Spekboom Information

Get ready for the spekboom revolution

At last The way is being paved for South Africa’s farmers, especially emerging ones, to earn carbon credits by restoring degraded veld with spekboom (Portulacaria afra), says Wynand Odendaal, chairperson of the Select Africa Group of Companies.

“We’ve expanded our business to include carbon-credited products, such as Centron Fuel, that help bring down greenhouse gas emissions, and in October 2009 we adopted the Spekkies project in South Africa,” he says.

“Our aim with Spekkies is to make all homeowners aware of their carbon footprint and how to reduce it. We’ve already launched a special programme for school children to distribute young spekboom plants from our nurseries in the Eastern and Western Cape.”
Interest to farmers

“Our link with carbon credit auditors in Africa should be of interest to farmers.

We believe that huge amounts of foreign and local funding could be leveraged if commercial farmers joined hands with emerging farmers to create the land area needed for viable carbon sequestration ventures.”

In 2004, The Water Affairs Department commissioned a pilot project to investigate the feasibility of restoring degraded thicket and obtaining carbon credits.

The resulting Subtropical Thicket Restoration Programme (STRP) estimated there’s scope for restoring 1 million hectares of degraded subtropical thicket in the Eastern and Western Cape. And spekboom’s remarkable ability to store or sequester carbon makes it an excellent candidate for land restoration and carbon farming.

“If we could restore 1 million hectares with spekboom we’ll be replacing a large chunk of the Amazon rain forests in terms of storing carbon,” says Wynand.

The STRP research showed it’s possible to capture carbon at a rate of 0,4t/ha to 4,2t/ha in newly established spekboom plantations.

The nett carbon differential between a degraded and an intact spekboom thicket is somewhere in the range of 50t/ha to 100t/ha of carbon, which will take 30 years to accumulate.

Restoring this area would take a team of 5 500 people 12 years to complete. That’s 16 million work days – excluding technical, management and research man-hours required.”

Wynand points out it equates to a massive injection of capital into the rural economies in the form of wages. A project to restore 5 000ha, ideal for a small town like Pearston in the Karoo, could bring in R72 million in the form of wages and transport. “Clearly landowners need initial financial assistance to start, but given the enormous benefit of restoring land and creating employment, international agencies and government are likely to assist,” says Wynand.

“Socially responsible companies or even individuals or non-governmental agencies could also provide start-up financial assistance for restoration which captures carbon.” While the STRP studies show a farm of 1 000ha of degraded spekboom thicket will cost R4 million to R5 million to restore, the resulting income makes it worthwhile.

Estimating the carbon accrual rate at an average 2t/ha per year (for a 30-year period), the crop would tie up 2 000t/year of carbon, equal to 7 340t/year of carbon dioxide.

If the price of carbon is US$10/t (about R74/t), the farmer/developer could earn R440 000 per year for 30 years, without taking inflation into account. As the price of carbon and the size of the property increase, the profits become more appealing.

Qualifying and certifying

Securing a voluntary carbon standard certification is critical to the entire thicket restoration project, and this is where Select Africa comes in.

“Select Africa facilitates applications for carbon credits on behalf of spekboom farmers by helping them prepare their land, file their mandate and guide them through the world’s carbon trade with its complex requirements,” says Wynand.

“There are no quick returns with spekboom farming,” he warns. “And there’s no scope for earning money for degradation after a set date. Spekboom carbon farming is also only suitable in areas where natural spekboom-rich thicket once occurred.”

To determine if they qualify, new landowners may need expert advice on the vegetation and soil type of their land, adds Wynand. “You must know under what conditions restoration is feasible, how different soils and climate conditions influence survival of cuttings and rates of carbon capture, and the best way of planting spekboom cuttings.”

But can a landowner earn carbon credits from intact spekboom thicket? Wynand explains, “It’s very difficult to qualify for credits for intact vegetation, this would normally only apply to vast tracts (tens of thousands of hectares) of tropical woodland or forest. But this may be an option in the future”.

And on whether livestock can graze veld that has been planted with spekboom for carbon credits, Wynand notes, “Browsing by game and livestock could seriously retard the rate of restoration, so landowners and managers would have to exclude livestock from restored sites for an extended period.

“The actual period is still in question, with estimates ranging from five years to 10 years. Thereafter, livestock would need to be managed judiciously so the spekboom plants continue to increase in size, vertically and horizontally.

Contact Select Africa on 074 197 8252 or visit

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Spekboom Information

Spekboom: 5 Things You Didn’t Know

There’s no doubt about it, Spekboom (Portulacaria Afra) is a very special plant.

