A honeybush timeline: milestones, highlights and interesting snippets

  • 1705 – Earliest reference to honeybush in a European taxonomic script.

  • 1770s – Carl Thunberg, a Swedish botanist, recorded the use of the name 'honigtee' during his travels in the Cape.

  • 1808 – First taxonomical description of the genus Cyclopia.

  • 1815 – Christian Latrobe was served 'tea-water', believed to be honeybush, during his travels in the Langkloof area. It was prepared from a local plant by the inhabitants.

  • 1881 – First mention of a specific honeybush species in terms of its use as a tea in a research report on C. genistoides (Cape tea, 'honig-thee').

  • 1925 – Reference to regional use of species for tea: probable indication of their prevalence in these areas, e.g., C. genistoides in Cape Peninsula and C. subternata in Caledon (Overberg) and George areas. The cold infusion was referred to as 'an excellent thirst quencher in hot weather, especially with a slice of lemon'.

  • 1930s – Processed C. intermedia, harvested in the Kouga mountains, was sold for less than 2 c/kg by the Nortjés of Nooitgedacht farm. During World War II, tea was sold for ~ 5 c/kg due to a sporadic increase in demand.

  • 1960s – First branded product, 'Caspa Cyclopia Tea', appeared on the South African market through the involvement of Benjamin Ginsberg, the pioneer of rooibos marketing.

  • 1992 – 23 February: The propagation project, 'Cyclopia species: Initiation of commercial plantings and studying of its conservation', was launched by Dr Hannes de Lange (SANBI). About 200 000 seedlings of 12 different species were propagated and trial plantations were established on more than 60 farms spread over a vast area. By 2002, several producers had already planted extensive hectares of honeybush, either with seedlings or cuttings (plantations are found in regions of the Langkloof, George, Riversdale to Albertinia and Bredasdorp to Stanford).

  • 1993 – Jacomina Bloem and Dr Stappies Staphorst (ARC Plant Protection Research Institute) and Dr Hannes de Lange (SANBI) collected root nodules of many different Cyclopia spp. throughout the distribution range of the genus in the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces. The former two researchers developed an effective Rhizobium inoculant for seedlings and rooted cuttings to aid development of nitrogen fixing root nodules.

  • 1993 – First promotion of honeybush tea at the 'Flora 93' exhibition, Cape Town, by Dr Hannes de Lange. Promotion activities for increased consumer awareness and interest from producers through exhibitions, radio talks, etc. by Prof Lizette Joubert (ARC), Dr Hannes de Lange (SANBI), Marlise Joubert (ARC) and other role players followed in subsequent years.

  • 1993 – First export of honeybush to Japan by Johan Beyers (Eenzaamheid Farm, Noll, Upper Langkloof area) (500 kg), followed by Scheltema and Quinton Nortjé (Nooitgedacht Farm, Lower Kouga region) (8 tonnes).

  • 1993 – First honeybush information day by Dr Hannes de Lange in Joubertina, Langkloof, to stimulate interest in honeybush production amongst farmers in the Kouga–Langkloof area.

  • 1994–1996 – Investigation of controlled processing and establishment of guidelines for processing were undertaken by Prof Lizette Joubert (ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij) and her MSc student, Jaco du Toit (SU).

  • 1995 – First export of honeybush (4 tonnes) to Germany by Johan Beyers.

  • 1995 – Tobacco cutters were introduced as an alternative to fodder cutters for improved control of cut size and improved appearance of the processed tea.

  • 1995-1997 – Local marketing of 'Kirstenbosch-selected' honeybush tea was initiated by Dr Hannes de Lange to promote the use of honeybush and to obtain funds for research. More than 5.5 tonnes were marketed (first in loose format, but later also in teabag format). By early 1997, private entrepreneurs started marketing honeybush under the brands 'Trophy', 'Berg' and 'Landhuis Farm'.

  • 1995 – First honeybush plantings were made in the communities, Haarlem and Genadendal. Communities in Friemersheim and Ericaville became involved at a later stage.

