Discover the Red Bush (Rooibos) Plant

Rooibos Plant

The red bush plant (Aspalathus linearis), is also known as Rooibos, an Afrikaan word meaning red bush. This perennial shrub or small tree grows wild in a small region of South African. This plant resembles the broom plant with its needle-like foliage. Redbush produces a tiny yellow flower in late spring and early summer, but only the leaves and small twigs are used  for herbal remedies and for making tea.

Where Does the Red bush Plant Grow?

The red bush plant has unique growing needs and only thrives in a small region of South Africa. It has a symbiotic relationship with micro-organisms in the local ecology and cannot survive in other locations. Attempts to cultivate red bush in other locations have all failed.

Is Red Bush Cultivated?

For many years, botanists and farmers were unable to cultivate red bush because they could not get the seeds to germinate. In the 1930s, botanist Dr Pieter Le Fras Nortier, learned how to germinate the rooibos seeds. The secret, it seems, lay in the need to scarify the seed coat of the rooibos seed to allow it to germinate. It is reported that Nortier placed a layer of rooibos seeds between two mill stones and ground away part of the seed coat, which allowed the seed to germinate. He later taught other local farmers how to scarify, germinate and plant the rooibos seeds. Since that time, red bush has been cultivated in South Africa where it often grows alongside wild red bush plants. Farmers allow wild plants to intermingle with cultivated ones to encourage the strain to remain pure and retain its natural flavors and nutrients. Cultivation is localized to South Africa.

How is the Red Bush Plant Harvested?

Originally, wild red bush plants grew in the mountains of South Africa and were hand harvested. Workers climbed the mountains to gather bundles of stems and leaves and tied them into bundles. They then loaded the red bush harvest onto donkeys to transport them down the mountain. The stems and leaves were then chopped and bruised with knives and hammers and left to ferment in the sun for several days. The plants are still hand harvested, chopped and placed in the African sun to dry. The dried red bush foliage can be used to make green rooibos tea, while the fermented red bush foliage is used to make red tea. The name red bush and red tea comes from the fact that fermented leaves turn red and produce a red colored tea.

Rooibos Plant

How Was the First Rooibos Tea Discovered?

The red bush plant was used medicinally in herbal medicine before it became a popular tea. It is presumed that natives enjoyed the flavor and health benefits of this naturally sweet tea that they began consuming it for pleasure.

What is the Nutritional Value of Red Bush?

Red bush is promoted for its nutritional benefits. They include:

  • Caffeine and Tannin Free: Red bush is naturally caffeine-free and low in tannins, the ingredient responsible for giving tea is sometimes bitter aftertaste. This means it can be enjoyed freely by children as well as adults.
  • Antioxidants: It also contains several antioxidants that scavenge free radicals in the body,
  • Trace Elements: Red bush contains fluoride, copper, manganese, zinc, calcium, potassium and magnesium.