>>> THE HONEYBUSH STORY....
Research on honeybush cultivation
Today, the bulk of
Cyclopia plant material sourced for honeybush tea production is harvested from the slopes of the Cape Fold Belt, a 1 300-km long fold-and-thrust mountain belt along the western and southern coastlines of South Africa. About 85% of this wild-harvested crop consists of
C. intermedia (also known as 'bergtee' or mountain tea).
Guidelines for sustainable wild-harvesting have been developed by Gillian McGregor from Rhodes University, based on interval harvesting of less than 50% of plants in a honeybush-bearing site, every two to five years. However, increased commercial production is required to supply in the growing demand, to ensure market growth, as well as to aid the conservation of species.
In 1999, the ARC Honeybush Breeding and Horticulture Programme, initiated by Dr Hannes de Lange and Philip Botma, was launched. The major aim was to improve the bio-mass yield of
C. genistoides ('kustee' or coastal tea) and
C. subternata ('vleitee' or marsh tea). In 2009,
Dr Cecilia Bester took over leadership of this research programme.
Dr Cecilia Bester | Head of the ARC Honeybush Breeding and Horticulture Programme
The ARC Honeybush Breeding and Horticulture Programme aims to breed and select plants with improved intrinsic quality and horticultural traits, such as increased biomass yield. Regular analyses of the sensory, physical and chemical characteristics, as well the phenolic composition, of the tea brewed from plants and its progenies (offspring), form part of the evaluation to ensure that the quality is not compromised. On-going cultivation and plant improvement research on
C. genistoides and
C. subternata, amongst other species, addresses the need for stable and sustainable sources of high-quality plant material.
One of the programme's success stories includes the 2013-harvest of the first honeybush seeds from seed orchards that were planted in 2011. Selected plants to ensure higher yields and tea of good quality were used for the seed orchards. The harvested seeds were sold to commercial honeybush farmers.
Since 2013, a total of approximately 60 kg seed (± 70 000 seeds/kg) was harvested from the
C. subternata seed-orchard of which more than 55 kg seed was sold to commercial farmers and about 3 kg donated to community farmers.
Cyclopia longifolia produced more than 18 kg of which 14 kg (± 140 000 seeds/kg) was sold.
Checking up on flowering of C. longifolia seed-orchard:Dr Cecilia Bester, current head of the ARC Honeybush Breeding and Horticulture Programme and projectleader of the DSI/ARC Honeybush Project.
Photo supplied by ARC.
Dr Bester has compiled and presented numerous short courses to role players, including one-day courses for nursery managers on the important steps involved in the propagation of honeybush seedlings and cuttings. A constant supply of seedlings and cuttings available to be planted is essential for the growth and sustainability of the honeybush industry, and is regarded as a critical part of the value chain. In 2019, her contribution to further and support the honeybush industry through her research on plant breeding, cultivation and community development was recognised when she was accepted as honorary member of SAHTA.
By 2017, approximately 150 ha of cultivated honeybush
land in the Western and Eastern Cape existed, with most of it consisting
C. subternata and
C. longifolia also emerged as a highly productive cultivated crop and a vigorous grower. On the other hand,
C. intermedia turned out to be a slow grower, with
relatively poor potential for commercial cultivation. Frequent harvesting of this species prohibits build-up of sufficient energy reserves in
the rootstock, resulting in dieback.
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 honeybush 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
Based on her
analyses of several genotypes, originally selected for cultivation and
breeding trials within the ARC honeybush genetic improvement programme,
Dr Gugu Mabizela, identified summer as the optimum season to harvest Cyclopia subternata plantations. She obtained her PhD in 2021. Photo supplied by ARC.