Easily recognized by its trifoliate leaves and sweetly honey-scented, bright yellow flowers, Honeybush was noted in botanical literature in 1705 and recognized by early colonists of South Africa as a suitable substitute for ordinary tea probably based on observing native practices. It is indigenous to the cape of South Africa and grows in a narrow region along the coast and high in the Langlauf Mountains. Most of the harvest is still collected from these wild populations, but in 2001 the first large-scale African plantation began operations to cultivate Honeybush due to the rapid growth of the industry and the need for a more uniform product. Commercial supplies are mainly from Cyclopia intermedia and to a lesser extent C. subtermata, although there are about 2 dozen species identified in this native region.
The most desirable parts for harvest are the leaves and flowers, but the relatively tasteless stems are also included and harvesting occurs either early autumn or late spring every 2-3 years. Different harvesting practices are used from selection of only the young growth to the complete cutting to the ground of the bush. Processing involves four-steps somewhat similar to that of black tea – withering, cutting, fermentation and drying. The material is cut to facilitate fermentation or oxidation which turns the material a dark brown. Fermentation is done either in a curing heap which allows spontaneous heat generation or a baking oven which produces a more consistent quality due to precise control over temperature. Finally the tea is spread out and allowed to dry in the sun for 1-2 days.
Honeybush tea is a full bodied brew which is smooth and sweet with slightly spicy undertones which make it a great base for fruit tea blends. Because it is caffeine free and has virtually no tannins to create bitterness, it can be brewed more than 10 minutes without over-steeping and the associated astringency. The hot tea is enhanced by a small amount of honey and also handles milk well. The cold infusion may be used as ice tea, but it also blends well with fruit juices. In addition to taste, the tea is packed with vitamins, especially vitamin C and minerals and has been used traditionally as a tonic for cold, coughs and flu. Its isoflavones and coumestans are classified as phytoestrogens, which are used in the treatment of menopausal symptoms, prevention of breast, prostrate and uterus cancer, and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Honeybush tea also has pinitol which may help regulate blood sugar in diabetics. It is especially valuable for children and patients with digestive and heart problems where stimulants and tannins should be avoided. No wonder it is one of the most sought after commodities in the tea market today!
TEA TIME TRIVIA
The largest import customers of
Rooibos and Honeybush tea
are Japan, Germany & Switzerland,
where health drinks are particularly sought after
Honeybush tea is also great for adding to recipes either as an infusion or ground leaves. Try this recipe for a different twist on a traditional oatmeal cookie:
HONEYBUSH OATMEAL COOKIES
Steep 1tsp honeybush tea in 1/4c boiling water for 5 mins., then strain and cool. Combine 1c butter, 1 c brown sugar and 1tsp vanilla until fluffy, then beat in 1 egg and the cooled tea. Combine 2 ½ c old fashioned oats, 3/4c flour, 1tsp ground honeybush tea leaves, 3/4tsp baking powder, 1/3tsp baking soda and 1/4tsp salt. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture a little at a time along with 1 c chocolate chips. Drop onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly and enjoy!
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”