Honeybush tea is an indigenous herbal tea to South Africa, having a pleasant taste and flavour. " Heuningtee, Bergtee, Boertee, Bossiestee, Bushtea" are some of the many names the tea is called (35). According to Kies (1951), the earliest mention of the honeybush plant in botanical literature was in 1705. Although it is not clear whether the bush was used for consumption in those days, it can be assumed that the local inhabitants soon realised the health giving properties of the tea in their search for natural herbs and medicines (33). The leaves, stems and flowers of the Cyclopia species are used to manufacture a sweet herbal infusion. The indigenous shrub, grows in the coastal districts of the Western and Eastern Cape Provinces, from Darling to Port Elizabeth, being bounded on the north by the Cederberg, Koue Bokkeveld, Klein Swartberg, Groot Swartberg and Kouga mountain ranges. Cyclopia Vent. (tribe Podalyrieae) is a genus of +/- 24
Most of the species have very limited distribution ranges and special habitat preferences. Some are restricted to mountain peaks (Cyclopia burtonii, Cyclopia glabra, Cyclopia aurescens, Cyclopia bolusii, Cyclopia alpina), others to perennial streams (Cyclopia maculata, Cyclopia longifolia) or to marshy areas (Cyclopia pubescens), shalebands (Cyclopia plicata, Cyclopia alopecuroides) and wet southern slopes (Cyclopia bowieana, Cyclopia squamosa). Over the years only Cyclopia intermedia ("bergtee") and Cyclopia subternata ("vleitee") have found limited commercial application, but it is known that the Cyclopia maculata, Cyclopia genistoides and Cyclopia sessiliflora ("Heidelbergtee") . These species, including Cyclopia meyeriana, Cyclopia pubescens,
Honeybush tea plant is easily recognized by its trifoliolate leaves, single-flowered inflorescences and sweetly scented, bright yellow flowers with prominent grooves on the standard petal, a thrust-in (intrusive) calyx base and two bracts fused at the base around the pedicel. The name Cyclopia is derived from the Greek words cyclos, a circle and pous, a food, which allude to the intrusive base of the calyx.
Honeybush tea plants have woody stems, a relatively low ratio of leaves to stems and hard-shelled seeds that germinate poorly if not scarified prior to germination. Leaf shape and size differ within the species, but are mostly thin, needle-like to elongated, broadish leaves. During the flowering period the bushes are easily recognized in the field as they are covered with distinctive, deep-yellow flowers, which have a characteristic sweet honey scent, from which the tea acquires its name. According to traditional methods the tea is harvested during the flowering period. Cyclopia intermedia and Cyclopia subternata flower in September/October while Cyclopia sessiliflora flowers in May/June.
Presently there are no honeybush plantings and the tea is harvested from natural populations only.
The manufacture of honeybush tea consists of four characteristic processing steps, harvesting, cutting, "fermentation" (oxidation) and drying.