Honeybush tea is brewed from the honey-scented flowers, leaves and stems of various species of the South African honeybush shrub, known scientifically as Cyclopia. South African herbalists have long valued the tea for its medicinal properties, and some of these have been confirmed by modern medical research. Like South Africa’s rooibos, also used to brew herbal tea, honeybush is growing in popularity elsewhere as a healthy beverage.
Native to South Africa’s Cape provinces, honeybush is a low-growing shrub that thrives naturally in the foothills and mountains north and east of Cape Town. Of the more than 24 species of Cyclopia that have been identified, Cyclopia intermedia and Cyclopia subternata account for the majority of the honeybush harvested for tea, according to the Institute for Traditional Medicine. Until the late 20th century, wild-growing honeybush was the source of much of the plant materials used in tea-making. The growing popularity of honeybush tea has encouraged some Cape area farmers to begin formally cultivating the shrub. Cultivators of honeybush harvest flowers, leaves and stems, and allow the plant materials to ferment and dry in the sun to prepare for use in making tea.
Diane L. McKay and Jeffrey B. Blumberg, researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reviewed studies on the bioactivity of South African herbal teas, including honeybush. In a report published in the January 2007 issue of “Phytotherapy Research,” they reported that studies confirm that honeybush contains a rich blend of bioactive compounds, several with medicinal properties. Honeybush’s key bioactive ingredients are pinotol, a modified sugar similar to inositol; flavones; isoflavones; coumestans; luteolin; 4-hydroxycinnamic acid; polyphenols; and xanthones.
South African researchers tested the abilities of extracts from rooibos, honeybush and green Camellia sinensis teas to inhibit the promotion of skin tumors in laboratory mice. Scientists prepared extracts of the various teas that were topically applied to the skin of test animals prior to the introduction of a tumor-inducing agent. In an article published in the June 2005 issue of “Cancer Letters,” researchers reported that unprocessed honeybush achieves a tumor inhibition rate of 90 percent, second only to that of green Camellia sinensis, which had a 100 percent inhibition rate.
In a study of herbal teas’ antimutagenic properties, South African researchers tested extracts of both fermented and unfermented rooibos and honeybush teas using the Salmonella typhimurium mutagenicity assay. While honeybush tea extracts proved effective against mutagenesis induced by 2-acetylaminofluorene and aflatoxin B1, they proved far less effective against the direct-acting mutagenic agents methanesulfonate, cumolhydroperoxide and hydrogen peroxide. In an article published in the August 2000 issue of “Mutation Research,” researchers reported that their study offers the first scientific evidence of honeybush tea’s antimutagenic properties. However, they wrote that the mixed findings of the study suggest the need for more study to identify the mechanisms that make honeybush tea very effective against some mutagenic agents and far less so against others.
- Honeybush: Healthful Beverage Tea from South Africa; Subhuti Dharmananda
- Phytotherapy Research; A Review of the Bioactivity of South African Herbal Teas: Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia); Diane L. McKay and Jeffrey B. Blumberg
- Cancer Letters; Inhibition of Tumour Promotion in Mouse Skin by Extracts of Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia), Unique South African Herbal Teas; Jeanine Marnewick et al.
- Mutation Research; An Investigation on the Antimutagenic Properties of South African Herbal Teas; Jeanine L. Marnewick et al.
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.