The red branches of the Aspalathus Linearis plant, the source of red rooibos, are actually part of the pea and bean family if you can believe that. It’s world famous for its wealth of minerals, including zinc, copper, calcium, magnesium and potassium. But it’s not just the health benefits that make our red rooibos so happy, for us it's all about fair and equitable sourcing that acknowledges the original stewards of the plant.
Red rooibos has a long history of healing by the Khoi Khoi and San people of the Cederberg region of South Africa.
The Khoi Khoi people were known for nomadic agriculture while the San are hunter gatherers from the southern cape of Africa. Over the years history has combined the two - Khoisan - because they share similar cultures and languages. But they were by no means a homogenous people. In fact, they generally existed in isolation of each other, and used different means in order to survive off the land.
The KhoiSan are South Africa's oldest inhabitants and are made up of a number of related communities: The Cape Khoi; the Nama; the Koranna; the Griqua and the San - who also often refer to themselves as bushmen.
Walking through the Cederberg mountains the San and Khoi people would harvest red rooibos stems and then chop them into small pieces with axes. After crushing them with stones and then later hammers, the plants would be fermented in heaps and finally in the sun. During fermentation, the color changes from green to red with oxidation.
Harvesting and processing wild red rooibos is a time consuming and difficult task, and for centuries farming and red rooibos production was small-scale, and the popularity of the tea was limited to these communities.
The earliest recorded uses of Khoisan and red rooibos tea date back thousands of years, harvested for its sweet flavor and used for its healing properties. Red rooibos is literally pulsing through the veins of the Khoisan, given at birth to supplement mothers milk, soothe teething babies, cure digestive ailments, used topically for skin conditions and so much more
In the mid-1600’s European colonizers laid claim to the land of the Khoisan people not only displacing the indigenious stewards of the land but exploiting natural resources, changing natural grazing patterns and importing disease. Once the largest population on the planet, today census tracks less than 100,000 Khosisan speakers.
In 1904 Benjamin Ginsberg, a young Russian immigrant, often called the father of commercial Red Rooibos Tea, joined his father, a tea trader, on the farm Rondegat in the Clanwilliam district of the Cederberg. The commercialisation of red rooibos production started in the 1930s after learning how to germinate the seeds from a local Khoisan woman.
At the turn of the 20th Century, under colonial rule, red rooibos farming was made into a commercial venture and Rooibos LTD became a leading force in the tea's widespread globalization. Rooibos LTD controls over 70% of red rooibos on the global market. With their massive buying power, they control the market price of the plant.
Today the red rooibos industry produces 16,000 metric tons annually and is estimated to generate about $35 million in sales globally, with exports to 30 countries.
Landmark Recognition, Nagoya Protocol and Restoring Intellectual Property to Red Rooibos Traditional Knowledge Holders
One of the many legacies of colonialism in Africa is the forced disconnect between people and their natural resources. This has opened the door for commercial exploitation of these resources by corporate interests without regard to the original users of these resources.
On October 29, 2010 the Nagoya Protocol was adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Conference of Parties, known as COP, is the decision-making body responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In short, the Nagoya Protocol requires all who trade in indigenous biological resources to share benefits with traditional knowledge holders in a fair and equitable way.
Traditional Knowledge Holders are defined as storytellers, artists, activists, hereditary leaders, or academics that pass down traditions or heritage of Indigenous communities from generation to generation.
The Nagoya Protocol recognizes the Khoikhoi and San peoples as the traditional knowledge holders to the uses of red rooibos and ensures that they will have access to a benefit-sharing levy of 1.5% of the farm gate price annually from the commercialisation of red rooibos by the South African red rooibos industry. July 2022, the Kohoikhoi and San people received their first disbursement, a result of years and years of political red tape and advocacy.
It is worth noting that 138 countries signed the Nagoya Protocol including all of the countries we source from directly with the exception of the United States.
Look, we’re a small but scrappy tea company that cares a lot about the details. When we learned about the horrible, dusty past of rooibos trading we phoned a friend to help us improve the transparency and quality of one of our fave plants. Thanks to our strong partnership with Malawian farm, Satemwa Tea Estate, we were introduced to a family run farm outside of Cederberg - Skimmelberg Farm.
Skimmelberg Farm was one of the first to reach a benefits sharing agreement with the Khoisan as well as allocate more than 90 percent of its land for preservation and conservation thus forming the Skimmelberg land Trust.
Skimmelberg Farm values tradition, biodiversity, preservation, conservation and of course, quality red rooibos production.
Red Rooibos, known in Western taxonomy as Aspalathus linearis, is endemic to South Africa. Endemic means it's from there, and only grows there. It's not related to the "tea" plant Camellia sinensis at all, with no caffeine, hardly any tannins and just a very different chemical profile (and therefore, flavor profile) overall. But both plants (tea and red rooibos) are full of antioxidants, and that's where the health benefits come in.
Red rooibos in particular has more antioxidants than almost any other plant around. These compounds reduce inflammation, especially associated with sugar and diabetes. Red rooibos is heart-healthy too, potentially by protecting blood pressure levels and lowering "bad" cholesterol.
Medical research points to 2 very promising findings that show that drinking red rooibos daily improves cardiovascular function and the bodies ability to sequester oxidative stress.
Science aside, we love how this sweet red tea makes our skin glow in the morning.
It is not hard to make the perfect cup of healing, naturally sweet red rooibos tea. All you need is some hot water and a tea cup - seriously. This plant is hearty and unlike more sensitive green and white teas, red rooibos can withstand high water temps and longer steep times making it a foolproof way to drink your medicine.
We suggest brewing Happy Rooibos with water heated to 195 degrees fahrenheit for 3 minutes.