23rd
Jan
2015

Posted in Kafevend Blog

We haven't visited herbal teas for a long time here on the Kafevend blog, but today we are taking a look at two increasingly popular tisanes. When canny business folk discover a product that sells like hotcakes, there is often a tendency for others to jump on the bandwagon and flood the market with the stuff as everyone tries to get a piece of the pie. Rooibos and honeybush tea have inadvertently managed to subvert that trend somewhat, thanks to the area they are found in-  a small and unique biome at the tip of South Africa.

The Cape Floristic Region is a 78,550 square kilometre region stretching roughly from Port Elizabeth in the south east along westwards to Cape Town, before turning up north to Clanwilliam, describing an L shape that has fallen on hard times. Around half of this area is made up of Fynbos, the name given to the shrub and heathland vegetation growing there. Within this relatively small floral region are around 9,000 species of plants, a little over two thirds of which are endemic- that is, exclusively found only in this small part of the world. It is also where we find our rooibos and honeybush, and both seem likely to remain, as efforts to grow them elsewhere have failed- thus subverting the trend of globally cultivated items like tea, coffee and cacao.

The fact that rooibos and honeybush won't grow elsewhere is a good one for people living in the area, as the increasing popularity abroad for the drinks means that they have become a successful cash crop for the area. Combined with increasing eco tourism, hopefully some of the funds raised will come in handy to bolster conservation efforts. The region is one of several biodiversity hotspots worldwide that have been earmarked for protection from future human expansion, in order to preserve the wealth of ecological diversity found there.

Rooibos and honeybush are both known to have been used by locals to make drinks since at least the 17th century, thanks to the accounts of European travellers. Traditionally, the locals would harvest the leaves of these plants out in the wild before bringing them back home to be processed. Many species of honeybush that are resistant to cultivation are still harvested in this manner. The cultivation of rooibos was the subject of much experimentation in the 20th century. In 1904, a Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg developed methods for curing the leaves and also set up a business selling rooibos throughout the Cape. In the 1930s, he was helped by a local doctor, Dr. Le Fras Nortier. Nortier worked out how to cultivate the plant, and Ginsberg subsequently encouraged local farmers to grow it. Ginsberg and Nortier's efforts made Rooibos popular across South Africa. In recent years, the encroaching gaze of the health minded Westerners has also seen it spread abroad, promoting more farmers to use the crop.

If you've yet to try rooibos or honeybush, it's easy to enjoy- simply brew it up like you would black tea, and similarly add milk or sugar to taste.

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