Honeybush

Honeybush packetI’m a long time fan of rooibos but hadn’t tasted its honey-flavoured relative, honeybush, until I was in South Africa two years ago. Even in South Africa, honeybush is the underdog to rooibos but I happened across this packet from the Langkloof mountain and ended up regretting that I hadn’t bought more. A lot more!

The honeybush plant grows naturally in the mountains of the Eastern Cape and spreads down along the Langeberg and Swartberg mountains into the Western Cape towards the coast as far as Bredasdorp. It comes from the same Fabaceae family as rooibos and is similarly low in tannins and caffeine-free. There are ~24 known species of honeybush in the genus Cyclopia but only a few have been successfully cultivated. As a result, most of our honeybush is harvested in the wild (70%) and the remaining 30% is produced from the 230 hetares of cultivated honeybush. A recent report from the South African Broadcasting Corp. (SABC) warned about this unsustainable harvest putting honeybush at risk of extinction.

Honeybush loose teaIt’s not surprising that demand for honeybush far outweighs supply. Honeybush is consumed worldwide but Germany accounts for over half of the 220 tons of exported Honeybush. Together with the US and the Netherlands these three countries buy nearly 90% of all the Honeybush that leaves SA.

In terms of taste, it is sweet and has less of that distinctive malty rooibos taste, which some people dislike. It is soothing but the bright honeyed flavour makes it less of an after-dinner tea. Because of the natural sweet flavour, I think it works best as an afternoon tea.

To prepare, 250-300ml of freshly boiled water (100° C) is added to 5g of loose leaf tea. I leave it for several minutes for a deeper taste because unlike real tea it doesn’t get bitter when steeped for a long time.

For more information on honeybush there is an good profile report available from the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

 

Chamomile Herbal Tea

Chamomile Single Flower

Chamomile was one of the nine sacred herbs that the Anglo-Saxons believed had special powers. Known in English as Maythen, it was said to lift the spirits and have antifungal qualities. It is an anti-stress drink that eases sleep but it is also used for muscle aches, headaches, nausea and skin burns. It is  said to relax muscles and for this reason is used to relieve spasms of the digestive tract, colitis and diverticulosis and interestingly, it claims to also stimulate the appetite. As with all herbs, caution is needed before ingesting –  I have read that it should not be taken during pregnancy or while nursing and it may interact with certain drugs.

 

Chamomile herbal tea has been a long-standing bedtime drink in our house and this year we grew our own chamomile for the first time. In fact, chamomile and potatoes are in competition for our “allotment success story” of 2013. I bought a tiny pot of unknown variety for €3 last June and less than 3 months later it is a thriving chamomile plant that is low maintenance and colourful. It spreads low to the ground and the area that it covers is weed-free which is more than can be said for the potatoes!

 

The word chamomile comes from Greek and means “ground apple” and that’s exactly what it smells like. Two types of chamomile are grown in herb gardens for medicinal use: Roman (Chamaemelum nobile) and German (Matricaria chamomilla). The German variety is native to Europe and western Asia is an upright annual that can grow to 1 metre tall. The Roman variety is native to western Europe and north Africa and is a low-growing perennial that is usually about 20cm in height. Both produce small, daisy-like white flowers with yellow centres, though in terms of taste German chamomile is reportedly sweeter.  While the medicinal applications are similar, the German chamomile is contains a higher proportion of chamazulene, an active anti-inflammatory while Roman has a higher alcohol content and is considered better for skin conditions.

Both varieties are pest and disease free and gardeners often spread them among crops and herbs to boost overall health of the garden. There is a non-flowering variety of Roman chamomile and this can be used instead of grass for full lawns because it will thrive when lightly trodden. Buckingham Palace is said to have such a chamomile lawn that was planted for George V.

 

Chamomile Group ShotMy plant had one bloom when I bought it in June and since then has continued to bloom heavily. The blossoms should be picked the day that they open for the best flavour (I haven’t done this) and should be dried immediately after harvesting. To dry, they are spread on a mesh screen in a warm place indoors, out of direct sunlight. When the flowers are completely dry, store in light-proof jars or in a dark cupboard.

To prepare the herbal infusion, add boiling water to a teasppon of the dried flowers. Cover the container while it infuses to avoid evaporation of volatile oils. Leave for 3-5 minutes and then enjoy!

If anyone knows of other plants that are as easy as chamomile (or potatoes), I’d love to hear. :-)

Fennel Tea – the Nausea Cure

Patrick’s weekend could be summed up in the word “overindulging”. Rich food, wine, chocolate, whiskey – you name it and I probably overindulged in it! So in the mornings I stayed away from traditional tea and went for the herbal tea or tisanes that are non-caffeinated. For nausea, some people recommend peppermint tea (particularly for seasickness) and I think it works well as a prevention but once I feel queasy, it doesn’t seem to help at all.