Also known as Pork Bush or Elephant’s Food, this indigenous evergreen is an environmental miracle worker, with the potential to tackle carbon emissions like no other plant can. Whether you’re a succulent fan or have yet to hear about this magnificent tree, here are 5 things you probably didn’t know about this wonder plant.


1. Spekboom is proudly South African

It is found predominantly in the Eastern Cape, and especially in the semi-arid Karoo region, where growing conditions are ideal for this resilient plant. It favours North-facing slopes where it is exposed to maximum sunlight. Thriving in poor soils, it tolerates both drought and frost.

2. Spekboom is one of the best carbon sequestrators in the world

Hectare for hectare, in optimal conditions, Spekboom thicket can be as effective as the Amazon rainforest at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – quite a feat for a plant endemic to semi-arid areas. One hectare of Spekboom can sequester between 4 and 10 tonnes of carbon per year. This makes it a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and the move towards a zero-carbon world.

3. Spekboom can live up to 200 years

And Spekboom trees can grow as tall as 5 metres. Prior to the advent of large-scale livestock farming, some areas of the Eastern Cape had Spekboom forests so thick that it was said a grown human could walk across the top as if walking on a carpet. Spekboom propagates very easily, and a broken-off branch can quickly grow roots and create a whole new plant.

4. Spekboom are equipped with a unique mechanism for adapting to their surroundings

In the wet, cool months, Spekboom photosynthesises like other plants, opening its stomata during the day to absorb carbon dioxide. During drier times, the plant has the ability to open its stomata at night in order to prevent water loss during the heat of the day.

5. Spekboom is edible, with a very high nutritional value

It is a favoured food of black rhinos, elephants and kudus. The good news is that we can eat it too. With a slightly lemony taste, Spekboom leaves are juicy and full of moisture, making them the perfect ‘pick-me-up’ during a long day’s hiking in the arid Karoo. Popular Cape Town restaurants like the Pot Luck Club use this succulent as accents to their beautifully crafted dishes.

How can Spekboom be used for conservation?

Due to its multiple beneficial properties, Spekboom is a favoured plant for landscape restoration projects. One such programme is located in the Eastern Cape’s Great Karoo at Samara Private Game Reserve. Consisting of 11 former livestock farms in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, one of the reserve’s vegetation biomes is the sub-tropical thicket. 200 years ago, this biome would have been home to impenetrable Spekboom thicket. Today, overgrazing by goats and sheep has denuded the landscape of much of its vegetation, leaving only pockets of Spekboom amidst the bare red earth.

Samara’s mission to actively restore its degraded landscapes has focused on the planting of Spekboom in previously overgrazed areas. Not only is the plant indigenous, but its roots act to compact the soil, preventing it from being washed away. The benefits are multiple – better-quality soil, ideal conditions for the growth of grasses and other plants, forage for wildlife, and of course climate change mitigation.

In May 2010, the first batch of Spekboom was planted on the reserve by a class of learners from Spandau Secondary School, Graaff-Reinet. Since then, Samara has worked with the University of Stellenbosch and other scientists to develop a Spekboom conservation model that ensures the highest rate of success and plant survival. Samara’s volunteers, staff and guests take part in this planting project as a means of offsetting their carbon debts.

Ultimately, Spekboom planting could provide an opportunity for carbon sequestration and job creation on a much larger scale in the province.

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Gin & Tonic Cocktail with Fynbos honey and Spekboom

South Africa has an abundance of amazing delicacies to offer. This Gin & Tonic Cocktail with Fynbos honey and Spekboom throws everything this country has to offer into the tastiest cocktail ever.

There’s so much to love about South Africa. The friendly people, abundance of different cultures, the incredible plant-life, animals, and now, the ever-growing craft gin industry. This Gin & Tonic Cocktail with Fynbos honey and Spekboom is a proudly South African cocktail just in time for the festive season. It celebrates everything we love about this country.

This zesty and aromatic cocktail uses spekboom (elephant bush) as a garnish but it’s so much more than that. This indigenous plant is stacked with nutrients and is a very important plant to many cultures in health and nutrition. It grows quite quickly so it is easy to cultivate and also keeps the bee population alive. This cocktail is sweetened with proudly South African Fynbos honey for an even more authentic taste. Also, the L-Gin Plush Craft Gin is made with locally grown Juniper and rounded off with coriander, lemon peel and angelica root to round off a well balanced and smooth gin.