  • 1996 to current – Prof Lizette Joubert (ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij) initiated projects on phenolic composition and health-promoting properties. Projects were mostly carried out in collaboration with partners, including the Medical Research Council of South Africa, University of the Free State and Stellenbosch University, as well as international scientists.

  • 1997 – First honeybush farmers' day at Grootvadersbos Conservancy, Heidelberg, to promote honeybush production in the Overberg area. Presentations on cultivation and processing of honeybush were given to prospective farmers and processors by Dr Hannes de Lange and Prof Lizette Joubert, respectively. 

  • 1997 – The Sustainable Rural Livelihoods Programme of ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij became involved in the honeybush production, including nursery practices, plantation management, pest and disease control, and soil preparation, with a specific focus on the rural communities of Genadendal, Haarlem and Friemersheim. The programme also provided training of small-scale farmers in nursery and cultivation practices.

  • 1997 – Rooibos tea marketing companies, including Cape Natural Tea Products, Khoisan Teas and Coetzee & Coetzee Distributors, became involved in the marketing of honeybush tea.

  • 1997 – First value-adding products available on the market, i.e., liquid honeybush extract for use in beverages, toiletries containing honeybush and a honeybush liqueur.

  • 1998 – Green honeybush was produced for the first time on an experimental basis by Prof Lizette Joubert.

  • 1998 – First prototype rotary fermentation drum (TFD Designs, Stellenbosch) was exhibited during a honeybush farmers' day, Langkloof. Previously, Prof Lizette Joubert successfully applied the concept of rotary drum fermentation to rooibos. Honeybush processors were subsequently advised to use this technique for honeybush tea processing to achieve uniform and controlled high-temperature fermentation.

  • 1998 – 17 September: First harvest of honeybush (C. subternata) from a commercial plantation by Tius van Rooyen, Waboomskraal region, George. Prior to this date, tea was only harvested from the wild.

  • 1998 – First registered organic honeybush tea (wild harvested) was produced by Scheltema and Quinton Nortjé under the 'Melmont' brand.

  • 1998 – ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij facilitated a meeting for interested farmers, marketers and researchers in Stellenbosch. A pilot committee with Fritz Joubert as chairman was chosen to investigate the possibility of establishing a honeybush tea association.

  • 1998 – First review article on honeybush by Jaco Du Toit (SU), Prof Lizette Joubert (ARC) and Prof Trevor Britz (SU) was published in the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture entitled 'Honeybush tea – a rediscovered indigenous South African herbal tea'.

  • 1999 – Establishment of the South African Honeybush Producers Association (SAPHA), George. In 2002, the name was changed to the South African Honeybush Tea Association (SAHTA) to include all stakeholders.

  • 1999 to current – The launch of the ARC Honeybush Breeding and Selection Programme, initiated by Dr Hannes de Lange and Philip Botma, with the major aim to improve bio-mass yield of C. genistoides and C. subternata. In 2009, Dr Cecilia Bester took over leadership of the programme.

  • 2000 – Regulations regarding export control of honeybush and green honeybush were compiled by the National Department of Agriculture, in consultation with SAHTA.

  • 2000 – Vegetative propagation of C. genistoides as a viable commercial practice was established by Nico Malan from Reins Farm near Albertinia, Western Cape.

  • 2000 – The first major funding from the private sector (National Brands Ltd) was obtained for production and product research at ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij. This enabled research into 1) the nutrient uptake of C. genistoides and C. subternata by Marlise Joubert, 2) harvesting practices for C. intermedia, C. subternata and C. sessiliflora by Philip Botma, and 3) further studies on the antioxidant properties, as well as the antimutagenicity of honeybush by Prof Lizette Joubert, in collaboration with Prof Wentzel Gelderblom of the Medical Research Council.

  • 2001 – The process to produce instant honeybush tea was patented with Schalk de Beer, Nick McCabe and Prof Lizette Joubert as inventors (SA Patent No. 2001/9559).

  • 2001 – The first harvest of honeybush (C. subternata), cultivated in a community by Aser Gelderbloem, an emerging farmer of Friemersheim, Groot Brakrivier area. Production and harvesting took place under the guidance of the Sustainable Rural Livelihoods Programme of ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij.

