Buchu and Rooibos

“Buchu and Rooibos”  is a newly launched product by Robert Roberts that was sent to me a couple of weeks ago to taste. I have a huge interest in South African herbs but had never heard of Buchu so Google had to step in to help.

Agathosma-betulina

Buchu flowers (Source: Go South Online)

The most common varieties of the plant are Agathosma betulina and Agathosma crenulata. However, these are just two of the 150 varieties in the Agathosma family that thrive in the climate of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The plant is a member of the citrus family but has a strong flavor of blackcurrant. The seeds can be planted from April to June with harvesting 18 months later between the months of October and April.

Buchu tea seems to have many applications. The essental oil from the buchu plant is recommended for arthritis, bloating, indigistion, hypertension and lots of other ailments but its strongest association is with soothing and strengthining the urinary system and relieving the symptoms of urinary tract infections.

buchu stamp

Buchu: SA stamp (Source)

Little research has been carried out to establish its effectiveness as a medicine so most people refer to what are thought to be its original uses by native South Africans: ingested for bladder problems and rheumatism and applied topically as an as an insect repellent. Steeping the leaves in brandy produces an alcoholic buchu brandy (known as boegoe-brandewyn). Several websites note that Buchu should be avoided in pregnancy because traditionally it was known to stimulate uterine contractions. Breastfeeding women should also avoid Buchu.

For more information on planting and harvesting there is a good brochure here on Buchu from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Republic of South Africa

Note: I did not buy this tea – it was sent to me to taste. I have no affiliation with Robert Roberts and have not been paid or compensated for writing this post.

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.

 

Rooibos

It’s hard to believe that I have been writing this blog for over a month now and this is the first time I am talking about Rooibos. I’m a devoted Rooibos and Honeybush fan and if you read this blog, you’ll have to put up with me gushing about both on a very regular basis.

Rooibos Natural

Rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss” in South Africa, pronounced “roo-y-boss” here) is not a tea at all (see categories here). It is a caffeine-free tisane that comes from the leaf of Aspalathus linearis and not Camellia sinensis. Rooibos is produced in South Africa and similar to tea processing, it can be oxidised (red) or non-oxidised (green).

Rooibos from above

 

It is generally said that Rooibos is an acquired taste. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t like it (in fact, I can’t remember my life before Rooibos at all!) but the flavour is different to every other tea so maybe it takes a little while to get used to it. Rooibos often comes flavoured (e.g. vanilla, caramel) and these can be very sickly. If you haven’t tried Rooibos, my advice is to try an unflavoured Rooibos first and experiment with the flavoured varieties later if you like the basic taste.

 

Rooibos is a relaxing and hydrating drink and not one for energising or kick-starting your day. Because it is caffeine free, it can be taken at any time. I drink it mostly in the afternoons or as a soothing end to a heavy meal.

Rooibos TeaThe preparation of Rooibos is straightforward and one of the least fussy teas to prepare. Put 5g of loose leaf  tea into a brew-basket (or teapot) and add 200ml of freshly boiled water (100° C). It needs to settle for about 4 minutes but can be left longer for a deeper taste, as it never gets bitter. The leaves can be re-used for multiple steepings but it needs to be left for longer and will be noticeably weaker after several uses. I never use milk or sweetener but I’ve seen people adding both in South Africa.

The Rooibos pictured here is organic and fair-trade  and was bought in Ghent, Belgium for €2.95 (for 100g). The tea is a little hazy and not as clear and crisp as higher grades but I consider it extremely good value.