Honeybush – The Other South African Tisane

Honeybush is closely related to rooibos which also grows in South Africa

Honeybush, also known as Cyclopia, of South Africa

Rooibos is not the only tisane which calls South Africa home. While rooibos has captured the most attention, and been subject to at least two attempts to trademark the name, honeybush is a very close cousin. Honeybush is used as a base for a wide variety of products and can be used in cooking. It is also caffeine free making it popular in the afternoon. Although similar to rooibos in many ways, it is has a bit sweeter taste providing an equally delicious infusion.

Honeybush Production

There are many similarities between honeybush and rooibos. Not only are they both from South Africa but they both come from the Fynbos region. Specifically they come from the Western Cape, South Africa, around the Cederburg Mountains. The product is chopped into fine pieces and normally fermented before packaging and shipment. As a variation, green honeybush is produced without the fermentation step. Like rooibos it also comes from the legume family, though this family is quite large and includes 16,000 others.

Though there are many similarities, there is a large difference in cultivation.  Most honeybush is harvested from 20+ species of wild cyclopia bushes. About 70% is harvested by hand in remote regions of South Africa with about 30% coming from commercially planted bushes.  Global demand from the Germany, the US, and other locations is increasing however, so this plant is increasingly planted and harvested from commercial plantations.

History of Honeybush

South African castle built by the Dutch East India Company

Dutch East India Company – Castle of Good Hope

Like rooibos this tisane has its roots dating back hundreds of years to consumption by native bushman or Khoisan people. According to the Institute for Traditional Medicine, honeybush infusions have likely been around for hundreds of years. The Dutch “discovered” it while exploring the plants and animals around a fort near what is now Cape Town when it was a stopover for trade between Asia and the Netherlands. The purchase of the Cape Colony by the British and subsequent adoption of English helped further spread knowledge of honeybush and probably rooibos as well.

Honeybush Future

Production of honeybush has been rapidly increasing to meet growing international demand for this tisane. Not only does it make a great base for caffeine free tisane infusions but there is also potential for health benefits as well.  According to the South African Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA) which formed in 1999, there is a substantial amount of research occurring around potential health benefits from anti-oxidants and other compounds. Its consumption may help prevent cancer or offer alternatives to hormone replacement therapy.  Much still needs to be done to validate these ideas as well as meet existing commercial demand. To satisfy these needs SAHTA also actively works to improve cultivation, biodiversity, and sustainability practices to increase production and ensure continued availability.

Honeybush tea infusions are often consumed straight, although they may also be consumed with milk and sugar. Honeybush blends well with a wide variety of ingredients including ginger, lemon myrtle, lemon grass, fennel, and even caramel pieces. Be sure to have a look at the recipes provided by SAHTA on its website for honeybush tea punch, tarts, and muffins.

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