Thabo Mohlala

South Africa is a global leader in the export of two indigenous life-enhancing and global tea brands: honeybush and rooibos. Scientifically called nutraceutical, the teas are processed from plant extracts that have pharmaceutical and health promoting qualities. The term also encompasses the extracts that are used to prepare foods that offer more than nutrition.

Indigenous global brands

Professor Elizabeth (Lizette) Joubert is one of the project leaders involved in the lucrative honeybush project. A principal researcher in food science at the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) Infruitec- Nietvoorbij, Professor Joubert holds a PhD degree in food science. For the past 38 years her focus has been on research relating to the two indigenous South African herbal brands. Professor Joubert has more than 170 scientific papers under her name and four book chapters on the subject.

In addition, she is a co-inventor of several patents. Since the early 1990s, the scope of her research broadened to enhance the healthy properties of these herbal teas. The idea was also to add more value to these products beyond their use as herbal teas. Her experience coupled with her highly specialised skills she honed in this field makes her a much sought-after scientist across the globe.

Elizabeth Joubert
Elizabeth Joubert

Accolades

As a result, she has fostered strategic and enduring collaborations with her peers locally and with overseas institutions. She has also received several coveted awards during her illustrious career. They include, among others:

  • the lead editor of a special issue of the South African Journal of Botany on herbal teas in 2017.
  • the Honorary Medal of the Faculty Natural Science and Technology of the South African Academy for Science and Arts (2018) for her research on rooibos and honeybush.
  • the ARC Executive Management Award for outstanding achievement as a member of a multidisciplinary team on honeybush tea research (1999),
  • the Indigenous Plant Use Forum “Plant-to-Product” Award (2009) for her role in the commercialisation of honeybush tea.

Exactly what is honeybush?

Honeybush tea is popular with consumers worldwide because of its several medicinal and therapeutic properties. In addition, it contains no caffeine and minimal amounts of tannis both not recommended for good health. In a world where consumers are health conscious and highly informed about what goes into their food, it is important to ensure that only good quality products reaches the market.

What Professor Joubert does is to ensure that there is consistency in the quality of the honebush tea. This is not only crucial in safeguarding the health of consumers but also to make sure the honeybush tea maintains its dominance on the market. There are other competing and exciting teas on the market and the ARC always tries to shine a spotlight on honeybush tea as an exceptional functional food indigenous to South Africa.

Honeybush tea also boasts phenolic constituents which have highly beneficial properties such as anti-oxidants, which serve as a key driver for the development of new products. According to the ARC, not only do these compounds protect the plant against stress, but they can also protect us against diseases. If researchers can emphasise these benefits in a responsible and scientifically proven way, we can push for the development of more honeybush products, says the premier science and research institution.