South Africa's very own Champagne is Rooibos
We love Rooibos, and it’s wonderful that this unique plant has now has been officially listed on the European Union's (EU) register of iconic geographic indicators. This is the first African food to achieve this status.
What does this mean?
This means that our very own local Rooibos is one of the products that are "produced, processed and prepared" in a specific area, using a particular, traditional, method.
So registered Rooibos can only be defined as dried leaves derived from the Aspalathus linearis plant that have been harvested from the Western Cape or Northern Cape, specifically from the Cederberg region, and nowhere else in the world.
What exactly does this register do?
The EU's register of iconic geographic indicators protects the names of wines, meats, cheeses, breads and more with a protected designation of origin (PDO) from the EU. Rooibos will get the same legal protection such as Champagne from France, Gorgonzola cheese from Italy and Parmigiano Reggiano (or Parmesan Cheese) from Italy. These products can only be labelled as such if they come from the designated region.
And when businesses achieve PDO status, they can gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. This gives Rooibos bonus points as it competes with other herbal teas cultivated worldwide, such as hibiscus, chamomile and peppermint.
How did this happen?
It took a 10 year-long battle to get Rooibos registered through various processes that had to be completed, of which the recent inclusion on the EU register was the final and official stamp of approval. Rooibos will now be able to use the protected designation of origins logo, which is well known to European consumers. The logo will distinguish Rooibos as a unique product. And by registering, the industry will be able to better protect the trademark Rooibos around the world.
Where does Rooibos come from?
The story of Rooibos started over 300 years ago when the indigenous bushmen of the area, the Khoisan people, harvested the leaves from the Aspalathus Linearis plant. They used the leaves to make herbal remedies for many ailments. And they loved the delicious, aromatic taste. Early Dutch settlers at the Cape started drinking Rooibos as an alternative to the very expensive black tea from Europe. And in the early 20th Century, Dr Le Fras Nortier started researching its medicinal value and agricultural potential.
According to the SA Rooibos Council, Rooibos today provides income and employment to more than 5000 people in South Africa. And on average, about 14 000 tons of Rooibos are produced in South Africa per year.
A sharing agreement between the Rooibos industry and the Khoi and San communities was signed in November 2019 in terms of which Khoi and San communities will receive a percentage of the farm-gate price from the processors of rooibos in the form of an annual levy. The amount is then paid into trust accounts opened by the San and Khoi communities. A central feature of this agreement also incorporates prior, informed consent for access to resources and traditional knowledge, according to the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.
So what's next for Rooibos?
With Rooibos now being a registered name in the EU, the battle to get Rooibos to full international status is well on its way. Dawie de Villiers, Legal Director of the Rooibos Council says their next step is to get Rooibos certified as a product of origin with the World Trade Organisation.
"We are going to work hard on exposing the origin of Rooibos and, with our traditional knowledge agreement with the San and Khoi, be able to talk more about the heritage of Rooibos to make the product even more special," said De Villiers.
He believes that greater recognition can aid in the preservation of traditional knowledge and help the indigenous communities that produce Rooibos to thrive
How do we feel about the good news?
African Extracts, as one of South Africa’s most successful skin-care brands, is synonymous with Rooibos.
“The role of antioxidants in skin health is undisputed,” says African Extracts CEO Rob Tiffin. “In Rooibos we have a plant that is rich in antioxidants, including aspalathin which found only in Rooibos. It’s the perfect hero ingredient for our skin-care brand. We are proud of our part in sharing the benefits of Rooibos with the world.”