The Rooibos Story
Deep in the heart of South Africa, in the mountains and valleys of the Cedarberg region near Cape Town, vast vistas, fields of verdant green bushes, fill the landscape. Traveling throughout this precipitous expanse, one may not suspect that this bright bush, which the locals refer to as "Rooibos" (pronounced roy-boss) could be such a versatile and remarkable herb. Among Rooibos' many uses, Rooibos' most popular utilization is as a tisane, or herbal beverage.
It's not easy bein' Red
Like most tea (Camellia Sinesis tea... "real" tea), Rooibos tea goes through a fermentation process. Rooibos tea is finely chopped, bruised and left to ferment in heaps. Rooibos tea is then left to dry in the African sun, where it changes from a vivid green to a deep mahogany red, the unique color which Rooibos tea is known and adored (and consumed).
The History of Rooibos
Rooibos tea remained virtually unheard of for centuries, known only to the Khoisans, a tribe of South African Bushmen, It was used frequently by these people as a herbal remedy for a wide range of ailments. The secret of this delicious herb nearly vanished into oblivion due to the environment and landscape, as the isolated tribe dwindled away and eventually disappeared.
Although rooibos was first reported in 1772 by botanist Carl Thunberg, the Khoisan people of the area had been using it for ages and were aware of its medicinal value. The Dutch settlers to the Cape adopted rooibos as an alternative to black tea, an expensive commodity for the settlers who relied on supply ships from Europe. Until the 19th century, however, Dutch usage of the tea was minimal.
In 1904, Benjamin Ginsberg (a Russian settler to the Cape and descendant of a famous tea family) realised the potential of rooibos and began trading with the local Khoisan people who were harvesting it. He sold his "Mountain Tea" to settlers in the Cape and shortly became the first importer of rooibos using contacts from the family tea business. In the 1930s, Ginsberg convinced a local doctor to experiment with cultivation of the plant. The attempts were successful, which led Ginsberg to encourage local farmers to cultivate the plant in the hope that it would become a profitable venture. The first attempts at large volume cultivation were a disaster due to the small size of the seeds. They are no larger than a grain of sand and so were difficult to find and gather. This resulted in the seeds soaring to an astounding £80 a pound, which was far too expensive for local farmers.
Fortunately for Ginsberg, who employed collectors of the seeds, one woman had found a rather unusual source of supply. While other collectors only brought in matchbox-sized quantities of the seed, she continually delivered large bags and was eventually persuaded to share her secret. She chanced upon ants dragging seed one day, while she was searching for the minute seeds. She followed their trail back to their nest and, on breaking it open, found a granary. Since then, rooibos has grown in popularity in South Africa and has recently started to gain momentum in the worldwide market. and thus the world-wide rooibos revolution has begun!
Rooibos Revolutions the book available on-line through Angela James Rooibos Tea.com