Aspalathus linearis is the botannical name for the difficult to grow bush whose dried leaves are used to make the tea also known as Red Tea, Redbush Tea, Bush tea, Mountain tea, Long life tea, South African red tea, or Rooibos Tea. The rooibos ("red bush") is a shrub with needle-shaped leaves that grows in South Africa in the Cederberg region.
I was surprised to learn that the Khoisans, the native bushpeople from that region are said to have harvested the leaves from this plant (supposedly) for centuries. It is said that they ate the leaves for the taste and the plant was used as a herbal remedy. The Khoisan have no written records per se and talk about there ancestors having done this going back to early times. Now to put a time on what this means is difficult.
Herbal remedies and plant usage are poorly retained in the archeological record- they rot unless exceptional condition are present, primitive humans also ate and digested the evidence. Finally, social evolution (ie verbal passing down of herbal remedies 100,000 to 10,000 years ago) is very difficult to detect in archeological evidence.
Overall, we tend to underestimate the sophistication of prehistoric culture because any evidence that remains is subtle. For example, going back to the dawn of agriculture arguments about whether or not various monuments were aligned with certain constellations etc took decades to become accepted and is still not accepted by some archeologists.
Rooibus is without caffeine and contains various phytonutrients - nutritional break downs of the ingredients also list various micronutrients but really these are present in minor amounts given the amount of tea actually used and then consumed in the beverage.
The traditional method of Rooibus preparation would result in a very dilute tea solution ie some people in the Cederberg area are said to have "always" made the tea as follows.
1. Boil the water and pour 1 cup over the leaves.
2. Let it stand for several minutes, drain off the water,
3. then fill the pot with boiling water and allow it to infuse for 15 minutes.
4. You may then put it on the stove (ie assuming a metal kettle or pot) and bring it to the boil several times until you have consumed the contents of the pot.
I put some tea into the pot and fill with boiling water or even use rooibus tea bags. In a previous post I mentioned that it can be consumed with a teaspoon or so of coconut milk if you wish.
In summary, Rooibus tea has been being consumed in one form or another for a minimum of several hundred years. It is said to have been rediscovered by a german botanist in 1772. It may have been consumed as a herb out of the hand and as a tea since antiquity. It is really impossible to say whether or not it could have been consumed as a herb during paleolithic times. It has no ingredients that appear to be toxic in the amounts consumed when drinking the tea and there are no documented instances of toxicity directly attributed to the tea (ie none I have found, anyway).
Rooibus is worth a try as a good non-caffeinated hot beverage, if you like the flavour worth drinking as a safer substitute for ordinary green tea or coffee. Personally, I find it quite refreshing and having tried every other tea\coffee substitute out there was pleased to find it. Not pure paleo but a practical option that appears to be consistent with paleo\primal practices.