Angela James

What is Honeybush?

• Honeybush (Cyclopia spp.) is indigenous to the cape of South Africa (1, 2). It is used to make a beverage and a medicinal tea, having a pleasant, mildly sweet taste and aroma, somewhat like honey. It has become internationally known as a substitute for ordinary tea (Camellia sinensis). With the dramatic growth in the use of honeybush during the past five years, export of honeybush tea products is now a major industry, following up on the success of another tea substitute from South Africa - Rooibos.

• International interest in honeybush is traced back to the tea trade of the Dutch and the British. A settlement, which eventually became Cape Town, was established in 1652 as a supply base for the Dutch East India Company that was trading in Indian tea and Southeast Asian spices. Botanists began cataloguing the rich flora of the cape soon after; the honeybush plant was noted in botanical literature by 1705. Though there are no published reports at that time of its use as a tea by the native populations (the San and Khoi-Khoi tribes, known today as KhoiSan or Bushmen), it was soon recognized by the colonists as a suitable substitute for ordinary tea, probably based on observing native practices. In 1814, the British purchased the Cape Colony from the Dutch, and English became the official language a few years later, helping to spread knowledge of South Africa to England and America. In King's American Dispensatory of 1898, under the heading of tea, honeybush is already listed as a substitute, with reference to a report from 1881 indicating use of honeybush as a tea in the Cape Colony of South Africa. The Khoisan of the South African Cape were also using the tea for treatment of coughs and other upper respiratory symptoms associated with infections.

• Honeybush has a calming effect on the central nervous system

• Honeybush eases constipation.

• Honeybush is also used as a treatment for coughs and as an aid in regulating blood sugar,or helping reduce menopausal symptoms.

• The traditional use of the tea for treating coughs may be explained, in part, by its content of Pinitol, an expectorant, found in the leaves of several legume plants. Pinitol is also of interest for apparent blood-sugar lowering effects, as demonstrated in laboratory animal studies.