Baltimore Tea Party

Judging by the large response I received a few weeks ago when I asked for comments about white tea, I’m going to assume that there are quite a few HSI members who enjoy a soothing cup of tea. Speaking for myself – I couldn’t get through the long winter without my two or three cups each day.

Cheap therapy

For me, each cup of tea is a specific experience. Green tea with mint is my wake up call; Lady Grey is my afternoon break; chamomile is my “count to ten” tea. I have a basket full of about a dozen different teas in my office, so I have the perfect complement to any situation or time of day.

That’s why I was delighted to receive a Christmas gift of a new tea that I’d never tried before, called African red bush tea, first cultivated a century ago on the Western Cape of South Africa. We’ve heard quite a bit about the many health benefits of green tea in recent years, but this was my first introduction to the red bush variety (also known as Rooibos – pronounced “roy-boss,” a variation of “red bush”).

And I have to say that, as far as flavor and aroma goes, it’s everything the packaging promises: a nice clean taste and a wonderful fragrance. But there’s much more to this red bush than its appeal to the senses.

Good things in – bad things out

As I sat back with my first cup of red bush with organic lemongrass, I read the information on the package (old cereal box habits die hard, I guess). According to the back of the container, African red bush qualifies as a nutritional supplement; containing antioxidants, flavanoids, vitamin C, and a number of minerals, including iron, potassium, calcium, copper, zinc, magnesium, and manganese.

What you DON’T get in African red bush tea is caffeine, oxalic acid and tannic acid. Oxalic acid (found in high concentration in any teas that are not herbal) can promote the development of kidney stones. Tannin is an organic plant compound that can interfere with digestion and inhibit the absorption of iron and protein. Tannic acid is also responsible for that bitter taste that causes a slight pucker sensation. I’m sure this absence of tannin is one of the reasons that red bush is smoother than your average tea.

All this and an antioxidant, too

Doing a little additional research, I’ve found other claims for the health benefits of red bush tea worth noting:

  • Reduces headache pain
  • Relieves insomnia
  • Helps manage allergies
  • Soothes digestive problems
  • Protects against infections

Red bush tea also contains superoxide dimutase (SOD), a potent anti-inflammatory and one of the most powerful antioxidants (sometimes used as an injection to treat cardiovascular problems, rheumatoid arthritis, and the effects of radiation and chemotherapy). And red bush is rich in the bioflavanoid quercetin, which may help circulation by improving capillary strength.

I can’t personally account for the accuracy of these health benefit claims myself (not yet anyway), but I can tell you that red bush is delicious, and it makes my office smell great. If you’d like to try red bush tea for yourself and can’t find it locally, you can order it online from the Baltimore Coffee and Tea Company at

I haven’t quite figured out what the red bush tea “experience” will be yet, but I know it will be a daily one.

and another thing

I’m sure you’ve heard the news: There’s a new majority leader in the U.S. Senate.

Earlier this week, Republicans made it official and chose Tennessee Senator Bill Frist to replace Trent Lott as majority leader. An accomplished surgeon, Frist has performed more than 250 heart and lung transplants, and has twice given medical aid to visitors in the Capitol building. Add to these impressive credentials his trips to Africa to bring medical relief to children suffering from AIDS, and you have the very picture of a “compassionate conservative.”

But there is also a troubling side to Senator Frist’s political career.

The senator wrote and sponsored a senate bill designed to nullify lawsuits against Eli Lilly & Company over the vaccine preservative Thimerosal. The language of this bill was cut-and-pasted into the Homeland Security Act (HSA) just hours before the act was passed by the Senate (see the e-Alert “Protection Money” 12/2/02). Although Frist apparently wasn’t the one who added his own wording to the HSA, he defended his bill and the provisions in the HSA, stating that they were necessary to protect Lilly in order to insure that the company would be able to continue making vaccines.

Unfortunately, Senator Frist has very close ties to Lilly. The Washington Post describes Lilly as a “major contributor” to the senator’s political campaigns. Lilly was also a generous contributor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee while Frist was the chairman of NRSC.

So, in addition to his compassionate side, Senator Frist obviously has a politically pragmatic side as well. He may be as genuinely compassionate as anyone, but when it came time to weigh compassion against corporate survival, his political side won out.

Is Bill Frist a drug company wolf in a compassionate sheep’s clothing? Now that he’s stepped up to a high profile role on the national political stage (along with rumors that he plans to run for president in 2008), the senator’s relationship with his drug company benefactors will be in the limelight too. So I’ll be watching, and I’ll let you know which way the chips fall whenever Majority Leader Frist’s compassion is called for.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute