It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: “It’s no fun being sick.” Because of a recent, unwelcome bout of flu, doubly unwelcome in the wake of a week of convalescence brought on by complications resulting from a (happily benign) routine biopsy, steadfast readers of Wednesday Journal may, I hope, have noticed the absence of this modest column from its award-winning pages. And although it, too, goes without saying, let me say that I couldn’t be happier than I am right now to be writing this article.
Adverse situations, unpleasant as they may be, often result in unexpected, yet favorable outcomes. In my unfortunate state – bedridden, unable to eat, and relegated to hours of television viewing – the very thought of anything favorable was, to say the least, aptly remote. That I would discover a new food in the middle of all this misery was even more remote. But that’s just what happened.
My unusual discovery came about during a marathon viewing of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, a series of 10 detective novels by British author Alexander McCall Smith. The setting is the Republic of Botswana, in southern Africa. Dramatized by the BBC and shown on HBO, it is one of the most enjoyable series I have seen. In each of the stories, protagonist Precious Ramotswe, the Miss Marple of Botswana, invariably relies on a soothing cup of bush tea as the first step in calming her clients and in helping her solve the ensuing mysteries.
So what is bush tea, you ask?
That’s the very same question I posed to my good friend Bill Todd and his staff at Todd & Holland Tea Merchants, my favorite purveyor of fine teas, on the corner of Madison and Marengo in Forest Park.
Bush tea, more commonly known as rooibos (pronounced Roy boss) or red bush tea, is not a true tea. More specifically, it’s a tisane (tih-Zahn), or herb tea native to South Africa, where it has been cultivated for hundreds of years. Apart from its appealing, unique taste that is slightly sweet with a nutty-like, berry flavor, rooibos tea has a reddish brown color that unlike most herbal teas brews up a dark cup with enough body to handle the addition of milk, sugar or honey. Unlike true teas, rooibos tea is caffeine-free and low in tannins, which means you can drink it as a thirst quencher all day, hot or cold, all year round without adverse side effects. Pregnant women and nursing mothers can drink all they like. But that’s not all.
Like other herb teas such as chamomile and lemon balm, rooibos is soothing and helps alleviate symptoms of insomnia, depression, as well as digestive problems. Unlike other herbal teas, rooibos tea has been found in recent studies to have health benefits for those who drink it. With its at least 37 natural antioxidants, rooibos reportedly boosts the immune system and eases irritability, headaches and nervous tension. It can be used to treat hay fever, asthma, and even eczema. Placed directly on the skin, it can slow the aging process, and because it does not contain oxalic acid, rooibos is safe to drink for anyone suffering from kidney ailments. Because of all these great things it can do for your health, not to mention its pleasant taste, many are now calling rooibos the “wonder tea.”
I urge you to pay a visit to Bill and Janet Todd at our gem of a tea shop in Forest Park. Try rooibos for yourself and, like me, you, too, will ask: Is it any wonder?
Frank Chlumsky, former executive chef of Philander’s restaurant in Oak Park, teaches in Chicago at Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts. In his 35-year career, Frank has owned restaurants in Michigan City, Ind., and in Lake Geneva, Wisc. He has also been executive chef at the Saddle & Cycle Club in Chicago. Frank lives in Forest Park, where he cooks for pleasure.