Rooibos tea comes from a South African plant called Aspalathus linearis. It is a legume that grows as a shrub up to 6 feet high with needle-like leaves and small, yellow flowers. Rooibos plants are hardy in USDA Zone 9 and above and will tolerate some frost. The leaves and small stems are used to make rooibos tea after being fermented and dried.
Cover rooibos seeds with just boiled water and leave them to soak overnight prior to sowing in early spring.
Plant the seeds in a seed tray containing a 50 per cent mixture of potting compost and sharp sand or perlite. Bury the seeds at a depth of two-fifths of an inch. Keep the compost damp but not soaking and place the tray in a warm spot such as a greenhouse or south-facing windowsill.
Transfer the seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle. Plant in an acidic, peat-based compost mixed with 50 per cent sharp sand. Place the pots in a bright, warm place with some direct sunshine.
Plant rooibos outdoors after the seedlings have been growing for a year. Choose a sunny site with acidic, well-drained soil. Do not fertilise rooibos, as it thrives in poor soils. In colder areas, rooibos plants can be grown in large pots in a greenhouse and moved out into the garden during the summer.
Propagate your rooibos plants by taking semi-woody cuttings in early spring and planting them in sand or well-drained compost in a humid, warm spot such as a greenhouse.
Harvest the leaves and fine branches after 12 to 18 months of growth. Chop the leaves finely and soak with water. Leave in a heap in a warm place or in the sun to sweat and ferment until the heap has turned a rich, red colour. Spread out the heap to allow the leaves to dry.
Rooibos plants have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria and might be difficult to grow if the bacteria are not present in your soil.
Tips and warnings
- Rooibos plants have a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria and might be difficult to grow if the bacteria are not present in your soil.