Introducing African Red Bush Tea ( Rooibos )

by Heidi on July 11, 2012

Low Oxalate Red Bush Tea

Low Oxalate Red Bush Tea

Everyone has at least one or two foods that are hard to give up on the low oxalate diet, and they’re not always what you expect.  The hardest for me, hands down, was giving up black tea.  I used to drink 4-5 cups of tea a day most of it hot with cream, even on a blistering summer day.  I also enjoy herbal teas and iced tea, but for me these are separate drinks entirely, and low oxalate herbal teas – hot or iced – haven’t filled the void (most herbal teas are low oxalate and many, such a Bigelow Perfect Peach, make very good iced tea).

For awhile I fooled myself into thinking that one cup of black tea a day wasn’t going to hurt me, but the more I’ve learned about soluble oxalate versus insoluble oxalate, the more I know this isn’t true.  The oxalate in tea is all soluble oxalate, which is much more readily absorbed by the body than insoluble oxalate, especially for people with poor gut health. I would have terrible flare-ups for “no reason” that stopped when I quit black tea for awhile (and quit again and again).

About a year ago, I decided to kick the black tea habit for good.  It was a long, bumpy road at first. Then I rediscovered African Red Bush Tea  ( rooibos ).  I tried rooibos for the first time back in 2006 (before we knew it was low oxalate) in an upscale African safari lodge where they served it hot with lemon and sugar.  I enjoyed it, but it didn’t occur to me to try it again until a  few months ago.  Wow! I absolutely loved it!!!  Rooibos is the first low oxalate tea I have found that both tastes great and is full-bodied enough to enjoy hot with cream.  It’s naturally sweet and mild and has a slightly nutty flavor with a hint of cherries.  It is produced in the Cedarberg region of South Africa, where it has been enjoyed for centuries, but it has only become popular around the world in the last few years, both for its health benefits and for its literary fame as the favorite tea of beloved character, Precious Ramotswe, in The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency(a fun summer read BTW that was made into one of my favorite TV shows — the series premiere is absolutely fabulous!).

red expresso

Rooibos ground fine to make Red Expresso

Rooibos is rich in antioxidants, is naturally caffeine free and contains very few tannins (click here or here for two good, fully referenced article on the health benefits of rooibos ).  It doesn’t have the bitter after taste that black and green teas can have, and works well in herbal blends or as a stand-alone tea.  Three commercial brands of rooibos tea have been tested for oxalate content between 2007 and 2011 by the Vulvar Pain Foundation and the Autism Oxalate Project – Tazo African Red Bush (1.6 mg. oxalate per cup), Celestial Seasonings Madagascar Vanilla (0.9 mg. oxalate per cup), and Strand Organic Rooibos (1.1 mg. oxalate per cup). All are low oxalate or very low oxalate and all are delicious in their own way.

Celestial Seasonings Madagascar Vanilla:  This is my favorite of the three tested rooibos teas.  It is lovely served hot with cream or milk as a morning tea, afternoon tea, or especially as an after-dinner tea (remember it’s caffeine free!)  It’s okay as an iced tea, but this tea really shines when served hot.  The vanilla flavoring is subtle and adds a rich, creamy depth to this tea.  The strange thing is I don’t like vanilla-flavored black teas, so I was surprised how much I love this tea.  It’s truly one of my all-time favorites and it is singularly responsible for my ability to kick the black tea habit.  Where to buy: I have found Madagascar Vanilla in natural foods stores and large grocery store chains in my hometown.  For me, it’s substantially cheaper on-line through Amazon, especially when I buy it in bulk (click here for a single box and here for a good bulk price). UK readers click here.

