Rooibos (ROY-bos) tea, also called Redbush, Red tea, South African red tea, and rarely Rooibosch, originates from indigenous South African plant Aspalathus linearis. Rooibos’ use as a restorative  tea was recognized by the Dutch settlers in the early 18th century after observing local peoples who harvested the leaves from local mountainsides. The leaves were oxidized by chopping and bruising them before they were spread in the sun to dry before being infused and enjoyed as a beverage.

So, what is the difference between fermented (red) and unfermented (green) forms of rooibos tea? Rooibos tea leaves after picking can be quickly dried to prevent oxidation, this is called green rooibos; this unfermented green rooibos tea has a higher antioxidant level than its fermented brother. When rooibos tea leaves are fermented, they turn an orange red color, this coppery tea will have a much sweeter taste. In fact, it is the fermentation process that lends the common notes of honey and tobacco, which most people associate with Rooibos, to the leaves.

Rooibos is low in both caffeine and tannins, making it a wonderful tea for those with sensitivities to either or both of those compounds. Recently, Rooibos has gained much attention for clinical purposes in the case of nervous tension, allergies, dermatitis, and various digestive problems(1); antioxidant properties have also been attributed to the tea based on its flavonoid content (2).

Honeybush (Cyclopia fabaceae), or Heuningbos, grows in small sections of South Africa and is commonly steeped as a tea. Honeybush is named for the perfume of its flowers, reminiscent of honey. The taste of this tea is similar to that of rooibos, just a little sweeter and contains a touch of wood.

In the traditional method of fermentation, the leaves of the bush are harvested, cut and bruised, and then left in the sun to oxidise. The modern  process oxidises the leaves in rotating tanks, heated to temperatures of around 158-194 degrees Fahrenheit, for two to three days. The leaves are then cooled and air dried. Honeybush shares the lows tannic and high antioxidant properties of its cousin, Rooibos, as well as containing .

1) Quantitative Characterization of Flavonoid Compounds in Rooibos Tea (Aspalathus linearis) by LC-UV/DAD, Istituto Tecnologie Biomediche, CNR, Via Fratelli Cervi 93, 20090 Segrate (Milan), Italy, and Department of Food Science and Microbiology, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Milan, Via Celoria 2, 20133 Milan, Italy

2) “Exotic frogs reared in redbush tea in Gloucestershire”. BBC News. 2010-06-07