I would like to thank Dr. Alister F. Frayne MD for this guest blog on the benefits of honeybush tea. ~Julie
Humans have been drinking tea for aeons. Well, they've been drinking various brewed concoctions, and calling it tea for aeons. Tea connoisseurs would say they've been drinking tisanes, and the term tea should be reserved for the brew made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Well, whatever. The reality is that people like to create their own beverages, using various plants and herbs, and drink them for taste and wellness reasons. Taste is, of course, subjective and something we can't really argue about. But do the wellness claims stand up to scrutiny? Is it really a health benefit to drink tea, especially as pertains to diabetes?
Well, actually, yes. At least 650 different published studies - at last count. The vast majority of these do show a clear benefit - one of the latest, the 2012 European EPIC InterAct case-cohort study, involved a cohort of 340,000 cases and showed a 16% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A similar study in the Netherlands a few years earlier, and which involved 40,000 patients showed a 42% reduction in the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes.
Just to emphasize that this is not a European phenomenon, a 2006 Japanese study published in the prestigious US journal, the Annals of Internal Medicine, showed a 33% reduced risk of diabetes in tea drinkers.
Ok - given that, which tea is better? Or, if all are equally beneficial - how do you chose one over the other? A cynic would chose the cheapest. A smart Alec would go for the most expensive. But really, there are ways to pamper your palate, improve your waistline, and serve the common good.
Take Heights Honeybush - the upstart tea brand that has seen dramatic growth in demand since it's introduction just over a year ago. The company behind this tea brand, Honeybush Health Ltd, doesn't just pay lip service to the concept of sustainability and conservation (Full disclosure: I'm a director of this company.) The Heights Tea Estate in South Africa is at the forefront of sustainable harvesting, planting back into the wild, and propagation from wild stock. It really is conserving the supply of honeybush for future generations. It's production facility is certified organic, and it's clearly non GMO, using only wild product. And, most importantly, it stands behind its source - as the consumer you know, when purchasing this brand, that it's from the Heights region is South Africa and it's sustainably harvested. Not just ripped off the hillsides by unscrupulous middlemen, bent on riding the surge of honeybush popularity.
Stay with me here - what I'm saying is, yes - you can buy ethical tea. Or not. It's your choice.
OK - lets talk about Honeybush. Are there any studies to support its health claims?
Yes there are - not 650 - but a respectable number for such a young and emerging tea. Actually, in South Africa, Honeybush has a fiercely loyal following - all convinced of it’s benefits. Honeybush health is almost a religion back home. The locals have been drinking honeybush in one form or other forever - folklore has the indigenous San or Bushmen tribes drinking a herbal honeybush concoction, the Nguni or Bantus embracing it, the trekboer Afrikaners using it as a tisane, and the English and German missionary settlers using it as a replacement for their traditional teas. The descendants of those peoples cling to the same beliefs - witness the delightful and aromatic odour of honeybush as it simmers and brews all day in the local mountain cottages of the Eastern Cape.
So the locals believe in honeybush. But is there actual evidence of benefits?
Actually, yes. Honeybush is now one of the most studied traditional plants in South Africa. There is intense academic and government interest - predictions have it eventually achieving the same economic importance to South Africa as it's more pungent cousin, Rooibos - and this interest is driving ongoing research at various institutions - among them the University of the Western Cape (led by the reputed academic Dr. Quintin Johnson, and his colleague Prof. Richard Cowling), the University of Stellenbosch, the South African Medical Research Council, and the Agricultural Research Council.
As would be expected, the first studies were botanical, followed by agricultural and pharmacological studies,and then in vitro studies. Finally, in vivo research followed. Human studies, the pinnacle of all research, are next. .
Let's look at some of these:
Among the first was a 2007 Tufts University study, which confirmed the potent antioxidant, immune-modulating and chemopreventive actions of both Honeybush and Rooibos.
This confirmed the findings of a much earlier 2000 South African Medical Research Council study, replicated in 2006, which both suggested that Honeybush and Rooibos might be beneficial in the fight against cancer.
In 2007 a University of Stellenbosch study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, documented the phytoestrogenic effect of Honeybush for the first time
This was replicated in 2013, in a similar article published in the Journal of Planta Med.
The photoprotective effect of Honeybush was demonstrated for the first time in a 2011 study at the Oxidative Stress Research Centre at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Then, in early 2013 a study by the Diabetic Discovery Platform at the Medical Research Council, demonstrated the beneficial effects of Honeybush on Sugars and Lipids. (This study documented for the first time the actual morphological improvements which occurred in the Pancreata of those animals who were fed Honeybush, in addition to their regular diets).
Finally, to great excitement, two studies towards the end of last year showed clear beneficial effects of Honeybush on fat metabolism - both in preventing the formation of new fat cells, and in causing fat cells to self-destruct.
So, what can we conclude from all of this? Clearly, tea is a healthy alternative. Honeybush is a reasonable (or excellent) option. But there are thousands of similar tea options, are there not?
Well, not really. So, let your tea decision be guided by a few principles:
Choose a tea that is caffeine free, especially for afternoon and evening consumption so as to not interfere with healthy sleep. Similarly, if palpitations, or arrhythmias, or a general nervous disposition is in your nature - go caffeine free. Ditto if you’re a kid, or an infant!
Choose a tea that has a ethical footprint. Who needs a tea produced with child labour, or via economic coercion of local producers - c'mon - if you’re buying tea in any US or Canadian outlet you’re already rich, relative to the rest of the world. Share a little - is it really worth a few saved bucks?
Choose a tea that is produced sustainably. Is your favourite brand the “Palm Oil of tea” - stripping the native vegetation in some far off country to bring you a cheap cuppa? Check the sustainability footprint. Google the company. See where it comes from. If it’s opaque and unclear, it’s probably via some faceless middleman - go farm direct if you can.
Look at the benefits- are you overweight, diabetic, hypertensive? Just generally exhausted? Menopausal and miserable? Heck, you’ve decided to switch to tea, you may as well chose one that has at least some evidence behind it.
Finally, don’t forget the taste. None of this matters if it tastes absolutely awful - you ain’t gonna keep drinking it, even if it’s the cure for every ailment known to man.
My (obviously biased) opinion?- Honeybush, and especially Heights Honeybush. Checks pretty well every box, folks, in the Ethical, Sustainable, Beneficial and Taste categories.
Dr. Alister F. Frayne MD
Dr. Frayne is a primary care MD in active clinical practice in the Fraser Valley, an associate prof in the faculty of Medicine at the University of BC, and a co-founder and director of Honeybush Health Ltd. His medical interests include the prevention and management of diabetes, metabolic diseases, and chronic disease management. He also likes tea.