- Like rooibos, honeybush is a uniquely South African herbal tea. It is made from the leaves and stems of the indigenous Cyclopia shrub that grows naturally in specific fynbos regions in an area ranging from Piketberg in the Western Cape to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape.
- The 23 known honeybush species – all belonging to the genus Cyclopia – each has a characteristic distribution in nature. Some species prefer sandy coastal plains, while others flourish on cool, moist mountain slopes.
- Most of South Africa’s honeybush crop comes from people harvesting wild-growing honeybush – especially Cyclopia intermedia (“bergtee”). A small, but growing number of farmers grow specific species, such as Cyclopia subternata (“vleitee”) and Cyclopia genistoides (“kustee” or “coastal tea”) commercially.
Consumers around the world are increasingly interested in honeybush tea, because of its unique flavour and health properties. Honeybush can also be used in value-added foods, dietary supplements and cosmetics.
Local business environment
Find the latest Honeybush Market Value Chain Profile on the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) website www.dalrrd.gov.za (on the Directorate Marketing web pages).
- South Africa’s current honeybush crop is about 200 tons per year. More than 80% of this is exported to over 25 countries. The demand for honeybush far outstrips the supply.
- About 80% is wild harvested and only about 20% is cultivated. It is important to reverse this ratio in order to relieve unsustainable pressure on wild honeybush populations.
- Nurseries have been built to encourage the development of honeybush plantations, and interventions by role players like the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and South African Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA) are to encourage sustainable honeybush farming (rather than the harvesting of wild honeybush). This is key to realising the significant growth potential of this young industry.
- This sector has been identified as one with the potential to double its workforce.
- Further uses of these two crops includes the preservation of alcoholic beverages, replacing the use of synthetic preservatives like sulphites. Rooibos and Honeybush have more than 300 trademarks and 20 patents to their names (Van Wyngaard, 2016).
- Depending on species, plants are harvested once a year, mostly during summer. Honeybush processors shred and oxidize the plant material to its dark brown form.
- Most on-farm processors utilise tobacco-cutters or equivalent to cut the plant material into small pieces. Advances in the industry include a speed-controlled conveyor belt that feeds a three-bladed rotating cutter, which cuts the plant material into fine particles without breaking the structure of the plant.
- The plant material is “fermented“ for approximately 24 hours at a temperature of 85°C, or for 60 hours at 70°C, depending on the species. Stainless steel rotating drum fermenters are used, which in some cases also served as driers. Alternatively the tea is dried in the sun. Final moisture content after drying is less than 10%.
- Latest research indicated that the aroma profile can be manipulated to enhance certain desirable aroma notes by adjusting the “fermentation” temperature/time combination. A generic sensory wheel was developed to capture the different flavour notes that could be present in honeybush teas. Find this wheel under “Publications” on www.sahta.co.za.
National strategy and government contacts
Of relevance is the Agricultural Product Standards Act: Regulations relating to Control of the Export of Processed Products.
The Government’s previous IPAPs (Industrial Policy Action Plans) featured honeybush as an area in which jobs could be created in the country.
- AgriSETA www.agriseta.co.za
- Cape Nature www.capenature.co.za
- Department of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism – Eastern Cape www.dedea.gov.za
- Department of Economic Development and Tourism: Western Cape www.westerncape.gov.za/dept/edat
- Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) www.dst.gov.za
- Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (the dtic) www.thedtic.gov.za
- National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) www.namc.co.za
- Western Cape Department of Agriculture www.elsenburg.com
The Western Cape Department of Agriculture has the Alternative Crops Fund (ACF) – R3 million per annum – to boost exports and bolster land reform. The smaller crops targeted include honeybush. These crops have high market value and are export-orientated. They are also mostly water smart and would therefore be preferred crops against the current, and most probable, dryer and even continued drought conditions in the Western Cape and the rest of South Africa. Promoting alternative crops is also one of the proposed actions of the SmartAgri plan. Visit www.elsenburg.com for more information.
See “National strategy & government contacts” heading.
- Find details of nurseries which stock honeybush on the SAHTA website, www.sahoneybush.co.za
Training and research
- Visit www.sahoneybush.co.za/index.php/research
- Because honeybush featured in the Government’s previous IPAPs (Industrial Policy Action Plan) as an area in which jobs could be created in the country, it was included in AgriSETA planning. Visit www.agriseta.co.za for AgriSETA-accredited training providers.
- The ARC- Infruitec-Nietvoorbij is involved in production, training and product development. In the past, honeybush tea production relied on vulnerable wild populations of Cyclopia spp, but the ARC began a formal breeding programme in 2001 to develop improved seed for sustainable production of honeybush.
Websites and publications
- Refer to the websites listed earlier on this page. Extensive honeybush information exists on websites like those of SAHTA and the ARC-Infruitec/Nietvoorbij research institute, www.sahta.co.za and www.arc.agric.za.
- Find the latest Honeybush Market Value Chain Profile on the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development website www.dalrrd.gov.za (see Directorate Marketing web pages). Also available on the website is the grower guide Honeybush tea.
- The step-by-step guide on how to farm with honeybush tea by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is a useful document. Farming with honeybush: General Guidelines 2012 provides practical tips – illustrated by photos – on topics ranging from how to prepare the soil through how to harvest the bushes. Contact Marlise Joubert at 021 809 3331 or by email: joubertm [at] arc.agric.za.
- Burger S. 2022, July 22. “Aloe ferox, Honeybush biodiversity management temporarily handed to Eastern, Western Cape depts”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/aloe-ferox-honeybush-biodiversity-management-temporarily-handed-to-eastern-western-cape-depts-2022-07-22/rep_id:4136
- Kriel G. 2021, October 22. “Making the most of wild-grown honeybush”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/crops/field-crops/making-the-most-of-wild-grown-honeybush/
- Horn A & Ackhurst A. 2019, August 6. “Honeybush tea: Small industry, big potential”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-business/agribusinesses/honeybush-tea-small-industry-big-potential/
- Van Wyngaard, M. 2016, October 4. “Rooibos, Honeybush among South Africa’s most widely commercially cultivated plant products”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/rooibos-honeybush-among-south-africas-most-widely-commercially-cultivated-plant-products-2016-10-04/rep_id:4136.
Our thanks to Marlise Joubert and Elizabeth Joubert of the ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij for their help with this page, and www.sahta.co.za.
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