Bushman and Buchu: A uniquely South African story

2017-10-30 14:30 - Jared in Cape Town
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I was recently invited on a journey to explore Buchu. Much like our famous Rooibos, Buchu is endemic to the Western Cape, and is only grown in and around the Cederberg Mountains. As I headed northwards on the N7, leaving Cape Town far behind, the coastal scenery began to transform into stark mountain vistas.  It was going to be an interesting two days getting to know more about the bushmen and buchu heritage of South Africa...

Healthy beginnings

This is a beauty treatment that goes way back - almost 10 000 years to be exact. As part of marriage preparation, women from South Africa’s Khoi San would lather the bride to be in a mixture made from the herb Buchu, and Eland fat. Centuries before science could confirm this, our country’s first inhabitants already knew the healing properties of this miracle herb.

It is on record that, when the first European sailors visited our shores, the Khoi San actively traded Buchu with them. This herb grew in notoriety, and the drink made from its leaves soon became known as ‘Royal Tea,’ and as a result was highly sought after overseas. Record also has it that eight bales of Buchu was onboard the Titanic when she met her ocean fate!


Introducing Buchu

Our host for the two days, Cape Kingdom Nutraceuticals, is the biggest Buchu producer, and through years of R & D has managed to harness both the health and flavour properties of this herb, yet at the same time still maintaining the very essence of this herb’s historical roots. “Essentially, the San and the Khoi were the ones who discovered the magnificent potential of Buchu in terms of its medicinal properties” says Karin McCann, Managing Director of Cape Kingdom Nutraceuticals. They were the first Buchu producer to enter into an agreement with the San and Khoi Councils back in 2013, and a percentage of profits are still donated back to the respective councils.

Thankfully science has now caught up with what the Khoisan already knew for decades, and the list of ailments that are treated by this anti-inflammatory plant seems endless, including: common colds, gut-related ailments, bladder infections, skin conditions, joint pain and hypertension.

Our first stop was Skimmelberg farm, the largest Buchu grower in the country. The plantations cover the mountain ridges, and are set amongst the natural fynbos, and as a result making the area an Unesco World Heritage Site. Our timing was rather fortuitous, as the plants are usually harvested around October. This meant we could view the full development of the plant’s cultivation, from planting, right up until the talented wielding of the harvester’s sickles. Until recent years, 99% of the plant was exported. However now with companies such as Cape Kingdom growing the local market footprint, this is quickly changing.

Professor Patrick Bouic, an independent researcher for Cape Kingdom Nutraceuticals, was actively involved in the 1994 success of Moducare. Shortly after this, he read some testimonials on the miraculous results of Buchu and so commenced his journey with Cape Kingdom. He’s proudly states “This is a medicinal plant like no other. It’s incredibly valuable and more people should be encouraged to use it” and in addition he calls it one of our country’s ‘best-kept secrets’.

Bushmanskloof Wilderness Reserve

On leaving Skimmelberg, our journey through the mountain passes continued, until, with much anticipation we arrived at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve. Hidden in one of the remote mountain kloofs, stands a truly unique luxury lodge. I’ve been to very few places where luxury and nature are so sensitively and tastefully paired. An understated country elegance greets you at every turn as you wander through the various parts of the lodge. With only 16 rooms, it’s an intimate and luxe experience second to none.

(Jared in CPT)

Bushmans Kloof holds a number of prestigious titles, including an association with Relais & Chateaux; an exclusive group of worldwide hotels picked for their independent ownership, commitment to hospitality, culture and cuisine. Equally impressive is their inclusion in a handful of lodges around the world to achieve certification as a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. A noble accolade recognizes Bushman Kloof’s sustainable tourism: protection of natural and cultural heritage, support for local communities, and environmentally friendly practices.

Several outings are offered to guests, and first on our itinerary was a sunset game drive. At first glance, the barren landscape may not seem to offer much, but we were soon held spellbound by our guide’s stories and love for the environment. Working at Bushmans Kloof for over 10 years, I asked Zenobia why she had stayed so long: “I’ve been on your typical big 5 game drives, and often you’re just rushing from one big animal sighting to the next. You often miss the small details – the plants, small critters and other parts of the reserve.” Her love for the reserve was contagious, and the various antelope and fynbos sightings helped cement our new affection for Bushmans Kloof.

Our second day’s outing involved a shorter drive, a quick coffee stop in the bush, brief walk to one of the 130 Rock Art sites on the reserve. Bushmans Kloof is a custodian of these heritage sites, and Londi, the local rock art curator, as he interpreted the paintings he gave us a unique insight into the lives of these ancient inhabitants.

(Jared in CPT)

Some More Buchu

Naturally, our journey with the herb continued,  first with a treatment at the spa. The reserve certainly lives up to its name as a Wellness Retreat, with a dazzling amount of therapeutic treatments on offer. My back, head and shoulders massage began with a Buchu feet cleansing, and the massage made use of oils infused with Buchu. I left the detox experience floating, and wandered back to my suite in a state of blissful euphoria.

Although having prolific health properties, Buchu is also used extensively as a flavourant. The team at Bushmans Kloof took this to heart and provided us with a remarkable array of Buchu tastings, from infused bread, wraps, and more. Our evening cocktails were Buchu-infused, and blackcurrant-esque flavour immediately took me back to sipping kir royales on a distant wine farm.

After two days in at Bushmans Kloof, I’m not surprised that last year the reserve was voted the third best resort in Africa by Condé Nast readers. The thought of leaving behind our newly-found wilderness paradise was disheartening, and I vowed to think back on the magical place and its stories, every evening as I sat and enjoyed my cup of Buchu tea. 

(Jared in CPT)

Five things you may not have known about Buchu

1. The buchu oil, is only 1% of the total product harvested

2. Many South African’s may remember Buchu Brandy – a boereraat or home remedy that’s surprisingly easy to make yourself

3. There is also a range of products for pets and horses

4. Buchu products can be taken long-term with no side effects, and for all ages

5. There are three types of Buchu – one of which is found in Hermanus, but sadly has no healing properties

* Jared is a Cape Town influencer, writer, and social curator. He was hosted on behalf of Traveller24 for the duration of his stay at Bushmans Kloof. Find him on  Instagram, and Twitter.

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