Rooibos is indigenous to South Africa and only grows in the Cederberg region of the Western Cape.
The coarse, sandy soils and Mediterranean climate (0 ºC to 45 ºC), makes the Cederberg ideal for Rooibos cultivation.
During February and March, Rooibos seeds are germinated in nurseries with great care.
From June to August, seedlings are transplanted to Rooibos fields where they grow to maturity. It takes about 18 months before the plants can be harvested for the first time.
Rooibos is harvested annually for about four to five years, after which rotation crops are planted for one-two years. This provides a recovery period where nutrients are restored to the land.
Rooibos is one of the most sustainable agricultural products, since it is adapted to poor soils, low nutrient content and harsh conditions, and requires very little maintenance. There is no need to fertilise Rooibos or irrigate it, which makes it very energy efficient.
Annually, more than 20 000 tons of Rooibos are produced, half of which are exported to 60+ countries across the globe.
December/January marks the start of the Rooibos harvest season.
The Rooibos crop is harvested once a year from summer to early autumn by cutting off the branches about 50cm above the ground. These cuttings are bound into sheaves and transported to the processing yard.
At the processing yard, Rooibos cuttings are machine-cut to uniform lengths of between 1.5mm and 5mm. The cuttings are then bruised prior to starting the fermentation process, which will develop the characteristic colour and flavour of Rooibos.
During the fermentation process, the cut and bruised Rooibos is distributed across huge drying yards where it is ploughed over to air.
After watering, it is left to sweat in heaps for 10 – 14 hours at temperatures of 34°C – 38°C. The fermentation process involves oxidation, brought about by enzymes that are naturally present in the plant. This allows Rooibos to change from green to deep amber while developing its distinct aroma. It is then collected by special machines and taken to the processing facility for pasteurisation.
Finally, Rooibos is graded according to length, colour, flavour and aroma, and is then sent in bulk or retail packs (teabags or loose leaf) to various packers and exporters locally and abroad.
The Cederberg has much to offer tourists by way of the Rooibos Route where visitors can learn how Rooibos moves from farm to cup, while exploring the unique sights and sounds of the region that’s a short two hours’ drive from Cape Town.
Some of the main attractions in the Cederberg include:
- Rooibos tastings/pairings: At the Teahouse you can choose from over 100 Rooibos blends or book at a Rooibos estate for a tasting tour.
- Rooibos heritage tour: Visit the Clanwilliam Museum to learn more about the history of Rooibos and Clanwilliam.
- Fynbos/flower tour: Visit the Biedouw Valley in spring when the Cederberg puts on an immaculate floral display.
- Wine tasting: Clanwilliam is also home to the highest vineyards in the country that produce award-winning wines.
- Horseback riding: To experience the Cederberg by horse, you can make a booking at the Cederberg Park.
- Hiking: The breathtaking scenery of the Cederberg Wilderness Area comprises of several hikes, which include Wolfberg Cracks, Wolfberg Arch, Maltese Cross, Stadsaal Caves and Truitjieskraal, among others.
- Rock art: The Bushman’s Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat is one of SA’s most spectacular Natural Heritage Sites and custodian of the world’s largest open-air Bushman rock-art gallery. The Sevilla Rock Art Trail is a 5km trail that winds along the Brannewyn River and visits nine sites of rock art paintings left by the San people who inhabited the area for thousands of years.
- Bouldering: The bouldering at Rocklands, near Pakhuis Pass in the Northern Cederberg, has achieved world-class status and every year, top international ‘boulderers’ visit this bouldering mecca.
- Water sports: The Clanwilliam Dam is a popular spot for all kinds of water sports, ranging from swimming to angling and water-skiing.
Given its many health benefits and naturally sweet taste, Rooibos has become a popular tisane the world over.
Rooibos is the first African food product to receive the sought-after Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status from the European Union. The mark identifies and links a product to a specific region, associating its quality and reputation to that area – in Rooibos’ case, the Cederberg region.
The tisane can be enjoyed pure or incorporated with other herbs, spices, florals and fruit to enhance certain flavour notes. Rooibos is available in countless varieties, where other beneficial ingredients, such as turmeric, ginger, mint, cinnamon and rosehip have been incorporated to its base.
Rooibos infusions have become an exciting addition to the global market, leading to new sensorial experiences for consumers to discover.