>>> THE HONEYBUSH STORY....
Dr Hannes de Lange: A reflection on the pioneering days
"I was introduced to honeybush tea in the early 1960s as field official of the South African Cooperative Citrus Scholarship, when I was placed in Patensie, a small town in the Gamtoos Valley. During my visits to George Malan, chairman of the local citrus cooperation, his wife, Kintie, always had a kettle of honeybush tea brewing on their coal stove. From here onwards, I became a life-long drinker of this tea," De Lange remembers. The tea was previously known as 'three-day tea', as the spent leaves could repeatedly be used by adding water after decanting the tea. The infusion was kept warm on the side of an AGA stove, for example, as off odours and flavours formed when leaves were left in the kettle for a few days at room temperature.
"In these early days, there was no commercial cultivation of honeybush. People living in different fynbos areas, harvested the plant from wild populations for their own use. Sometimes, the tea was sold at farm stalls. In 1965, the Malan family showed me C. intermedia growing in the nearby Hanekam Mountain. I made my own small home-made batch by sweating finely cut, wetted plant material in a black plastic bag – and to this day, that was the best tea I have ever tasted."
Following his postgraduate studies at the University of Pretoria, De Lange worked as a citrus researcher in Nelspruit. During this time, he purchased honeybush tea from time to time from a general dealer, but always wondered why the rooibos tea industry was going from strength to strength, but no honeybush tea industry existed.
In 1986, he accepted a position at the South African National Botanical Institute (SANBI) at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town, to establish a tissue culture unit for the multiplication of endangered fynbos plants. "After completion of the assignment early 1992, I knew that the time has arrived for my yearning wish to initiate a honeybush tea industry,' De Lange recalls. And on 19 February 1992, De Lange presented the planned propagation project titled 'Cyclopia species: Initiation of commercial plantings and studying of its conservation' at SANBI, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The project was launched on 23 February 1992.
Honeybush pioneer Dr Hannes de Lange in 5th place from left at a honeybush information day, held on 20 October 1993 in Joubertina, Langkloof. Fltr: Bruce McKenzie, Johan Beyers, Trevor Blamire, Wessel du Plessis, Hannes de Lange, Frans du Toit, Scheltema Nortjé. Insert: Sam van der Merwe. Photo supplied by Hannes de Lange.
A lasting honeybush legacy * What is in a name?
From crop to cup * First records of a local cottage industry
Dr Hannes de Lange: A reflection on the pioneering days
Commercialisation of Cyclopia genistoides – a story that originated at the foot of Table Mountain
The advancing role of research in growing the honeybush industry
Research on honeybush cultivation
Research on honeyush tea processing
Local growth and the start of an international footprint
Looking into the future … Dr Hannes de Lange, Pioneer of the formal honeybush industry, December 2020
A vision for the honeybush industry: Joyene Isaacs, chairperson Agricultural Research Council Board | Former HOD Western Cape Department of Agriculture, March 2021
A honeybush timeline: milestones, highlights and interesting snippets
Sources of information
Groundwork and humble beginnings
Lange was told by Martin Bootsman, a veterinarian in Kareedouw, that
there were a few farmers in the Langkloof and Kouga mountains who
harvested honeybush from the mountains and produced tea on a small
scale. "I had the privilege to meet and work with these farmers, people like Johan Beyers, Scheltema Nortjé and his son, Quinton, and Wessel du Plessis."
1993, De Lange approached Dr Stappies Staphorst at the Agricultural
Research Council (ARC) Research Institute for Plant Protection in
Pretoria, regarding the development of an effective Rhizobium
inoculant for seedlings and rooted cuttings to aid development of
nitrogen-fixing root nodules. Jacomina Bloem was assigned to the
project, and De Lange took her to numerous wild honeybush populations to
take root samples. The most effective Rhizobium was collected in a C. intermedia population on the farm of Piet Vermaak in the Garcia Pass area, near Riversdale. It was later produced commercially.
was the only researcher in this project during this early phase, and
therefore involved in all aspects of cultivation and processing," De
Lange remembers. Until this stage, fermentation for commercial
production only occurred through spontaneous heat generation in
so-called 'curing heaps'. However, ovens have been used on a small scale
De Lange also recalls
how the much-loved South African essay writer, Audrey Blignault, wrote
about 'heuningtee' in her collection of essays, recalling how, back in
the 1920s, the plant material was moistened and cured in an outside oven
belonging to her parents who lived in Zoar, near Ladismith.
with the farmers of the Langkloof and Kouga Mountains, De Lange was
involved in the process of moving away from the traditional curing heaps
which often resulted in incomplete fermentation and extensive mould
growth. They opted for external heating of the cut plant material to
increase fermentation temperatures for improved product quality. In
1993, Johan Beyers started fermenting C. subternata on a small
commercial scale in ovens as an alternative to the traditional
fermentation heaps used in the Langkloof at that stage. This has steered
the later application of the rotary stainless steel drum, a concept
developed by Prof Lizette Joubert, principal researcher at ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, Stellenbosch.
