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Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis, formerly A. contaminatus), is a leguminous shrub with needlelike leaves native to mountain slopes of western Cape Province, South Africa. Its beverage use by the Hottentots was first reported by the botanist Carl Thunberg in 1772. About 1900, it began to be marketed and then domesticated on a small scale. Seed selection and improved cultivation and processing started in the 1920s. Important advances were made in 1930. Demand for the product jumped during World War II because of the shortage of Oriental tea, then declined. The industry was stabilized in 1954 and continued to expand, with exports to Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada and, to a very limited extent, the United States. A fungus disease, then drought, followed by floods temporarily reduced the supply in 1980. The tea is gaining recognition for its freedom from caffeine, low tannin and high ascorbic acid content. It contains the antispasmodic principle, quercetin, and is said to have enough fluoride to inhibit caries. Consumer tests indicate that rooibos tea may be an acceptable alternative to tea, coffee, cocoa and high-caffeine soft drinks.
Economic Botany © 1983 New York Botanical Garden Press