An ode to Rooibos. Image: Shutterstock

An elderly Khoi woman follows a trail of ants, watching them roll miniscule rooibos seeds into a nest underground. She stoops to her knees. Inside these anthills, she discovers Lilliputin granaries of seeds. Returning with a matchbox full, the doctor hands her a shilling. She will return to him several times, opening her palm to trade seeds for silver.

You are ten-years-old when you first taste black tea and honey, only the tea is a rich amber hue and the honey is tempered with a slice of gnarly-skinned Eureka lemon from the backyard. Your grandma and aunties drink milky Ceylon tea like fancy Five Roseswhen there are guests or Trinco for daily consumption, with three teaspoons of white sugar, buttered Marie biscuits on the side. So does your father. No masala chai in this family. The tea in your cup, made by your mother who favors honey and unrefined brown sugar, algae-green spirulina powder in the mornings, stubbly brown rice when everyone else cooks short-grain or basmati – things you don’t see in your friends’ kitchens – smells of sweet, buttery caramels. And a whisper-swirl of smoke – your grandpa’s cigarettes. You take a careful sniff of the aroma wafting from the cup while the teabag sits in hot water, brewing.

Until 1920, the rooibos (African red bush) plant could not be successfully harvested. This changed only whenTryntjie Swartsand her neighbors brought the seeds to Dr. Pieter le Fras Nortier and Benjamin Ginsberg, a settler who was keen on cultivating rooibos for sale. Prior to this, the teeny seeds within the pods were at the mercy of the wind.

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