In the strictest sense, Rooibos is not a tea but a herbal infusion, or tisane. It is a staple in the homes of South Africans and, in recent decades, has become increasingly popular globally for its caffeine-free, antioxidant-rich and calming properties, as well as its unique, inherently sweet and earthy taste. The tisane/tea itself comes from a plant called Rooibos (scientific name: Aspalathus linearis), which is a shrubby legume that grows only in the mountainous Cederberg region of the Western Cape of South Africa, and nowhere else in world.
Over 300 years ago, the local San – a nomadic tribe who roamed the Cederberg in search of food, water and shelter, and whose history is forever etched in rock art found in the area’s many caves – were the first to discover the delicious, healing tea made from the rooibos plant. They cut the plant’s fine, needle-like leaves, bruised them with wooden mallets and left to dry in the sun. When cut and fermented, the leaves of the Rooibos plant turn a rich orangey-red colour, and it is this distinctive colour which led to the Afrikaans name ‘rooibos’, meaning ‘red bush’.
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