Blomfontein has been the site of innovative research about wild rooibos. To answer the research questions of Heiveld members, Rhoda Malgas and Koos Paulse monitored sites here for two years before Rhoda wrote up the findings in her Master’s thesis, and wrote the manual ‘The sustainable harvest of Wild Rooibos’ with Noel Oettlé.
Subsequently the Heiveld and EMG conducted fire trials to assess the impact of burning on wild rooibos populations. Wild rooibos re-sprouts from its roots after fire, and seeds that have lain dormant in the soil germinate after the first rains.
This work has provided the foundation for the Heiveld’s protocol on sustainable use of wild rooibos resources:
Protocol for the Sustainable Harvesting of Wild Rooibos
Producers of Heiveld Wild Rooibos must comply with the following requirements and practices:
- Each producer must make a declaration under oath that the wild rooibos that he/ she delivers has been harvested in the specified area.
- All wild rooibos production areas must be shown on a map at the Heiveld’s offices, and in the producer’s Record Book.
- No area may be harvested more than once in every second year.
- Wild rooibos may only be harvested between December and May each season.
- Wild rooibos bushes must be moderately harvested, in other words only between 50 and 70 percent of the upper parts of the plant (leaves and shoots) may be removed. The aim is to avoid unnecessary stress to the plant which will result if too few green leaves remain on the stems, to give the plant a good opportunity to regrow before the rainy season so as to avoid fungal infections, to enable the plant to produce more seed of a higher quality, and to produce the best possible quality of tea.
- Wild rooibos bushes should be harvested approximately 2,5 cm (one inch) higher than the previous harvest cut.
- Only those parts of the plant with a branch thickness of no more than 2 to 3 mm in diameter should be harvested (if thicker branches are cut, the plant will suffer from unnecessary stress and the quality of the tea will be lower).
- Fire control must be applied in wild rooibos collection areas to ensure that fire does not cause damage. To ensure the sustainability of the resource the following guidelines should be followed:
- Combat any fire that occurs sooner than 15 years after the previous fire.
- Combat fires that occur in any season other than the late summer/ autumn (February – April).
- Remove invasive species from wild rooibos collection areas.
Opportunities for research
The Heiveld, Environmental Monitoring Group, Indigo development & change and Three Fountains Trust have collaborated with scientists from the Universities of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Wageningen and Munster as well as the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research to answer farmers’ questions about sustainable rooibos production. We welcome any offers of collaboration to broaden knowledge about the wonderful biodiversity of Blomfontein. Please see the joint research protocol.