Indigenous honeybush tea is a South African delight. Every time I drink a cup, it takes me back to rich growing regions in the coastal fynbos biome. The tea is made from leaves of the Cape honeybush plant. The honeybush shrub produces flowers with a fragrant, rich “honey-like smell, giving the plant and tea its sweet-sounding name”.
Honeybush is related to another well-known South African herbal tea, rooibos (red bush). I never developed a taste for rooibos, but instantly fell for honeybush.
Cape Agulhas Honeybush Tea
My favorite brand, Cape Agulhas Honeybush Tea, is produced at the southernmost tip of the African continent. Free from caffeine, preservatives, and sugar, it’s “kissed by Cape Agulhas sea breezes”. I’m not a tea snob but sincerely doubt another tea could compete with the incredible product. I brought home a few bags purchased at a farmstall near Hermanus in the Overberg Region. Honeybush creates a calming feeling of wellbeing. I drink it at bedtime for sweet dreams of South Africa.
Honeybush (Cyclopia Intermedia) is a “shrub with woody stems that produce three-part leaves and bright yellow flowers”. The indigenous Khoisan people were the first to use the plant, and South African settlers benefited from its medicinal qualities.
Honeybush tea has many benefits, but “human studies are lacking to support the claims”. Researchers are investigating the benefits using animals and in vitro studies. The plant has an extremely high level of antioxidants, and benefits include:
- Boosts Metabolic System
- Helps Prevent Cancer
- Relieves Asthma Symptoms
- Calms Cough and Colds
- Prevents Stomach Woes
- Heals Sore Throat
- Prevents Bacterial Infections
- Strengthens Liver Function
- Promotes Better Sleep
- Helps Treat Osteoporosis
- Relaxes the Body
“A nutrition and cancer study published in 2010 found that consumption of unfermented honeybush tea inhibited tumor growth in rats. This suggests that further research should investigate the possibility that the same effect may carry over to humans.”
South African Honeybush Producers Association
Most honeybush tea is collected from wild populations, but “cultivation became necessary with rapid growth of the industry”. In 1998, a group of farmers formed the South African Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA). The first large-scale farm dedicated to honeybush cultivation began operation in 2001 at a plantation in the interesting town of Haarlem, situated near the Little Karoo in the lush Kammanassie Mountain valley. The farm is a joint partnership between South Africa and the US. The principal organizations involved are:
- Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products (ASNAPP)
- Rutgers University New Jersey USA
- Herb Research Foundation Colorado USA
“SAHTA’s goal is developing a successful cooperative farm operated by local growers who cultivate 100,000 or more honeybush plants. Based on a successful start of the Haarlem plantation, another cultivation project began in Ericaville near Plettenberg Bay.”
Manufacturing honeybush involves five steps – harvesting, cutting, fermentation, drying, and sieving. The interesting fermentation process occurs in “large stainless-steel tanks” where the tea is “heated to ±70˚C and monitored for 60 hours”. After fermentation is complete, the color changes from green to brown, and the tea is dried in greenhouses.
When completely dried, the tea is sieved into three cuts – tea dust, fine, and coarse. Tea dust is used for “extracts in the cosmetic industry or special honeybush tea cappuccino drinks”. Fine cut is used for tea bags, and coarse sold as loose tea.
Carpenter Bee Pollination
During the flowering season – September to December – honeybush flowers are pollinated by carpenter bees, not ordinary honeybees. “The weight of the carpenter bee forces the flower to open and pollination to take place.”
South African honeybush tea is delicious and healthy, try it!