Buchu and Rooibos

“Buchu and Rooibos”  is a newly launched product by Robert Roberts that was sent to me a couple of weeks ago to taste. I have a huge interest in South African herbs but had never heard of Buchu so Google had to step in to help.

Agathosma-betulina

Buchu flowers (Source: Go South Online)

The most common varieties of the plant are Agathosma betulina and Agathosma crenulata. However, these are just two of the 150 varieties in the Agathosma family that thrive in the climate of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The plant is a member of the citrus family but has a strong flavor of blackcurrant. The seeds can be planted from April to June with harvesting 18 months later between the months of October and April.

Buchu tea seems to have many applications. The essental oil from the buchu plant is recommended for arthritis, bloating, indigistion, hypertension and lots of other ailments but its strongest association is with soothing and strengthining the urinary system and relieving the symptoms of urinary tract infections.

buchu stamp

Buchu: SA stamp (Source)

Little research has been carried out to establish its effectiveness as a medicine so most people refer to what are thought to be its original uses by native South Africans: ingested for bladder problems and rheumatism and applied topically as an as an insect repellent. Steeping the leaves in brandy produces an alcoholic buchu brandy (known as boegoe-brandewyn). Several websites note that Buchu should be avoided in pregnancy because traditionally it was known to stimulate uterine contractions. Breastfeeding women should also avoid Buchu.

For more information on planting and harvesting there is a good brochure here on Buchu from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Republic of South Africa

Note: I did not buy this tea – it was sent to me to taste. I have no affiliation with Robert Roberts and have not been paid or compensated for writing this post.

Rooibos health updates

I have written previously about some of the research on rooibos but since then I came across a few new pieces:

  1. A study looking at the potential of Rooibos to increase the shelf life of Ostrich meat patties!
  2. A piece of on-going research involving the influence of Rooibos on prostate cancer.
  3. A study on the liver-related benefits of Rooibos and Red Palm Oil that was published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The press releases around the last one grabbed my attention by saying that this research proved that rooibos could improve liver function and protect against oxidative damage to the liver.

Rooibos Natural

 

The inclusion of Red Palm Oil (RPO) in the title sent me off on a tangent to find out more about it. This in turn led to a diversion down the road of Palm Oil and Oxidised Palm Oil. Several hours later I had lost most of Saturday and was so far down a byroad of nutritional science that I didn’t think I would ever find my way back.  But the detour did turn up some interesting information albeit mostly unrelated to rooibos or tea.

It seems that palm oil comes from the palm fruit and is popular with food manufacturers because it is cheap and after processing has a long shelf life, is odourless and is solid at room temperature.  Oxidised palm oil is commonly used in food products and the oxidation seems to be responsible for the generation of toxicants and the introduction of “reproductive toxicity and toxicity of the kidney, lung, liver and heart” (Edem, 2002).

Red palm oil on the other hand comes from the same part of the palm tree but is red in colour from its high concentration of carotenes. Unprocessed, it contains high amounts of antioxidants and is associated with cardiovascular and nutritional benefits. At moderate levels, RPO is believed to promote the utilisation of nutrients, improves immune function and activate hepatic drug metabolising enzymes (Oguntibeju, 2009). Nutritional supplementation seems to show promise in lowering LDL cholesterol and experiments on rats show improved protection of the heart. [For entertainment see Dr Oz’s dramatic endorsements of RPO].

This new rooibos study worked from the basis that both rooibos and RPO had been shown to be liver-protective and it aimed to investigate if the positive effect could be heightened by combining rooibos and RPO. The results suggested that rooibos and RPO both protect the liver but the level of protection was only equal to that of either rooibos or RPO so a synergy in the combined protective effects could not be shown. Unfortunately, the study was carried out on rats so we still can not say for sure that a similar liver-protection effect happens when humans drink rooibos.

In fact, the only report involving rooibos and human liver that I found was a report in the Eur J Clin Pharmacology about a 42 year old patient with a previous medical history who experienced signs of liver damage after starting to drink rooibos. Clearly, a single case is not a basis for any kind of conclusion but it does indicate once again the need for human studies to confirm health benefits.

