by William I. Lengeman III
As the popularity of tea and tisanes has continued to increase in recent years, there has also been more interest in rooibos, an herbal beverage grown exclusively in South Africa.
Though it’s produced from a different plant altogether, honeybush is another herbal product that’s only grown in South Africa. Honeybush is used to make an herbal beverage that’s similar to rooibos in appearance, aroma and flavor. By some accounts, honeybush derives its name from the fragrance of its flowers, while others suggest that the name is a tribute to the beverage’s sweet flavor.
Honeybush is grown primarily in the southwestern regions of South Africa. There are more than 20 species of honeybush, but only a few are used to make tea. When we consider that great tea-loving nations such as the Dutch and British had a presence in South Africa, it’s not really surprising that they took an interest in honeybush. The plant turns up in botanical texts as early as 1705 and is mentioned as a tea substitute as far back as 1898.
According to some accounts, commercial production of honeybush commenced in the early years of the twentieth century, with the product eventually being sold throughout South Africa and in markets abroad. In the last decade or so, growth of this still modest industry has been considerable. The honeybush harvest is traditionally collected from wild plants, but the rapid growth of the industry has prompted experiments with cultivating the plant.
Studies on the potential health benefits of honeybush have lagged behind that of its more popular cousin – rooibos – and, of course, behind real tea. However, it’s been mentioned as being beneficial for coughs, respiratory ailments, menopause and diabetes. One South African study looked at the possible antimutagenic and cancer-modulating properties of both honeybush and rooibos.
For more information on honeybush, refer to the Institute for Traditional Medicine or to the Web site for the Honeybush Research Programme being conducted by South Africa’s Agricultural Research Council.
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