Honeybush or rooibos

Honeybush or rooibos – what’s the difference?

“What is the difference between honeybush and rooibos tea?” this is a question we often get from the public.

Both these teas are indigenous to South Africa and contain no caffeine, but that’s not where the similarities end. Honeybush and rooibos are also both low in tannins and rich in antioxidants. Because of the low tannin levels, these teas can steep for longer (compared to your normal English tea), without becoming bitter. But although there are many similarities between these two there are also differences:

The plant

Rooibos is only grown in South Africa in a small region of the Western Cape province – with the Cederberg region the only area where it grows naturally – while honeybush can be found in the coastal districts of the Western and Eastern Cape provinces. Both plants are harvested by cutting, fermenting, and then drying.

The rooibos plant is a shrub-like bush with a central, smooth-barked main stem. Near the soil surface, the stem subdivides into a number of strong offshoots, followed by delicate side branches each bearing, singly or in clusters, soft, needle-like leaves.

The plant can grow between 1 and 2 metres in height in its natural state while the cultivated plants grow to between 0,5 and 1,5 metres.

During October the plant is covered with small, yellow flowers. Each flower produces only one small pod containing a one small, hard-shelled, dicotyledonous seed.

Honeybush 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.

The shape and size of the leaves 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 flower clusters, which have a characteristic sweet honey scent – hence the name “honeybush”.


Rooibos is bolder than honeybush and has long been consumed to alleviate headaches and stomach aches. Many South African mothers believe that there’s nothing better than a piece of toast and a cup of rooibos, with no added milk or sugar, for a sick child.

Honeybush has been used for treating coughs, because of its content of pinitol (found in pine trees) which is an expectorant. Other claimed benefits include the fact that Honeybush contains antioxidants and various minerals as well as flavones which can be used to reduce blood lipids and possibly alleviate menopausal symptoms.


Honeybush is a close cousin of rooibos and although there are many similarities between the two the biggest difference is the taste.

Rooibos has a naturally sweet, earthy and slightly nutty flavour. Some individuals prefer the flavoured version of this deep-red infusion as it masks the “medicinal” taste of this tea.

Honeybush, on the other hand, has undertones of wood and honey. The tea has a fuller body and is sweeter than rooibos. Some individuals liken the taste to a hot apricot or dried fruit mixture. It has a pinky red brewing colour and is said to have a stronger and more pleasant flavour than rooibos.

Honeybush (like rooibos) actually improves in flavour the longer you allow it to brew. Honeybush may also be brewed on the stove in a teapot and left to simmer without becoming bitter.

In the end, it’s a question of taste; some tea lovers describe these two as similar while others would say they are incomparable and unique in their own way.

Purchase the Harmony Honeybush Loose Leaf tea here

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