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Learning about rooibos tea

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The stores and refrigeration shelves of supermarkets and health-food stores are groaning with a growing number of teas.

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Recently I received an e-mail anouncement from the Rooibee Red Tea Company of Louisville, Kentucky, announcing yet another new tea brand. It comes from the rooibos bush, a South African native certified by the USDA as organic and caffeine- and gluten-free.

A tasting was offered at the Whole Foods Market in South Miami, and arrangements were made for me to talk to one of the company’s owners, Heather Howell. That set me on a quest to learn more about rooibos tea.

Rooibos tea bags

Some rooibos teas are sold in Publix, Whole Foods Market, and my local neighborhood health-food store. I purchased products from two different companies. Then I searched the Web for them and for other rooibos products, and contacted four companies that package rooibos tea bags.

• Alvita, a product line of Twin Labs Corporation, New York NY. It offers one flavor, Rooibos Leaf (Red-Bush) with 24 tea bags.
R.C. Bigelow, Inc., Fairfield CT . It offers one flavor, all-natural Organic Rooibos with Asian Pear, 20 tea bags.
• Celestial Seasonings, a division of The Hain Celestial Group, Inc., Boulder CO. It offers three flavors, Madagascar Vanilla Rooibos Tea, Moroccan Pomegranate and Rooibos, and Safari Spice Rooibos Tea. I found and tasted the pomegranate version.
• Now Foods, Bloomingdale, IL . It offers one flavor, Better Off Red Rooibos Tea with a Vanilla-Citrus Blush, 20 bags. This product also contains stevia, a natural sweetener.
Rooibos tea and uric acid

I asked these companies one health question in particular: Rooibos tea is a legume, and people with gout are advised to limit their consumption of legumes, so I wanted to know how much (if any) purines the rooibos bush leaves contain.

Four responded, but only one answered my gout question. Gene Bruno, MS, MHS, director of category management for Alvita Rooibos Leaf Tea answered by e-mail with the following comment:

“Yes, rooibos is part of the legume family. However, the leaves of the rooibos bush that are used to make tea is not the part of the plant that provides purines, so it is unlikely to be a problem for anyone with gout. In fact, in-vitro (laboratory) research has shown that rooibos tea inhibits the activity of xanthine oxidase, an enzyme that converts purines to uric acid (the compound implicated in gout). Since rooibos tea has not yet been tested in humans for this purpose, it is too early to tell whether or not it would have any benefit in treating gout.”
Bruno attended two accredited universities in Australia and has an important role at Twin Labs Corporation, maker of Alvita herbal teas, which have been sold for 90 years.

Rooibee Red Tea in a bottle

Rooibee Red Tea co-owner Heather Howell suggests the Medicine Hunter Web site as a source of information on the health benefits of rooibos.
The rooibos bush grows in in a small mountainous region of South Africa’s Western Cape Province. It has pointed, needle-like leaves and almost resembles a broom. South Africans have used the leaves for generations to make an herbal red tea called bush tea, which is high in unique antioxidants, free of caffeine, and low in tannins, making it inherently sweet.
South Africans will also tell you rooibos can help to calm nervous tension, lessen allergies, and aid digestive problems. They’ve also traditionally used it to treat baby colic, asthma symptoms, and dermatological issues.
Roibee Red Tea enhances the flavor with organic fruits, herbs and spices. Five flavors are available in 12-fluid-ounce bottles: Cranberry Pomegranate; Peach, Vanilla Chi, Watermelon, and Unsweet. I taste-tested everything but Vanilla Chi, which wasn’t yet available in south Florida. I prefer Peach, Watermelon Mint, and Unsweet, in that order.

Bigelow’s response

I also heard from Elaine Gavoli, a spokesperson from the RC Bigelow Tea Company. She wrote in an e-mail that “Bigelow Tea currently has one rooibos tea in its specialty tea lineup, Organic Rooibos with Asian Pear. This red tea, made from the fermented leaves of the South African Aspalathus linearis bush, marries the distinctively sweet, nutty taste of all-natural, caffeine-free South African rooibos with delicate flavor Asian Pear.”

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