A breeding strategy for South African indigenous herbal teas

C. Bester, M.E. Joubert, E. Joubert
Honeybush (Cyclopia spp.) and rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) are indigenous South African fynbos species, unique to the Western and Southern Cape regions. Both are processed for production of traditional South African herbal teas. These herbal teas have a long history of regional use and are today very popular, not only in South Africa, but also worldwide. Apart from their pleasant flavour and taste, the popularity of these herbal teas is due to their caffeine-free and comparatively low-tannin status, combined with potential health-promoting properties, including antioxidant activity amongst others. The demand for honeybush and rooibos herbal teas has led to commercial plantings, but the pressure on wild populations as a source for seed and plant material continues, especially in the case of honeybush. The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) has recognised this threat to Cyclopia species in the wild and, during the past 20 years, has played an important role in developing honeybush as a quality product and establishing an industry less dependent on wild harvesting. The continuous growth of the herbal tea market requires a stable and sustainable supply, and it is therefore essential to have a dependable and viable source of plant material. Improvement programmes were initiated in 1999 for honeybush and recently also for rooibos. A breeding strategy was developed that includes three pillars, viz. breeding, commercialisation and quality control. The breeding pillar includes population, family and individual selection, quantitative genetics and, in future, molecular genetics. Commercialisation covers seedling and cutting propagation strategies, while quality control and assessment will focus mainly on phytochemical composition and sensory properties of the herbal tea infusion. This breeding strategy is in its implementation phase, and progress and challenges are discussed.
Bester, C., Joubert, M.E. and Joubert, E. (2016). A breeding strategy for South African indigenous herbal teas. Acta Hortic. 1127, 15-22
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1127.3
honeybush, Cyclopia, rooibos, Aspalathus linearis, genetic improvement

Acta Horticulturae