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.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Seed tray
- Potting compost
- Perlite or sharp sand
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.
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.
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