|History of Rooibos (Redbush)|
Traditionally the local people would climb the mountains and cut the fine needle-like leaves from wild rooibos plants (Aspalathus Linearis). They then rolled the bunches of leaves into hessian bags and brought them down the steep slopes on the backs of donkeys. The leaves were then chopped with axes and bruised with hammers, before being left to dry in the sun.
In 1903, Benjamin Ginsberg, riding in the remote mountains, became fascinated with this wild tea. He ran a wide variety of experiments at Rondegat Farm, finally perfecting the curing of rooibos. He simulated the traditional Chinese methods of making very fine Keemun, by fermenting the tea in barrels, covered in wet, hessian sacking that replicate the effects of bamboo baskets. His first packing machine is pictured on the left.
Benjamin Ginsberg also enthused the local GP, Dr. le Fras Nortier, who then began to experiment to find a way to propagate the seeds. He found that the only way was to replicate the action of mountain fires that crack open the very hard seed shells.
Benjamin's son, Henry Charles, built on this pioneering work, becoming the first to seed large, dedicated plantations of rooibos (pictured on the far left) and encouraging other farmers to follow. He also created national demand for rooibos in South Africa and was followed by his son, Bruce, who introduced rooibos to the UK and further afield.
Despite its huge success, cultivated rooibos is still cured in much the same way as wild rooibos in the 18th Century - still relying on the sun for drying in the open air of the mountains, without any chemicals or additives.
Shown on the left are various jars of tea which form an exhibit from the Clanwilliams Rooibos Museum, in the foothills of the Cedarbergs. The caption reads: TEA SAMPLES This sample case belonged to Benjamin Ginsberg in the 1930’s and contains samples of different types of teas to be found in the Clanwilliams area.