Rooibos: from seedling to teacup

Posted by Taylah Strauss on 24 June 2022

Most of us know rooibos as something you drink when you’re sick – with a dash of honey of course. This is because rooibos actually does have antioxidant properties, it’s not an old wives’ tale.

Keen to know more? Let’s have a look at the life cycle of rooibos, from seedling to teacup.


Rooibos – botanically known as Aspalathus linearis – is a leguminous shrub that grows naturally in only one place in the entire world – the Cederberg Mountains. The Cederberg Mountains fall under the Cape Floral Kingdom, a heritage site and one of South Africa’s only two global biodiversity hotspots.

Rooibos grows at an altitude of 300 to 600m above sea level. The plant has adapted to the extreme weather conditions of the Cederberg, where temperatures drop below zero and can go as high as 48 degrees Celsius. The area receives around 180 to 500mm of rainfall during winter.

However, no irrigation is used, subjecting the plant to severe droughts from time to time. The plant has adapted by growing a tap root that digs down 3m into the soil. Mature plants can only grow to half the size of its roots.


Although rooibos requires an area with wet winters and dry summers, it only starts to grow during spring, toward midsummer after which growth declines. During spring, the plant grows small yellow flowers which produce a single pod that contains a hard-shelled seed.

Seeds are collected by hand by sifting through the surrounding soil, and then scrubbed with scourers to crack the shell. This increases germination potential from 30 to 95 percent.


Near the end of summer, the seeds are planted in seedbeds and regular wetting is applied to maximise germination. As the cooler months approach, shortly after the first rainfall, the seedlings are moved into plantations.


The bushes are pruned for the very first time after 18 months after the seedlings were moved into plantations. Rooibos is harvested by trimming the branches 50cm above the ground. These cuttings are bundled together before being moved to the processing yards. There, the sheaves are placed into machines to cut the plant into uniform lengths.


To trigger the first step of the chemical process of fermentation, rooibos is bruised between the rollers of the machine. Then, rooibos is watered and piled into small heaps to air out and ferment. During this process, rooibos changes from green to rusty red and develops its flavour and aroma. After this, the product is spread out in open areas to dry.

The rooibos is then collected and transported to a factory for its final step.


At the factory, rooibos is put through a six-mesh sieve to remove any foreign objects, after which it is separated into different sizes by using mesh-sized screens. These are collected and stored in separate silos, where it will remain until it is blended according to product recipes.

Next, the product will go through five stages of quality control. At each stage, the product is assessed with local and international regulations. The final product is also tested by the Perishable Products Export Control Board.

After quality control is completed, the product is bagged.

And there you have it – the entire rooibos life cycle, from seedling to teacup.

The versatility of rooibos

  • Rooibos can be enjoyed hot or cold, with or without milk and either a dash of honey or a slice of lemon.
  • It also works well as an iced tea, or an espresso.
  • The tea also has various culinary uses, namely, to smoke chicken or fish, as a base for sauces, soups, as a marinade or as a substitute ingredient in certain recipes.

Health benefits of rooibos

  • No colourants or preservatives are added found Rooibos, making it 100% pure.
  • The tea has a soothing effect on babies and those suffering from anxiety.
  • Rooibos has several mineral properties, such as sodium, manganese, zinc, potassium and iron, which makes it a perfect drink for someone with low electrolytes.
  • Kilojoule-free and has antioxidant, anti-spasmodic and anti-carcinogenic properties.
  • It helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases.

Picture: Pexels


Fudgies unite on International Fudge Day: two delectable recipes

yoast-primary - 1004429
tcat - Travel ideas
tcat_slug - travel-ideas
tcat2 - Travel ideas
tcat2_slug - travel-ideas
tcat_final - travel