The first time I ever discovered Honeybush tea was at a farm stall in the Free State on the way from Bloemfontein to Clarens. While the colouring reminds me of Rooibos tea, the hardier, loose tea has a very distinctive sickly-sweet smell.
The owner of that farm stall had me leave with strict instructions on how to prepare my newly-acquired honey bush delight. Truthfully, they were a little complicated and the tea ended up gathering dust in my cupboard for over a year before I worked up the courage to boil it, reduce it and enjoy it.
Fast forward a few years and on a trip to the Eastern Cape, a visit to the Heights Tea Estate was added to my itinerary. I was really intrigued to see what actually went into the production of honey bush, mostly because I mainly knew it as a wild plant that was usually illegally-harvested from protected fynbos areas and truthfully even now, I haven’t found any other honey bush farms to talk of.
Heights Tea Estate is really quite a wondrous affair. It’s not really open to the public, but we managed to arrange that the manager of the estate, Clive Tillett, show us around without much fuss. After being collected in a vehicle that could handle off-road tracks, Clive made his way along the bumpy road that leads through the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve. This protected area was spluttering with wild proteas and pincushions that eventually gave way to the Heights Tea Estate. The only discernible way to know you’ve reached the estate and are no longer in wild territory are the rudimentary structures of the nursery and the black protective sheeting that line the avenues of honeybush shrubbery.
One of the highlights of this place is the smell of the honey bush. The hanging smell of honey permeates just about everything here, and Clive reminded us that as the bushes aren’t in full flower, it wasn’t even that strong. His happy helper, Beauford the Schnauzer, was along for the ride and ran through the rows of bushes with the confidence of being the actual owner of the estate.
Clive detailed both the farming process and its many challenges, to how the tea is harvested, chipped, prepared and packaged for export. Most of the tea produced here is sent to Canada where it’s used to make bottled iced tea. Just another product that South Africans know so little of that is so in demand elsewhere I guess.
The health benefits of honey bush (as with most teas) are pretty extensive, and you can even find a full list here on the website for Heights Tea Estate. Try and swing by if you’re ever near Tsitsikamma, it’s a detour, but it sure is an interesting one!
My visit to Regyne Protea Farm forms part of the 7 Wonders of our World Campaign. As with all my posts, I retain full editorial control.