The rooibos plant (Aspalathus linearis) is a herbal treasure that grows exclusively in the Cederberg region in the north Western Cape. Pronounced 'roy-boss', which means 'red bush' in Afrikaans, rooibos is a legume. It is part of the fynbos family, a unique set of plants within the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Did you know?

Rooibos is the only plant that contains the flavonoid aspalathin, an active anti-oxidant, with known therapeutic properties.

Rooibos ('red bush' in Afrikaans) was first used medicinally by the Khoisan of southern Africa.

Subsequently, botanist Carl Humberg 'rediscovered' the so-called red tea in 1772, but it was Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant, who began marketing rooibos tea to the world in 1904.

During World War II, when black tea was scarce, rooibos grew in popularity. In 1968, a South African mother’s accidental use of some leftover tea in her baby’s bottle brought the health benefits of rooibos to the world’s attention.

Only the leaves are used in the production of rooibos tea. They are green when harvested, and then cut or chopped to bruise them, before being left to ferment naturally in the sun. During the fermentation, rooibos’ potent cocktail of flavenoids and enzymes oxidises. This develops the tea’s typical mahogany-red colour and unique flavour.

Recognised internationally for its healthy properties, anti-oxidant rich rooibos is widely used in pharmaceutical products for its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties. When prepared the traditional way, by simply adding boiled water, rooibos tea is a soothing, natural drink free from caffeine, sugar, fat, preservatives and colourants.

It’s also low in tannin and high in potassium, iron, zinc and other vitamins, and it’s reputed to work a treat on cramps, upset tummies, nappy rashes and skin allergies.

Rooibos isn’t just good for you, it’s good for communities, too. Agriculture is highly seasonal in the climatically harsh regions where rooibos flourishes, and processing rooibos provides much-needed employment for workers.

Indigenous rooibos has also helped rural communities like the farmers of Wupperthal and the Heivlei Co-operative preserve their traditional way of life by forming self-sufficient collectives.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

South African Rooibos Council
Tel:+27 (0)21 552 8845
Fax:+27 (0)21 552 8845

Clanwilliam Tourism
Tel:+27 (0)27 482 2024
Fax:+27 (0)27 482 2361

Tel: +27 (0)27 218 1433/1148

How to get here

Clanwilliam is 230km north of Cape Town by car on the N7. The Rietjieshuis is situated just 30km south of Nieuwoudtville, in the Northern Cape province, 360km north of Cape Town.

Best time to visit

If you wish to tour a rooibos farm, the best time to visit is in summer when rooibos is harvested. Contact the farm in advance of your visit.

Tours to do

Elandsberg Eco Tourism, on the farm Groenkol, approximately 18km outside Clanwilliam on the way to Lamberts Bay, offers rooibos cultivation tours. Contact Annette or Chris du Plessis at +27 (0)27 482 2022

Get around

Often, the roads around Clanwilliam and Nieuwoudtville are gravel and uneven. A car with good ground clearance is recommended.

Length of stay

A tour of a rooibos farm will take approximately ½ a day.

What to pack

Clanwilliam and the surrounding areas can be extremely hot in summer. Pack sun protection and bring water to drink.

Where to stay

Stay in Clanwilliam, which has a variety of accommodation options, or stay with the farmers of Heivlei at the Rietjieshuis Eco Lodge, which has 1 traditional reed hut (rietjieshuis) and 1 stone cottage, both with basic facilities. Meals are provided.

What to eat

Try a 'red espressso' – rooibos tea specially formulated for use with a coffee filter machine.

Best buys

Rooibos products like flavoured hot and cold teas, jams, liqueurs, and skin-care products.

Related articles