  • 2002 – The official inauguration of the sophisticated tea processing factory of Cape Honeybush Tea Company, Mossel Bay. Pierre Taljaard of Kanetberg Farm outside Riversdale was the driving force behind the new facility.

  • 2002 – The process to produce green honeybush tea using vacuum drying was patented by inventors Schalk de Beer and Prof Lizette Joubert (SA Patent No. 2002/2802).

  • 2006 – The ARC took the initiative by trademarking the names 'Cape Herbal Tea', 'Cape Tea', 'Cape Honeybush Tea' and 'Cape Fynbos Tea'.

  • 2006 – Preliminary guidelines for the cultivation and harvesting of honeybush tea were released by ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij.

  • 2008 – Strategic planning workshop for industry stakeholders, George, convened by Marlise Joubert (ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij) and Goodwell Dingaan (Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism).

  • 2008 – An anti-diabetic extract of honeybush was patented with Prof Lizette Joubert as co-inventor (Patent application PCT/EP2008/052863; WO2008/110552 A2; US2011/0045108 A1; US20120251643 A1; EP2120924 B1).

  • 2010 – Industry seminar, George: Western Cape Provincial Government committed itself to increase its support to the industry, recognising honeybush as one of the unique indigenous products from South Africa; SAHTA launched its new strategic plan to improve tea quality, cultivation and breeding material.

  • 2010 – Antimicrobial composition comprising an extract from Cyclopia was patented by inventors Prof Marinda Viljoen-Bloom and Prof Lizette Joubert (Patent ZA2010/03568).

  • 2011 – First honeybush seed orchards for three species were planted by Dr Cecilia Bester (ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij), using selected plants to ensure higher yields and tea of good  quality.

  • 2012 – First 'Honeybush Farming Guide' for small and emerging farmers on how to farm with honeybush launched by ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij, under leadership of Prof Lizette Joubert and technical research performed by Marlise Joubert.

  • 2013 – First honeybush seeds harvested from seed orchards and sold to commercial honeybush farmers by Dr Cecilia Bester (ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij).

  • 2013-2021: In total, at least 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. C. longifolia produced more than 18 kg of which 14 kg (± 140 000 seeds/kg) was sold. C. genistoides as a re-sprouter was less productive with 5 kg seed (± 140 000 seeds/kg).

  • 2014 – First generic honeybush flavour wheel and lexicon were released.

  • 2016 – 23 February: A 'Honeybush Research Celebration Day' was organised by ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij.

  • 2016 – The Khoi-San is acknowledged as the custodians and knowledge holders of honeybush by Governments.

  • 2016 – Honeybush Community of Practice (HCoP) was launched by the Provincial Departments of Environmental Affairs, Western and Eastern Cape Government.

  • 2018 – 'The Wild Honeybush Harvesting Field Guide', compiled by Gillian McGregor (Rhodes University, Makhanda), was published. The project was led by Albert Ackhurst, Head of Component: Biodiversity Management, Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Western Cape Government.

  • 2019 – 2022: South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) invests in a three-year project to support the honeybush tea industry. The project is implemented by the ARC and provides training to rural communities where honeybush is cultivated and/or harvested. Emphasis is placed on community development and the establishment of small, micro and medium enterprises related to honeybush tea. This project is a follow-up on previous projects funded by DSI in 2012 to 2013, and 2015 to 2017.

  • 2020 – First honeybush grading system was developed with funding from Western Cape Department of Agriculture.

  • 2021 – Information pamphlet on a survey of honeybush diseases and preventative control measures was compiled and published by ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij. Funding was received from Foundational Biodiversity Information Programme (FBIP).

  • 2021 – A draft Business Management Plan (BMP) compiled by Department of Environmental Affairs was published in the Government Gazette for public comments.

  • 2021 – ARC Infruitec-Nietvoorbij begins with the rollout and implementation of the honeybush grading system through the publication of a manual, 'Grading of fermented honeybush tea – an illustrated guide', and training workshops for industry. Funding was received from DSI.

  • 2021 – 2024: ARC receives funding from Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) to continue with development work in communities and research on an accelerated oxidation ('fermentation') process.

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




Honeybush Homepage