Edible Fynbos species and their fascinating chemistry

by Kyla Van Heerden

Fynbos is unique to South Africa and local herbs from this diverse family of plants are, as yet, mostly unknown, and underutilised. There are approximately 7 000 species growing naturally in the Cape Floristic Region, a UNESCO World Heritage site at the southern tip of Africa.

Fynbos offers a whole new palette of flavours that turn everyday meals into taste sensations. Rooibos, Snow bush, Rhino bush and Buchu in particular are a true taste of the veld, rooting us in a shared culinary identity as South Africans. 

South African Fynbos® is a gourmet range of Fynbos herbs and seasonings that make our indigenous flavours accessible and convenient, turning us all into instant Fynbos foodies.

HONEYBUSH  Cyclopia species

SWEET  notes of honey blossom

Honeybush has been enjoyed as a tea infusion for generations. The antioxidant activity is owing to Mangiferin and the presence of phytoestrogens are said to contribute to the relief of menopausal symptoms. 

When used as a seasoning it adds a delicate honey-blossom flavour to sticky marinades, onion soup, casseroles, butternut and sweet-potato wedges, sago pudding, milk-tart and cupcake icing. Toast lightly and sprinkle over oven-roasted veggies. Sprinkle doughnuts with Honeybush herb for a sweet and delish local finish.

ROOIBOS  Aspalathus linearis 

FRUITY  notes of caramel & rosehip

Rooibos contains Aspalathin and Nothofagin, powerful antioxidants that are associated with combatting lifestyle diseases, making it South Africa’s number one indigenous ‘tea’. It is anti-spasmodic and is used as a milk substitute for infants prone to colic. It has anti-ageing effects and is used in cosmetics and creams. 

As a seasoning it has a rounding effect on flavours, drawing them all together. Pair with caramelised onions as a base for traditional tomato-bredie/stew and chicken soup with a South African flair. Add Rooibos tea to the chicken stock instead of water. 

A cherry tomato sauce comes alive with Rooibos seasoning, as does sweet potato mash, roasted butternut, gruyere omelettes, breakfast eggs and crispy roast chicken. For a really unusual dessert, splash vanilla ice-cream with local olive oil and top with Rooibos Salt. The textures and flavours combine to provide a surprising and more-ish end to a meal.

BUCHU  Agathosma betulina

PUNGENT  strong notes of mint and blackcurrant

Buchu is the most sensational of all the Fynbos herbs, transforming everyday flavours into mouth-watering experiences. 

Season seared picanha, braaied line-fish, tray-baked chicken, lamb shank, flambéed chicken livers, salmon sushi and tomato salsa. Infuse a few sprigs in vinegar to make a delicious base for a vinaigrette. 

As a tea it is refreshing with a minty flavour and a black-currant aftertaste. Buchu oil is used as a flavour enhance in the food industry and in perfumes. Infuse a few sprigs in brandy to make a traditional Cape ‘cure-all’ digestif. It is a diuretic and is used to clear urinary tract infections. 

RHINO BUSH  Dicerothamnus rhinocerotis

PINEY  notes of resin 

Rhino bush is piney adding a delicate resinous flavour to grilled rib-eye, Karoo lamb, picanha and pork kebabs. Add to wok-seared chilli-garlic cabbage, grilled mushrooms, arancini, risotto, bitterballen and croque monsieurs. 

The delicate piney resin melts into seared food. As a tea, it is used for stomach complaints including indigestion. Rhinocerotinoic acid identified in Rhino bush has significant anti-inflammatory properties. According to oral tradition, Rhino bush was used to ease the symptoms of the influenza epidemic at the Cape in 1918. 

A Dutch governor at the Cape, Simon van der Stel, recorded in his diary that he saw this indigenous bush in the presence of rhino and the species retained the name. Infuse a few sprigs in vinegar to make a delicious base for a vinaigrette. Infuse a few sprigs in gin to make the base for a truly South African gin and tonic, a taste of the veld.

SNOW BUSH  Eriocephalus africanus

WOODY  wild rosemary with hints of pepper

Snow bush adds incredible depth of flavour to Mediterranean style dishes as well as Karoo lamb meatballs, tzatziki, confit garlic potatoes, lentil salad, yoghurt carrot salad, beef carpaccio, prawn orzo, feta focaccia and a creamy mushroom sauce. 

Snow bush contains Eudesmanediol, an anti-spasmodic. In in the form of a tea infusion it soothes the stomach. Infuse a few sprigs in vinegar to make a delicious base for a vinaigrette. Infuse a few sprigs in vodka for a soothing after-dinner digestif.

CANCER BUSH  Lessertia frutescens

BITTER  notes of fresh pea

Cancer bush is a powerful immune booster, containing Canavanine and Pinitol. It is used as a bitter tonic that aids digestion and improves appetite. The seeds in the large pods are heart-shaped, truly a plant that spreads love and healing. 

When tasting the tea infusion, look past the bitterness and see if you can pick up the hint of stevia-like sweetness at the end and the distinct notes of pea. The herb is ideal for adding depth to vegetable dishes like grilled baby marrow, rösti and smoky bacon-green-bean salad. Use sparingly as it is really bitter, but it’s great for experimental cooking and adding to sourdough bread. 

MINT PELLARGONIUM  Pelargonium tomentosum

COOLING  intense mint 

Mint pelargonium is supremely refreshing as a tea infusion or infused water. It makes a delicious vinaigrette and summer cordial. It is naturally astringent, use the cooled water as a body mister at the beach. 

The herb and salt add a zesty flavour to zucchini fritters, lentil-feta salad, cucumber ribbons, summer fruit salad, pear and walnut salad, cream cheese brioche, cocktail beef rissoles, goat’s cheese couscous and a hearty bulgur mushroom salad.

NUTMEG PELARGONIUM  Pelargonium fragrans

SPICY  notes of sweet geranium

Nutmeg pelargonium is deliciously fragrant adding layers of exotic flavour to a shitake mushroom tart, lamb moussaka, fried Spaezle, potato gratin, cheese fondue, spinach ravioli and bechamel sauce. It’s sensational in desserts and on fresh berry morning pancakes.

CAPE MOUNTAIN SAGE  Salvia chamelaeagnea

HERBACEOUS  strong notes of sage

As a seasoning it pairs well with lemon-butter kingklip, creamy walnut tagliatelle, grilled haloumi burger, butternut lasagne, onion lentil loaf, brandy infused chicken liver pâté, ground pork stuffing and blue cheese gnocchi. It has antibacterial properties and contains Carnosol and Ursolic acid. The tea infusion is very pleasant with strong notes of sage.

For more information visit www.southafricanfynbos.com

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