Ronnefeldt – Rooibos Vital

I bought this Ronnefeldt tea in Germany and I knew it was a rooibos but the rest of the ingredients were a mystery until I got home to use Google translate. It is part of the Ronnefeldt Wellness range and contains unoxidised rooibos (green), papaya, elderberries, carrot, natural flavours, blackberry leaves, apple mint and sunflower blossoms. The mix of colours and textures are interesting to photograph – if anyone would like to see the other 50 variations of this shot, do let me know!

Vital Tea

The list of ingredients sounds like a lot but the taste is light and not too sweet. The mint is refreshing and the overall taste is lively even though there is no caffeine. As with all rooibos, the preparation is straightforward. Just 5-7g tea and freshly boiled water. I left it for several minutes for a fuller taste.

In other news, I am off to the World Tea Expo tomorrow so Friday’s post will be sent from the conference centre in Las Vegas (or the roulette table of the LVH!) . I haven’t been using twitter at all but I’m going to try to start at this event. If any readers are going to the conference and would like to meet up, please drop me a mail.

Rooibos dispute

Geographical Indications

Some well-known Geographic Indications (Source)

I was surprised to hear that Rooibos is at the centre of a dispute between the South African Department of Trade and Industry and a French Company (Compagnie de Trucy). Matthias Leridon, president of Compagnie de Trucy, an investment company, says that they aim to create a luxury brand that includes Rooibos supplied by small producers. Leridon was a special advisor to the French Ministry of Defence and worked as a consultant in the office of the Minister for the Civil Service. Apart from Compagnie de Trucy, Leridon has set up a communications consultancy firm (Tilder) and sits on the board of directors of “African Artists for Development”.

Compagnie de Trucy is trying to secure the exclusive rights to market Rooibos in France by applying for a French trademark. Their application for the terms “Rooibos” and “South African Rooibos” was rejected but terms such as “Le comptoir du rooibos”, “Le palais du rooibos” are still under consideration. If successful, it would complicate the export of this local speciality to France and would involve the payment of royalties to the French firm. There is a trademark protection system call Geographic Indication (GI), which could be used to protect Rooibos. GIs points to a specific place, or region of production, that determines the characteristic qualities of the product. Examples include Darjeeling Tea from India, Champagne Wine from France, Gruyère from France and Connemara Hill lamb from Ireland. The database of EU geographical indications is here .

Rooibos overviewThe process for achieving GI protection isn’t straightforward though. Rooibos needs to be protected within its country of origin and receive official trademark status there before it could qualify as a GI in the EU. This caused some problems because South African law did not previously have protection for geographical indications. However, the government has just approved a new Act (the Traditional Knowledge Act) that includes a provision for the protection of good “originating in the territory of the Republic or in a region or locality in that territory”.

It seems a little paradoxical that GI legislation was led by the wine industry in France and yet now they are at the centre of a dispute on the opposing side of GI protection. I personally think that Rooibos is the Champagne of South Africa and should be protected as such.

Health benefits of Rooibos

The health benefits of tea are constantly mentioned in the media and a lot of people seem to start drinking tea (especially green tea and herbal teas) for health reasons. So, from time to time, I will gather and review the research that is published on particular health aspects of tea.

Rooibos Farm (source)

Rooibos Farm (source)

Since I talked about Rooibos last week, I thought I might start with it. Rooibos is a caffeine-free tisane that comes from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis. Since it does not come from Camellia sinensis it is not a real tea so we call it a herbal tea or tisane. Traditional medicinal uses of rooibos have included alleviation of infantile colic, asthma, allergies, dermatological problems, digestive discomfort and anxiety.

Many studies have been done on the antioxidant content of Rooibos. Marnewick found that a 200ml serving of Rooibos has 58.5 – 68.9mg of pholyphenol antioxidants (depending on amount of leaves used and brewing time). Studies on the chemical constituents of the antioxidants in Rooibos have shown the presence of nothofagin, aspalathin and isoorientin, orientin, rutin and several other flavonoids and phenolic acids. The types of polyphenols in Rooibos are different to those in Green tea and Black tea and in particular, the antioxidant aspalathin can not been found in any other natural sources besides Rooibos. Researchers have found that “an aspalathin-enriched extract of green rooibos is able to lower raised glucose levels in the blood of diabetic rats” (source).