Seed from various Cyclopia species was collected. Initial studies on different Cyclopia
species and nursery aspects were performed at Kirstenbosch National
Botanical Garden. Approximately 200 000 seedlings were established in
small-scale plantations in more than 60 locations throughout the fynbos
area from Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) in the Eastern Cape, to
Kunje in the Koue Bokkeveld, a region of the Western Cape. De Lange
reminds us that, at the time, "there was no manual and most of the plantings were a complete failure". It was only in the following years, that a formula for honeybush cultivation was established.
Introduction to ARC researchers
1994, De Lange met with Dr Piet van Rooyen, former director of ARC
Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, Stellenbosch, and said that this project would
require the input of more agricultural researchers. Prof Lizette Joubert was asked to attend a presentation on honeybush tea by De Lange at Stellenbosch University. "I met her after the presentation," he remembers.
"Little could I have known that she would play a leading role in the
processing of honeybush tea and the important role player she would be
in this project."
tea was only known in limited areas at this stage, De Lange decided to
package and distribute the tea for marketing and funding purposes.
Together with his technical assistant, Edward Jacobs, they purchased
honeybush tea from Johan Beyers, which they packaged and marketed in
'Kirstenbosch'-packaging. Various outlets were obtained through his
numerous research trips. In addition, exhibition stalls were organised
at numerous farmers' days and other gatherings in the Western and
Eastern Cape, where packaged tea was sold, and information was handed
out to interested farmers. The first meeting of producers was held on 29
October 1993 at Joubertina, which was organised by De Lange and
agricultural extension officer of the Langkloof, Sam van der Merwe.
"After the initial failed plantings, there were also success stories. In 1996, the first commercial harvest of a C. subternata
plantation took place on Waboomskraal near George, and the tea was
processed by Johan Beyers. The seedlings for this plantation were
cultivated during the previous year in Kirstenbosch National Botanical
Garden. Another success story is that of the commercialisation of C. genistoides on the farm Toekomst, near Bredasdorp. The seeds of a particularly beautiful C. genistoides bush in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden were grown, and the seedlings were supplied to Van Zyl Joubert of this farm", De Lange recalls.
In 1997, De Lange initiated a conservation action for a highly endangered species, C. longifolia.
For the previous 130 years, this species was thought to be extinct.
However, in 1994, it was re-discovered in the Eastern Cape by an amateur
botanist, Noel Gray. Approximately 400 seedlings were grown in
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, whereafter it was re-introduced in the wild near Thornhill in the Eastern Cape.
1999, De Lange retired from SANBI at Kirstenbosch National Botanical
Garden and continued as contract researcher at the ARC for several
years. "At this stage, there were many people entering the honeybush
industry and the organisational ability of the ARC has granted a great
driving force to the development of the industry," he says.
Lange was named honorary member of the South African Honeybush Tea
Association (SAHTA) in 2002. More recently, in 2019, he received an Academic Medal (Gold) from the 'SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns' for inter alia his contribution in plant conservation and research, and for his initiation of the honeybush tea industry.
instructions regarding honeybush tea were given to me. What I have done
originated from my Gamtoos-experience, my love for this beverage, my
ideal that an industry must be established, and the challenge involved."
- Dr Hannes de Lange, honeybush pioneer.
'Kirstenbosch Honeybush tea' package – a marketing initiative by Dr
Hannes de Lange in the early 1990s to raise consumer awareness and to
obtain funding for research. Photo supplied by ARC.
Johan Beyers with honeybush plants germinated by Dr Hannes de Lange for
trials on farms of interested farmers. Beyers produced honeybush tea
for the 'Kirstenbosch Honeybush tea' package. Photo by Hannes de Lange.
Prof Lizette Joubert (left), pioneer of honeybush processing research, at the sun-drying
racks of fermented honeybush tea, during a visit to the farm
Nooitgedacht, Langkloof, in the 1990s. Honeybush farmer and processor,
Quinton Nortjé, is on the right. Photo by Hannes de Lange.
Dr Hannes de Lange (left) and Dr Cecilia Bester (right) both played
formative roles in the establishment of breeding and cultivation of
honeybush. Photo supplied by ARC.