Rooibos 101: Surprising things you might not know about this national treasure

Rooibos is one of South Africa’s most valued natural treasures. But how much do we really know about this home-grown tea? During Heritage Month in September, the SA Rooibos Council (SARC) embarked on a campaign to create greater public awareness of Rooibos.

Here are some surprising facts about Rooibos:

  • Every spring, the Rooibos bush is covered in tiny yellow flowers which, after pollination, forms a seedpod with a single seed inside.
  • The tiny Rooibos seeds are sown between February and March each year. It takes about 18 months before the bush can be harvested for the first time.
  • Collecting Rooibos seeds can be tricky. In the olden days, Rooibos seeds were collected from anthills as ants harvested the seeds. Today, farmers collect the seeds by sifting the sand around the plants.
  • Rooibos only grows in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape. Farmers have tried to grow it elsewhere in the world, but without any success.
  • The purity of Rooibos is a tightly controlled process. From the time the crop is harvested to when it is pasteurised, various tests are conducted to guarantee that every cup (regardless of the brand you drink) is 100% pure.
  • Once the crop has been harvested, it is cut to lengths of between 1.5 and 5mm. The cuttings are bruised and moistened for fermentation to take place and for the characteristic aroma and red colour to develop. Rooibos is then spread thinly on concrete drying yards to dry. Next, the tea is sorted and graded before being pasteurised by steam.
  • Rooibos contains healthy flavonoids, including aspalathin – a powerful antioxidant unique to the plant. Rooibos is also caffeine-free, low in tannins and kilojoule-free.
  • In 2014, Rooibos received geographical indicator (GI) status, which means that tea can only be called Rooibos if it comes from a defined area in the Cederberg and surrounds. It is a proudly South African product exported to more than 50 countries.
  • This year, Rooibos tea celebrates its 115th anniversary as a branded product. The first Rooibos brand was launched by Benjamin Ginsberg from his general dealer shop in Clanwilliam and is still sold today.

To learn more about Rooibos, visit