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What is Rooibos Tea?

July 10, 2018

Image: Rooibos tea harvest, JM International

We love all of our products, but a favorite is our Refining Facial Toner made with a special blend of antioxidant-rich tea extracts to help tighten skin and refine pores. Our formulation makes use of common teas like white, green, and black, as well as one you might not be as familiar with: Rooibos.

Unlike white, green, and black tea leaves, which all come from the same plant, rooibos tea comes from an entirely different species, one that can only be found in the Cederberg mountains of South Africa. Going back hundreds of years, the indigenous people of the region would bring rooibos leaves down from the mountains, then prepare and dry them before using them to make a special reddish-brown tea, unique to that part of the world.

Beyond only being found in the Cederbergs, rooibos tea was an exceedingly rare drink for another reason: How difficult it was to grow. In the early 1900s, efforts were made to begin cultivating rooibos commercially, but there were a series of hurdles that had to be overcome.

The first was the scarcity of the rooibos seeds themselves. Collecting rooibos seeds was a tiresome, time-consuming task, until an elderly woman – her name lost to history – discovered who was particularly adept at gathering them up: Ants! Ants of the region would collect and store rooibos seeds in their “granaries,” which could then be raided by enterprising human hands. While this solved the supply problem, the larger issue was actually germinating the seeds and making them grow.

Enter Dr Pieter Le Fras Nortier, recognized as the father of the rooibos tea industry, who discovered that for rooibos seeds to reliably germinate their outer layer of skin needed to be scraped away, a technique called “scarifying.” He accomplished this with the use of a pair of millstones, which would grind away the seed pod walls, leaving them ready for germination.

Today, more than a century later, rooibos tea is not only a global commodity, but is commonly recognized as South Africa’s national beverage. And, thanks to Dr Nortier’s innovations, it’s also available for use in skin care products like our Refining Facial Toner to which rooibos imparts not only a healthy dose of antioxidants, but also its soothing, healing properties.

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