Fears were raised this week by South African Broadcasting Corporation that one of the country’s national treasures, Honeybush, is in danger of disappearing.
Honeybush (Cyclopia sp.) is a legume that grows only in the mountains north of South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope. It has become a popular herbal drink because of its sweet flavor and it is often praised for its potential health benefits. There are 23 species of Honeybush; several are used to make an herbal beverage.
Demand for Honeybush has grown significantly with companies like Tazo, Twinings and Stash offering Honeybush blends in their lineup. The challenge is supply.
There is very limited commercial cultivation of Honeybush so supply has relied heavily on wild bushes. The small plantations that currently exist are only able to supply 25% of the need. Honeybush traders travel into the mountains and harvest what is to be sold. Concerns have been raised that improper harvesting has damaged the existing supply. Wildfires, droughts, and overharvesting have now raised serious questions about the plants’ long-term survival. Beginning in the mid-2000s, supply began to drop significantly, just at a time when global demand was increasing. The supply problems pose significant challenges to blending for consistent flavor and appearance and prices have now doubled.
Currently 15% of the Honeybush produced stays in South Africa. The rest is exported, with 85% of those exports going to the United States and Germany. Honeybush producers worry that the plant simply will not survive and work is now being done to establish nurseries and plantations to grow more Honeybush for commercial use.
These supply concerns are coinciding with efforts by the European Union and South Africa to assist one another with protecting geographic trademarks for products including Honeybush.
Neill Coetzee at Cape Town South Africa’s Coetzee & Coetzee (Pty) Ltd. is one such exporter. He identified five species that are commercially utilized. Two are slow growing and mainly wild harvested, he writes.
One species, Cyclopia longifolia, is “a new kid on the block and showing big commercialization prospects,” according to Coetzee. “This tea is very similar to Cyclopia intermedia (the original honeybush) but grows well in cultivation,” writes Coetzee whose firm trades in natural and organic ingredients, medicinal plants, herbal teas, Rooibos and Honeybush.
Small quantities of Honeybush are grown on lands from Mosselbay to Oudsthoorn (the eastern sides of the Western Cape province) and on the western side of the Eastern Cape province (Joubertina to Kareedouw). There are two Rooibos plantations situated near Honeybush producers but most Rooibos is grown 200 miles away in the Cederberg Mountains near Clanwilliam, considered the heart of Rooibos cultivation.
Learn more: South African Broadcasting Corporation.