Strand Organic Rooibos: This is pure rooibos without any added ingredients-a nutty, fruity somewhat sweet tea with a bright red color.  You can buy it loose leaf and mix your own tea, or buy it in bags.  I love plain rooibos because it’s so versatile.  It tastes good served hot with cream, served hot with lemon and sugar, or served iced.  Strand Organic Tea Company also sells a Madagascar Vanilla variety which is their best selling rooibos tea and is likely also low oxalate (it has not been tested) in case you are looking for an organic version of  my favorite “Madagascar Vanilla.”  Where to buy: I haven’t had any luck finding Strand teas in my local stores.  You also can’t get it through Amazon (which only is a bummer if you wanted to add it to a bigger order and get free shipping, which is what I often do).  I had to buy it straight from the Strand company, but it’s quite reasonably priced for an organic tea and I really like this company’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and their community.  Click here for the company website and rooibos product/ordering information.

Tazo African Red Bush: This is a wonderful,yummy high-quality tea that tastes great served hot or iced.  It is sweet and bold-tasting with a nutty, somewhat tart and fruity flavor.  My only problem with this tea is that it has so many added herbal ingredients that it no longer feels like an acceptable alternative to black tea to me.  Instead it’s just another really good herbal tea that I enjoy when I’m in the mood for herbal tea. I definitely don’t want this tea served hot with cream.  Where to buy:  I’ve only found Tazo African Red Bush tea in a couple of natural foods stores in my town.  It is a bit pricey, whether you get it in bulk on-line (click here), in single boxes on-line (click here) or at your local health food store (I paid $5.00 for a box of 24 bags).  UK readers click here.

Photo credits go to Lyle Nel for Rooibos and to Michael Allen Smith for Red Expresso.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanna July 11, 2012 at 8:22 am

Thanks for this article! I’m going to give the Madagascar Vanilla a try. I miss hot tea with sugar and cream!

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Lisa G July 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Heidi, you said that the Tazo African Red Bush tea has so many added herbs that you no longer feel it is a good alternative to black tea. Why is that? Do the herbal additives raise the oxalate content? Or do they affect the flavor so much that it no longer tastes as good as black tea?

By the way, thanks for this article. Black tea has been one of the hardest things to give up for me, also. I would love to find an alternative.

I also miss chocolate. For plain milk chocolate, I find white chocolate to be a good substitute, but unfortunately, so many of my favorite chocolate treats were combination foods, like Milky Way candy bars, gourmet hot chocolate, chocolate cake with chocolate icing, etc. I am slowly but surely finding new things to love. For instance, most gourmet coffee places make a delicious white hot chocolate. I also plan to experiment and see if I can make a white fudge similar to the chocolate fudge I loved so much at holiday times.

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Heidi July 12, 2012 at 2:44 am

Hi, Lisa.
Tazo African Red Bush Tea is still very low oxalate and is a very good, high quality tea. It contains lots of other herbs that are commonly found in low oxalate teas, such as hibiscus, lemon and rosemary. It is both tart and tangy. But it tastes like a good herbal tea, not something I want to drink with cream for breakfast. The Madagascar Vanilla is lovely hot with cream. It’s not really like black tea, but it smells like tea and has a full-bodied, rich and nutty taste with just a hint of natural sweetness. Somewhat like a cherry vanilla black tea might taste. Anyway, Tazo’s African Red Bush is a good tea, but so are hundreds of other low oxalate herbal teas. For me, the magic of rooibos is that it satisfies my cravings for a cup of black tea. And believe me, that’s magic!

It sounds like you’ve got a good attitude about chocolate and are finding some other things to enjoy. Yay! Good for you! I think slowly finding other foods that you love is important to long term success on this diet. I eat a lot of things now that I never tried before seeing them on a low oxalate food list and thinking – I guess I’ll give that a try. I’ve also developed a taste for things that I would never eat before (like brussel sprouts!). I’ve been learning some new techniques for reducing cravings and letting go of feelings of deprivation or unfairness around food that I hope to share soon. . . Sounds like you already know some of them!

Let me know if your white fudge recipe works–I would love to post it. I’ve been experimenting a little with the chocolate-flavored liquid stevia and it does give things like coffee a hint of “mocha” flavor. I’m trying to develop a “mocha” milkshake or smoothie and have had a few successes, but not enough success yet to post. Unfortunately it’s not chocolatey enough to make a chocolate milkshake or chocolate ice cream. I haven’t tried the Torani sugar-free chocolate syrup yet, but it’s also low oxalate and a friend of mine loves it in her coffee. Maybe I’ll do a review on it soon. It may be chocolatey enough to use in baked goods.

