“The wildflower biome at the southern tip of Africa is the greatest natural garden on earth, not only because of its unsurpassed floral diversity, breathtaking scenery and novel flavors that the world is only now discovering but also because it holds the seeds of human consciousness. Unearthed in Cape coastal caves is some of the world’s earliest evidence of human creativity and abstract thought, dating back 164,000 years. Fynbos vegetation already covered the landscape at the time of the emergence of this consciousness in homo sapiens, ‘sapiens’ meaning wisdom. By experiencing the ancient flavors of fynbos today, it could be said that we reach into the depths of our origins and sense the first flowering of symbolic thought, the cornerstone of consciousness.” – Giselle Courtney, Founder, Cape Town Fynbos Experience.
I’ve seesawed between South Africa and North America for over twenty years now, sharing Africa’s wildest spaces and most rarified experiences. The Cape is an immensely personal place for me. My family’s roots stretch back nearly 400 years here. Thus, I am always trying to root deeper and sink further into the rich soil of this extraordinary place to better understand my ancestor’s journey and to translate the inherent wonder of this landscape into tangible experiences for our dear guests and friends.
I recently met Giselle Courtney, founder of The Cape Town Fynbos Experience. Although I always knew that fynbos was unique to South Africa and that the Cape floral kingdom is the smallest and richest of the world’s five biomes, with more plant species on Table Mountain than all of Europe! What I learned with Giselle on her farm in Wellington blew my mind. It is such a joy to share this discovery and story with you.
Giselle Courtney initially fell in love with fynbos as a student, leading tours up Table Mountain. After finding her way back to the Western Cape after two decades in Johannesburg, little did she know that the farm she and her husband purchased on the edge of the Winelands had centuries of human history baked into the soil. Roaming their new terrain amongst the fynbos, they found the sharp, pointed stones and tools used by humans during the stone age. These discoveries delivered a direct link to the period defined as the origin of creativity and our collective consciousness – when homo sapiens became homo erectus, standing on two feet. Thus began a passion project that bloomed into a curation of indigenous gourmet herbs, little known outside South Africa. And fynbos represents so much more than flavor.
In these ancient botanicals, whose existence dates back two to five million years, we find an ancient flavor trail leading us all the way back to those very first first homo sapiens who walked this landscape. This incredible experience, is, on the surface, an immersive way to engage and taste the Cape’s protected indigenous flora. But, on a foundational level, it’s a singular journey not only into the tastes, traditional uses and mixology opportunities these plants offer - but into the history, resilience, and rare beauty of the Cape landscape. Engaging with these rare plants acts like a conduit, providing a true sensory connection to our human origins and consciousness, which began here in Africa.
As I sipped water infused with rhino bush, I was reminded that it was named for the now critically endangered rhinos who once roamed around these bushes freely. As we muddled fragrant buchu with mint pelargonium, we discussed the ingenuity of the first people, the Khoisan, who used the same buchu over 200,000 years ago in traditional remedies. Tasting and touching these ancient plants reinforced the truism that stillness and time spent with nature, whether on safari in the vastness of the untamed bush or in the rolling, fynbos-flecked hills of the Cape, is a tonic.
Curating these insider experiences for guests to better immerse into an already extraordinary journey into the wild is invaluable. A few years ago, we shared the largest private garden of fynbos with The Garden Club of America. I remember how these guests exclaimed that it was the most transcendent garden tour they had ever been on. In these moments of raw connection to people and places, we build intense memories and friendships that last a lifetime.
I sizzled with excitement as I drove back to Cape Town, having met Giselle, bursting with an urgency to share all I had uncovered with you - novel flavors, floral diversity, archaeological evidence of the emergence of human consciousness… and an entirely new range of salts, herbs and vinegars to work with. By incorporating our past into the present, Giselle inspired me to search further and reach even deeper into this ancient landscape I call home. She reminded me that Africa is the canvas I get to paint my life on – what a privilege and honor it is to share it. I was equally thrilled that my little story had inspired her, too. In a nod to our specialist journeys, Giselle began to call the Cape region “The Greatest Garden on Earth.” Therein lies the beauty of these exchanges and shared experiences - it all comes back to connection, which, in my opinion, is the ultimate ingredient to a life well-lived.
To embark on your own life-changing adventure, one imbued with singular experiences and undisturbed time in Africa’s wilderness that will leave you forever changed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. I do hope you’ll join us.