The Only Red Bush Tea Primer You’ll Ever Need
Red bush tea (sometimes called rooibos tea) is incredibly popular these days, particularly in the health and wellness community that is always on the lookout for herbal beverages that can armor your body against illness and help you fight back against the disease.
An herbal beverage brewed from the leaves (and sometimes stems) of the Aspalathus Linearis plant – a plant grown almost exclusively in the mountainous regions of South Africa (just north of Cape Town) – red bush tea has been a bit of a hidden secret that didn’t really go global until the early 1990s.
Below we dig a little deeper into everything that red bush tea brings to the table, it’s history, how it is harvested and how it is brewed, and a whole host of other details that will help you figure out whether or not red bush tea is something you want to add to your daily routine.
(Spoiler alert – It definitely is!)
Let’s dig right in.
As we highlighted above, red bush tea wasn’t really known all that well outside of South Africa up until the mid-20th century.
Prior to that, it was “discovered” by Dutch settlers in the early 1700s that had begun to spread throughout South Africa. The settlers were looking for an alternative to black and green tea options that they had to spend a small fortune on importing into South Africa, and they ended up turning to this herbal beverage that has been brewed by the indigenous people of South Africa for thousands of years.
Interestingly enough, however, it was almost impossible to find red bush tea outside of the northernmost regions of South Africa – the Cederberg Mountains, to be specific.
That’s because the plants that the leaves and stems red bush tea is made from are only indigenous to this part of the world, with more than 90% of ALL red bush tea originating from this small part of South Africa.
Seeds from these plants have been cultivated and then planted elsewhere around the world, but the overwhelming majority of the wild and “domesticated” red bush tea plants come from these mountainous regions in Africa.
In the 1930s the market for red bush tea really exploded in South Africa (and internationally, for that matter), with people really excited to give this rich, flavorful herbal beverage a shot.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that a bit of innovation was injected into this market, however. It was around then that “green bush tea” was produced by skipping out on one of the most important parts of the red bush tea harvesting process (the oxidation part), producing a more mild and mellow herbal beverage as a direct result.
Today, millions of people worldwide purchase more than 100,000 tons of red bush tea products from South Africa each and every single year. Bulk tea leaves, commercially prepackaged tea envelopes, and powdered tea options are just some of the red bush tea products that have caught on like wildfire throughout the global community.
How Red Bush Tea is Harvested and Brewed
Redbush tea is harvested in a very specific way that gives it a lot of its distinctive characteristics, but everything begins with a planting season set throughout the later summer months.
Farmers that are looking to grow a crop of red bush tea are going to head out in late February and early March to plant these seeds (the late summer growing season in South Africa). The crops are then left pretty much to their own devices and subject to the weather conditions Mother Nature cooks up north of Cape Town for 18 months. This allows the branches of these plants to grow anywhere between 30 cm and 40 cm above the ground.
Once these plants have reached that level of maturity that the harvesters and farmers head out into their fields and begin to cut these branches down.
Leaves are not separated from their stems the way that they are with traditional herbal tea plants and herbs but are instead left intact for a critical process – the oxidation process.
All of the leaves and stems that have been collected are tied into tight little bundles and then beaten on the ground, stop down, or sliced strategically. All of this “rough work” is then mixed with a bit of watering to open things up – allowing for oxidation to occur and to mature these leaves and stems even more so.
A drying process is then established that can last a couple of weeks (depending on a variety of different factors) at which point the previously green herb leaves and stems are going to turn a beautiful shade of crimson red. This crimson color is a sure-fire sign that oxidation has taken hold and has transformed this plant, giving it its flavor, its color, and triggered a whole host of biochemical reactions inside the plant that gives it so many of its medicinal and health-boosting properties.
We mentioned earlier that green bush tea is an option as well. The only real difference between the green and red options is that the green bush tea leaves and stems do not go through the oxidation process. Instead of being sliced open, beaten, watered, and left out to dry in the open air these green leaves are instead gently steamed and then immediately thrown into the drying process.
This results in a much milder, much gentler, much more “elegant” flavor profile that isn’t quite as rich in health and healing properties as red bush tea would be.
Health Benefits of Red Bush Tea
There are a myriad of different health benefits individuals will enjoy when they are consuming red bush tea on a regular basis, with the biggest benefits highlighted below.
- Effortless energy
Black and green tea options almost always include caffeine, a powerful stimulant that does a great job at boosting the energy levels of individuals that consume it on a regular basis – but a stimulant that also causes peaks and valleys in energy levels with no real consistency across the board.
On top of that, excessive consumption of caffeine can be linked directly to heart palpitations issues, sleeping problems, significant headaches and migraines, and even increased instances of stress, overwhelmed, and anxiety.
Those aren’t problems with red bush tea – entirely because red bush tea is 100% caffeine-free.
You’ll still get a bit of a pick me up, but it’s going to be a much more consistent, much more even-keeled, and almost completely side effect free energy increase compared to drinking coffee or traditional tea.
- Lower tannin levels
Another of the big benefits you’ll enjoy when consuming red bush tea on a regular basis is a decrease in overall tannin levels.
Tannins are 100% naturally occurring in both green and black tea (some having more than others), and while a little bit of tannin introduced through your daily diet isn’t that big of a deal when it starts to get up there in larger quantities it can begin to interfere with your health and well-being.
Tannin levels that are elevated have been shown to significantly impair the bioavailability of key nutrients (particularly iron). This will throw your biochemistry into a tailspin if left unchecked for too long.
- Loaded with antioxidants
Antioxidants are game-changing biochemicals that can help you to fight back against illness and disease (including serious issues like heart disease and even cancer).
Daily diets that are rich in antioxidants have been proven time and time again to leave people healthier than those that have fewer levels of antioxidants, and new research is showing that these powerful biochemicals may be even more important than we realize right now.
- Protect your heart health
A number of different enzymes contained within red bush tea have been conclusively proven to help protect your heart, not only working to even out blood pressure levels but also to decrease LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) while increasing HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) at the same time.
The ACE enzymes in specific are the biggest game-changers found in red bush tea when it comes to heart health, and every single serving of these beverages loaded with these enzymes – and incredibly bioavailable.
- Protect against cancer
Some of the most powerful antioxidants (quercetin and luteolin) when it comes to protecting your body against cancer cells and inhibiting the growth of tumor cells are found in red bush tea.
Other potent antioxidants and enzymes (including aspalathin) are found almost exclusively in red bush tea as well, helping to protect your body against other dangerous diseases like Type II diabetes, for example.
Potential Side Effects
The best news about drinking red Bush tea (aside from all the health benefits we highlighted above) is that there is almost zero downsides whatsoever to consuming this 100% all-natural and 100% herbal beverage on a daily basis.
Some research has shown that drinking large quantities of red bush tea on a daily basis can increase your overall liver enzyme count, but more information is needed to understand why that’s happening and just how much red bush tea you have to drink to get to those elevated levels.
At the end of the day, though, there really isn’t much to worry about. The few side effects that exist are extremely rare and are not going to negatively impact your overall health and well-being in the short or long-term.
When you get right down to it, the popularity of red bush tea isn’t just because of its health-boosting benefits but also because it is flat out delicious.
More accessible today than ever before (in a variety of different formats, too) you want to make sure that you are purchasing legitimate red bush tea products from suppliers that you can trust. Other than that, though, you have nothing to worry about when you grew up a cup of this delicious hot beverage!