Heri-TEA-ge Day spotlight on Rooibos

The Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) plant is responsible for one of the most popular and unique teas the world over. Indigenous to the Cederberg mountains in South Africa, about 3 hours from Cape Town, this mountain herb has captivated the taste buds of hardcore tea drinkers and became the star of tea-times. Despite efforts by many who tried to cultivate the plant in other parts of the world, this stubborn little wonder-plant still only grows in its homeland of South Africa. This is quite magical, there has never been a more proudly South African plant. This is why Rooibos gets the spotlight for our heritage plant this month.

The origins of rooibos date back thousands of years, some would even say tens of thousands of years. The most recent account dates back over 300 years ago when the very first nation in South Africa, the San people, made use of rooibos leaves to make herbal remedies for many medical conditions.

Apart from the other countries that have failed there are also other areas in South Africa that have tried with no success to grow this remarkably healthy tea. This makes the Cederberg a very special place indeed.

Photo credit: Rooibos Ltd

In 1772, Carl Thunberg, a European botanist was intrigued by the way the indigenous people traversed the mountains to find the wild rooibos plants. This observation sparked widespread interest and thus the extremely healthy leaves began to gain popularity as a tea. Early Cape-Dutch settlers began drinking rooibos as a more affordable option to the exorbitantly priced black tea from the East. There is also some historical curiosity that rooibos is linked to the massive Chinese tea trade and erupted when the Cape became a well-known market for traders from the East. There was a time when drinking tea became a fashion statement in Europe, and those who settled on the shores of the Cape sought to imitate that trend thus adopting the San people’s local brew. It was only at the advent of the 20th century that companies started to experiment commercially with the tea. When tea in South Africa became an endangered species during the Second World War, the natives came to a realisation that they had a much better and affordable alternative in their own backyard and since then it became a staple in all pantries across the diverse cultures of South Africa.

Rooibos research is relatively fresh but based on the wisdom of old. The remarkable medicinal properties of rooibos were held in high regard in the herb lore of the San people and seemed to have endless applications.

Photo credit: Rooibos Ltd

Besides its ability to make a tasty cup of tea, there are plenty of advantages to this miracle herb. Being high in antioxidants makes the tea a fierce warrior in the fight against cancer and other diseases. It also offers the immune system a major boost and research shows that consistent intake of rooibos fights the clock by reducing aging. It is completely pure and organic, not having any additives, preservatives or colourants. It is also naturally caffeine-free which is music to the ears of the 16 people in the world who do not enjoy a lovely cappuccino. Many health and beauty product manufacturers make use of Rooibos extract to infuse these positive benefits into their creams and shampoos.

Whether you are enjoying a lazy afternoon tea-time or moisturising your sun-beaten skin the caffeine-free way, there is no denying that rooibos is more than a nice cup of tea, but modestly holds the super tea status for many South Africans.