What’s the background of redbush?
Growing only in a relatively small area of the Cederberg Mountains in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) is a broom-like member of the Fabaceae family of plants growing in the fynbos biome.
Rooibos started life as a wild plant and is one of the few plants that has made the transition from the wild (many of the farms still continue to allow indigenous wild plants and flowers to grow amongst the rows of rooibos, so maintaining a more natural and ecologically sound environment), to a commercially cultivated crop. Today, you can still see wild bushes growing at the side of the road
Our rooibos at the Redbush Tea Company is just as it has always been, never modified or subjected to hybridisation
Very little is known about the early history of rooibos only that it has been used for many centuries by the indigenous San or Bushmen; primarily, it is believed as herbal medicine.
They used a process thought to have been later copied by Malay slaves, who made a rich aromatic tea from the plant. This was spotted by a Swedish travelling botanist Carl Thunberg in 1772, who had been looking for a cheaper alternative to the expensive black tea which was being imported into Europe from China.
However, it was the bushmen who were the first to harvest the wild plants, chopping them with axes, bruising them with hammers and leaving them to ferment in heaps before drying them in the sun. The tea is produced in the same way today, although much of the process is now mechanised, it is even still dried under the African sun in vast yards, before being sucked into special vacuums before further purification. The tea is then sorted and graded according to length, colour and flavour. This guarantees you uniform standards of high quality and the superior taste of redbush tea.
We purchase only the finest grade of redbush tea which is specially blended for us from the top 10% of the harvest.
Rooibos or redbush – what is it?
It’s a personal preference whether you would like to ask for a cup of ‘rooibos’ or ‘redbush’ – both are the same tea. Rooibos is Afrikaans, when translated means literally ‘red bush.’ The plants turn a dark red when they die, or when the leaves are dried and fermented to make the finished tea product.
Rooibos or redbush is a shrub-like bush and is totally unrelated to the traditional tea plant (Camellia sinensis) from which Ceylon, Earl Grays or English Breakfast teas are produced.
Here, the soil is sandy, has a high acidity level, almost devoid of nutrients and virtually no potassium or nitrogen. This hardy bush survives by its extraordinary long tap root which can dig down 30 cms into the ground, and up to 2m deep as a fully-grown bush
Rooibos being part of the legume plant family has the ability to bind its own nitrogen and other nutrients from the soil, which means fertilisers are never used
Rooibos or redbush, is one of the few plants that has made the transition from a wild plant to a commercially cultivated crop. During which time, the plant has never been modified or subjected to hybridisation in any way, and is GMO-free
Once fully grown, the shrub-like bush of rooibos near the soil surface has a smooth main stem which sub-divides into strong branches, followed by flimsy side branches bearing the thin needle-like leaves from which rooibos or redbush tea is produced.
During the South African springtime, redbush is usually covered in small, yellow pea-shaped flowers, each producing a single hard-shelled seed, which is sifted from the ground around the plants to be scarified to increase their germinating potential before being sown.