You will be spoiled for choice with tons of different flavours, all combined for one incredible G&T cocktail. The festive season is here, and you and your guests will love this Gin & Tonic Cocktail with Fynbos honey and Spekboom. Masonwabe!


Gin & Tonic Cocktail with Fynbos honey and Spekboom Recipe

Prep time




  • 50 ml L-Gin Plush Craft oak matured gin
  • 5 ml Fynbos honey
  • 20 ml naartjie juice (freshly squeezed)
  • spekboom sprig
  • naartjie slices
  • Fitch & Leeds Indian Tonic


  • Add the gin, Fynbos honey and naartjie juice into a cocktail shaker and shake for 20 seconds.
  • Pour into rocks glass (tumbler) over ice.
  • Top up with Fitch & Leeds Indian Tonic.
  • Garnish with spekboom and naartjie slice.

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Tracy’s Roasted Cherry Tomato Tart with Spekboom Salsa


Serves: 4 people

Preparation time: 60 min

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pinch pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 punnets cherry tomatoes
  • 2 portions brie cheese
  • 1 cup caramelised onions
  • 1/2 cup spekboom
  • 1/2 cup cucumber
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tbp sugar
  • pinch salt and pepper

Preparation method

  • Make pastry: Combine all ingredients. Roll out and place in baking dish.
  • Add remaining ingredients.
  • Top with brie cheese, brush edge with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 min.
  • Chop salsa ingredients, mix vinegar and sugar and soak chopped spekboom and cucumber.

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Spekboom, chickpea and tomato salad

  • Recipe By Jacques Erasmus
  • Serves6
  • DifficultyEasy
  • Dietary Considerations Health conscious
  • Prep Time15 minutes
  • Wine / Spirit PairingCedeberg Chenin Blanc 2009


  • 2 x 400 g cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 250 g baby tomatoes, halved
  • 2 avocados, peeled, pitted and sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced and blanched
  • two handfuls spekboom leaves, rinsed
  • Maldon salt, to taste
  • For the dressing, mix together
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 T white-wine vinegar
  • 1 T honey
  • 1 T smooth mustard
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Cooking Instructions

Remove the chickpea shells and place in a salad bowl with the tomato, avocado, onion and spekboom leaves and pour over the dressing.
Lightly mix and allow to rest for 2 to 3 minutes before serving, sprinkled with salt, to taste.

TASTE’s take:
Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) occurs naturally in
the Little Karoo (near Ladysmith), in the Eastern
Cape and towards Mozambique. Or buy your own little plant from Woolworths stores.
The slightly acidic leaves are delicious in this simple salad and  can be substituted with nasturtium leaves if you have trouble finding them.

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Spekboom Caesar Salad

Spekboom Caesar SaladI love everything about a Caesar Salad and the origin of the recipe even more.

The salad’s creation is generally attributed to restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. Cardini was living in San Diego but he was also working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of Prohibition.

His daughter Rosa recounted that her father invented the salad at his restaurant Caesar’s (at the Hotel Cesar) when a Fourth of July rush in 1924 depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the table-side tossing by the chef. Preparing this salad with Spekboom leaves adds to the spirit of Cardini’s Salad by adding local available ingredients.

Spekboom Caesar SaladI love everything about a Caesar Salad and the origin of the recipe even more. The salad’s creation is generally attributed to restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. Cardini was living in San Diego but he was also working in Tijuana where he avoided the restrictions of Prohibition.

His daughter Rosa recounted that her father invented the salad at his restaurant Caesar’s (at the Hotel Cesar) when a Fourth of July rush in 1924 depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the table-side tossing by the chef. Preparing this salad with Spekboom leaves adds to the spirit of Cardini’s Salad by adding local available ingredients.

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 75 ml Willow Creek basil flavoured olive oil
  • 1 cup Spekboom leaves, olive oil and lemon juice to dress
  • 1 packet Baby Gem lettuce hearts
  • 1 cucumber cut into ribbons
  • 1 cup Store bought croutons
  • 1 packet streaky bacon precooked and crispy
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • Micro leaves
  • Parmesan for grating
  • Maldon salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  1. Place the egg yolk, whole grain mustard, lemon zest and juice in a mixing bowl. Whisk together and add the olive oil to make a quick salad dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Toss the spekboom leaves in a bit of olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Arrange the baby gem lettuce and arrange the cucumber ribbons over the lettuce on a platter or plate and dress with the salad dressing, spoon the spekboom leaves over the leaves and garnish with the croutons, crispy streaky bacon, anchovy fillets, micro herbs and season with salt and pepper.

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