drop in fresh raspberries and a couple of lemon wedges and serve with ice cubes. Keep refrigerated.