Two of Rooibos’s antioxidants (quercetin and luteolin) have been shown, in vitro, to induce the death of cancer cells (in vitro just means that the tests were carried out in a controlled environment outside a living body, e.g. in a test tube). Rutin has been found to prevent the formation of thrombosis (blood clots) in mice and orientin has been associated with a reducing damage to the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract after mice were exposed to radiation.

Aspalathus linearis

Aspalathus linearis (source)

Although, the antioxidant content of Rooibos is well documented and there are many laboratory results on the benefits of those antioxidants, I found it very difficult to find scientific, peer-reviewed articles on human studies involving Rooibos. One paper, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, looked at the effect of Rooibos on specific parameters for adults at risk of developing heart disease. The results were positive and Rooibos significantly improved the lipid profile and the redox status. However, just 40 participants were involved in the study so presumably it would need to be repeated with a much larger group before it could be cited as conclusive evidence.

Rooibos has long been used to soothe colic in babies but the tea gained particular attention in the late 1960s when a South African woman, Annique Theron, found that it eased her infant’s colic. The story goes that she found no documentation on the benefits of Rooibos so she began her own experiments with babies who had colic and allergies. She concluded that Rooibos helped with the symptoms and she published a book in 1970 entitled “Allergies: An Amazing Discovery”. Rooibos seems to be still recommended by South African physicians in the treatment of colic even though the scientific evidence as a treatment does not seem to exist. Similarly, there is no scientific research into Rooibos as a treatment for skin allergies or digestive problems but its use as a treatment for both seem widely accepted.

Rooibos NaturalSo what’s the bottom line on the health benefits of Rooibos? Well, Rooibos is naturally caffeine-free, calorie-free, low in tannins and rich in antioxidants. Some lab and mouse work have been done on the specific benefits of the antioxidants in Rooibos but research on human models is scant. I think Ferreira et al put it best when he said “the growing body of evidence pointing towards the therapeutic value of Rooibos tea gives a considerable degree of credibility to the anti-ageing claims, but expectations of a healthier life rather than increasing lifespan would perhaps be a more realistic outlook”.

Rooibos

It’s hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for over a month now and this is the first time I am talking about Rooibos. I’m a devoted Rooibos and Honeybush fan and if you read this blog, you’ll have to put up with me gushing about both on a very regular basis.

Rooibos Natural

Rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss” in South Africa, pronounced “roo-y-boss” here) is not a tea at all (see categories here). It is a caffeine-free tisane that comes from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis and not Camellia sinensis. Rooibos is produced in South Africa and similar to tea processing, it can be oxidised (red) or non-oxidised (green).

Rooibos from above

 

It is generally said that Rooibos is an acquired taste. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like it (in fact, I can’t remember my life before Rooibos at all!) but the flavour is different to every other tea so maybe it takes a little while to get used to it. Rooibos often comes flavoured (e.g. vanilla, caramel) and these can be very sickly. If you haven’t tried Rooibos, my advice is to try an unflavoured Rooibos first and experiment with the flavoured varieties later if you like the basic taste.

 

Rooibos is a relaxing and hydrating drink and not one for energising or kick-starting your day. Because it is caffeine free, it can be taken at any time. I drink it mostly in the afternoons or as a soothing end to a heavy meal.

Rooibos TeaThe preparation of Rooibos is straightforward and one of the least fussy teas to prepare. Put 5g of loose leaf  tea into a brew-basket (or teapot) and add 200ml of freshly boiled water (100° C). It needs to settle for about 4 minutes but can be left longer for a deeper taste, as it never gets bitter. The leaves can be re-used for multiple steepings but it needs to be left for longer and will be noticeably weaker after several uses. I never use milk or sweetener but I’ve seen people adding both in South Africa.

The Rooibos pictured here is organic and fair-trade  and was bought in Ghent, Belgium for €2.95 (for 100g). The tea is a little hazy and not as clear and crisp as higher grades but I consider it extremely good value.