Fennel Seeds

Fennel Seeds

 

Instead, I go for fennel tea. If you don’t like liquorice, this isn’t the tea for you but otherwise drinking this can feel almost instantly soothing for the stomach. As a bonus, fennel seeds are rich in anti-oxidants and a concentrated source of minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. Fennel tea can also be taken for other digestive ailments like indigestion and heartburn.

 

Bruised Fennel Seeds

Bruised Fennel Seeds

Fennel comes in the form of light brown/green seeds. To prepare I bruise about a tablespoon of seeds (5g) with a pestle and mortar (bruising between two spoons works too). Then I put the seeds in a brew basket, add 200ml of boiling water to the cup and infuse for about 5 minutes. The brown fluid looks a bit murky but smells of liquorice and aniseed and is pleasantly warming to drink. You can infuse a second time but it will be noticeably weaker.

[If you are wondering how all of this fits in with the steeping method that I talked about here, bear in mind that short steepings only apply to real tea (black, green, yellow, white, oolong and pu-erh), not to herbal teas/ tisanes. Tisanes have their own steeping guidelines depending on the herb but generally it is several minutes.]

Most tea houses and herbal shops will stock fennel seeds but because fennel seeds are used regularly in cooking, you can usually buy it in the spices section at the supermarket. I bought 100g for €3 which is excellent value as 100g would make at least 20 cups of tea.

I can confirm that fennel tea does not cure headaches but one thing at a time ;-)

Caffeine

I was reading an old article from Bord Bia that said that tea consumption was on the rise at night-time. The reason given was that “people are at home more often and tea is a comforting affordable reliable beverage”.

There have been several papers written on the effect of caffeine on sleep disruption and even more papers written on effect of caffeine on other health issues (good and bad). A major problem in this type of research is that all the papers tend to use very different values for the caffeine content in beverages and foods.

There are plenty of reasons for the variations. Preparation plays a large role and differences in the time and temperature of steeping, the size of the tea leaf and the type of tea used will all influence the caffeine content of tea. The variety of plant, care of the plants, soil nutrients, picking season and the part of plant used will also play a role.

Caffeine Crystals under the microscope

Caffeine Crystals under the microscope (Source)

Caffeine is a white, odourless crystal that occurs naturally in coffee, tea and chocolate and is added to colas and energy drinks. After a lot of reading, here is a summary of caffeine content in tea from sources that seems reliable:

Tea (~200ml after one steeping of three minutes)

Chinese white tea – 75mg

Darjeeling white – 56mg

Indian Green – 59mg

Kenyan Green – 58 mg

Chinese Oolong (Ti Kwan Yin) – 37mg

Assam (FTGFOP) – 86mg

Darjeeling Black (SFTGFOP1) – 54mg

 

For comparison here are some for coffee and other beverages:

Coffee (~200ml)

Coffee (ground roasted) – 115mg

Coffee (instant) – 80mg

Cola – 20mg

Decaffeinated coffee – 4mg

Espresso, single shot – 75mg

Espresso, double shot – 150mg

Red Bull (250ml can) – 80mg

 

Chocolate

It seems to be generally accepted that there are 6mg of caffeine per 30g serving. But it seems to vary a lot:

70% Green and Black dark Chocolate (30g) – 4.5mg

Green and Black milk chocolate (30g) – 2mg

White chocolate (30g) – 0mg

Cadbury dairy milk (28g) – 15mg

Herbal tea

Herbal tea – 0mg

(Note: other substances like theobromine, tanninic acid, caffeol also play a role)

 

I found it surprising how high the caffeine content of green tea is. Many claim that green and white tea have less caffeine than oolong or black tea because of the minimal oxidation. It seems to be well-proven now that this is not the case. White tea in particular uses the bud of the plant which has been shown to have a higher caffeine content that the leaf. I guess most people wouldn’t have a can of coke before bed but I wonder if they know that a Chinese white tea has three times as much caffeine?

With a few exceptions, herbal tea or tisanes have no caffeine at all. That includes Rooibos so there is a huge selection of tea alternatives for night-time. I’ve been going through a rough time with sleep lately so now I only drink tea up to about 3pm and right before bed I drink hops tea. It seems to really help. And no, by hops tea I don’t mean beer though sometimes that helps too :-).

 

Main Sources:

Barone JJ, Roberts, H.R. (1996), Caffeine consumption, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 34, Issue 1, January 1996, Pages 119–129.

Richardson, B. (2009), De-bunking the At-Home Decaffeination Myth Story, Fresh Cup January 2009

Chin JM, Merves ML, Goldberger BA, Sampson-Cone A, Cone EJ. (2008), Caffeine content of brewed teas. J Anal Toxicol. 2008 Oct;32(8):702-4.