Take care,
Heidi

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James July 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Thank you! I’ve been wondering about red tea for awhile. Now I’m definitely going to try it.

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Molly August 2, 2012 at 2:18 am

Heidi,

Do you know anything about Red Raspberry Leaf tea’s oxalate content? I’m currently 38 weeks pregnant and have heard it’s really good for toning the uterus for birth, but hate to drink it if it will make me miserable.

Thanks!

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Heidi August 10, 2012 at 1:48 am

Hi, Molly.
I’m not sure about Red Raspberry Leaf in general – I don’t think it’s been tested. But Bigelow Red Raspberry Tea is low oxalate at 1.0 mg. oxalate per cup (4 min. brew time), and it’s a really tasty herbal tea. I’m not sure if it contains actual raspberry leaf. It just lists “natural raspberry flavors” on the box.

Hope your babies’ birth experience is wonderful!

Heidi

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Dan December 5, 2012 at 8:03 am

Hi Heidi,

Thank you for doing all of this, your work is definitely appreciated by so many of us. I do have a question though, about how the levels of oxalates are calculated for specific things like “Bigelow Red Raspberry Tea”? Is it something you’re testing in a lab? Is it something posted on the manufacturers website? Thanks again for all that you do!

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Heidi December 5, 2012 at 10:53 am

Thanks, Dan.

All the values on this site come from the “master oxalate list” kept by the Autism Oxalate Project director, Susan Owens, and volunteers from the Trying Low Oxalates Group. All values on their list are the most up-to-date and accurate available at this time. The Bigelow tea values all come from the Bigelow company itself. When one of the network leaders at the VP Foundation wrote the company and asked if they were willing to test their teas (I think it was in the late 1990′s), the company tested all of its teas and reported the values to the VP Foundation. Yay, for Bigelow teas!!! I wish all companies were so willing. Anyway, this is why about a third of the flavors tested are no longer available and why we don’t have oxalate values for newly developed flavors. But we do have values for about 2/3′s of the current Bigelow teas, including all of their classic flavors. Yay! If you check out the Coffee and Tea Shop part of The Low Oxalate Diet Store, many of the low oxalate Bigelow teas are listed with their exact oxalate values.

See my article about How to get an Accurate Oxalate Food List for more information on how to get your own copy of the master list.

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Elaine Richey May 2, 2013 at 12:56 am

Hey all! Was wondering about the oxalate level in Greek coffee? I’ve heard recently it’s good for the heart and would hate to give it up. However, with my VV and related issues, I will if I have to:)

Elaine

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Heidi May 28, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Hi, Elaine.
All brewed coffees so far have tested low oxalate. But you add the grounds back into the coffee at the end to make Greek Coffee, correct? In that case, I’m not sure. As far as I know, no one’s ever tested the grounds and they could be really high.

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Michelle B May 28, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Hi Heidi.
Thanks for your info. I got a sample of rooibos tea from my favorite tea supplier(Elmstock Tea Perth WA) in the hope that it would be low oxalate and finding your info has really lifted my spirits. Some times you just want a “cuppa”. Also I noticed in your reply to Liza G July 12 2012 you mentioned chocolate liquid stevia. So I’ll see if I can cope with liquid stevia as I know the powdered form is a real no go. Hives and FM aches for days. Plus you know about low oxalate chocolate syrup what more could a girl ask for. I don’t crave the tea and chocolate so much any more but winter is fast approaching! So thanks for three lots of info, maybe I’ll be able to enjoy my tea and also kick the sugar addiction out the door.

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jenxo July 21, 2013 at 7:02 am

I love my rooibos , thank goodness I don’t have to give that up :)

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Heidi July 21, 2013 at 8:58 am

I agree! Now that I’ve gotten used to it, I like it even more than black tea.

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