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Rooibos (meaning Redbush) is a shrub with needle-like leaves that can grow up to 2 metres in height. The Rooibos plant is endemic to a small part of the Western Cape in South Africa, forming part of the fynbos biome. It grows in a symbiotic relationship with local micro-organisms and according apparently difficult to grow elsewhere.
The native environment for Rooibos has a unique temperature range which drops to freezing in the winter, and reaches up to 48°C in the summer, similar to a Mediterranean climate. The plant prefers deep coarse acidic sandy soil and they do not get irrigation in order to stimulate drought conditions.
How to Plant
Rooibos can be grown from seed and planted in the late summer or spring, commercial growers germinate seeds in greenhouses and plant them out into the fields after four months during autumn. Seeds need to be scarifiedby cutting the seed coat using abrasion or thermal stress to encourage germination.
How to Water
According to various sources Rooibos is not watered very often to stimulate drought conditions, the best rooibos is said to come from areas with lower rainfall. Areas where Rooibos is cultivated typically have a winter rainfall between 200 mm and 400 mm per year.
Look for plants that prefer similar soil and water conditions. One commercial grower uses crop rotation with oats to return nutrients to the fields.
How to Propagate
Propagation through seed is most common although root cuttings can be done from semi-woody cuttings in early spring.
How to Harvest
Rooibos is harvested once a year during the summer but cutting the young branches, chopping them finely, watering and airing. The branches are then left to “sweat” in heaps so it develops the characteristically reddish colour and sweet flavour. After sweating the tea is dried in the sun.
Information & Research
C-glucoside dihydrochalcones aspalathin and nothofagin amongst others. (21)
Antispasmodic, antioxidant, anti-mutagenic and anti-ageing effects. (21)
Animal studies show that rooibos has potent antioxidant, immune-modulating and chemopreventive effects. A review found no documentation of adverse side effects of consuming rooibos tea. (22)
Preparations & Uses
The leaves and twigs are used.
Rooibos is taken as an infusion, a warm tea with or without milk and honey or sugar. Rooibos also makes great iced tea.
It is a popular health drink because it contains no harmful substances or caffeine. It is also used as a milk substitute for infants who are prone to colic. There is also evidence that the flavonoids contribute to a reduction in heart disease and other ailments. (21)