Rooibos (pronounced “roy-boss”) is a non-caffeinated African cousin of tea. It is quickly gaining popularity as an alternative to tea. And if you consider yourself health-conscious, then rooibos tea benefits for health should not be ignored.
The benefits of rooibos include enhancing heart health and bolstering the immune system. They are certainly well covered in media and science journals, but what about its side effects?
We’ll share all the health-related information about rooibos tea in this article. At the end you’ll also find answers to some of the most asked questions.
What Is Rooibos Tea?
Rooibos tea (meaning “red bush”) has deep roots in South Africa where it grows on the country’s west coast from a native plant called Aspalathus linearis. Sandy soil conditions appear to be the magical environment needed to grow this plant.
The name Rooibos translates to “red bush” due to its red and brown hue after the plant leaves are left in the sun. The drink is caffeine-free and low in tannins because it is not a true tea, like black tea or green tea, but rather a herbal infusion. Red rooibos tea is typically described as tasting earthy, yet naturally sweet and fruity.
It was not until 1772 that Rooibos became known worldwide when the Khoi and San Indigenous groups of South Africa introduced the infusion to Swedish botanist Mr. Carl Thunberg.
The first exporter of Rooibos was a Russian immigrant to South Africa, Benjamin Ginsberg. He saw the tea’s potential in 1904 and became the first exporter of rooibos.
You can find rooibos tea in two forms. Red rooibos tea is left to dry in the sun after the plant leaves are cut and fermented. This leads red tea to taste smooth and fruity.
The green rooibos tea is cut in the same fashion, but there is no fermentation process – it goes immediately to dry and bathe in the sun. So, the green version tastes more earthy, smoky, and grassy than the red rooibos tea. The lack of fermentation also means green rooibos tea retains more of its natural antioxidants.
In the US, most of the rooibos tea sold is red. The green rooibos tea requires more effort to find, but it’s becoming more popular as drinkers learn more about the health benefits of rooibos.
What Is Rooibos Tea Good For?
The Japanese call rooibos the “long life tea” because of its anti-aging compounds. The benefits of rooibos tea make it not just a delicious drink, but as a superfood. Here are the benefits of rooibos tea:
1) It’s performance-enhancing
Professor Simeon Davies co-authored a study on the health benefits of rooibos tea and its particular effects on sports performance. The head of sports management at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, says the clinical study showed a five percent increase in physical performance when participants supplemented their diet with rooibos tea. The participants were tasked with doing upper body exercises until exhaustion.
Davies says research showed that the tea’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may have contributed to the improvement in performance. He says rooibos tea’s unique polyphenols and flavonoids work together in such a way as to help boost a person under oxidative stress. So, there is increasing evidence that rooibos tea may help lower muscular damage, fatigue, and soreness.
2) Improves heart health
Another one of the benefits of rooibos tea is its power in fighting free radicals in the body, lowering blood pressure, and preventing heart disease. Ernest Du Toit of the SA Rooibos Council says the tea seems to affect the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which indirectly increases your blood pressure by causing blood vessels to contract. He says the tea also affects a particular enzyme found to cause heart disease – medication is usually prescribed to suppress it.
Rooibos tea contains a specific flavonoid called chrysoeriol. The flavonoid acts the same way as medication and also works as a bronchodilator. So, it helps you breathe while lowering blood pressure.
And Du Toit says animal studies have found rooibos tea lowers cholesterol in the bloodstream, particularly the LDL or bad cholesterol, which can clog arteries and eventually cause heart attacks or stroke.
However, you need to drink about six cups a day to get those health benefits.
3) Good for people with type 2 diabetes
The antioxidants found in rooibos tea, in particular, aspalathin and nothofagin, have been found to affect metabolic health markers including balancing blood sugar levels and reducing insulin resistance and vascular inflammation. Medically reviewed studies on mice have so far shown links between unfermented rooibos or green tea and improvement in fasting blood sugar levels. In general, these studies are revealing that rooibos tea seems to improve insulin resistance by lowering blood sugar levels, which decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Rooibos is also proving to be good for fatty liver disease. Experts say it raises the antioxidants of rats’ livers and could be used in the treatment of chronic liver disease in the future.
4) Supports weight loss and weight management
The drink itself is not only caffeine-free, but it has no calories. Tied in with what we know about rooibos aiding in digestion and healthy liver functioning, rooibos tea may be a vital addition to a weight loss regimen. Since the tea is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, it could help support the nutritional holes that often happen when you begin a new diet or lifestyle change.
5) It’s calming and relaxing
One of the more significant minerals present in rooibos tea is magnesium. Many people are deficient in this mineral, which can lead to twitches, tremors, and muscle cramps. Drinking rooibos tea daily can help in calming the body and can even relieve stomach and digestive problems. Mixed with other rooibos minerals like zinc, and calcium, the rooibos tea can help in relieving stress and relaxing the body for sleep.
It’s also important to note that, unlike black tea and green tea, rooibos tea is naturally caffeine-free, so you can drink this herbal tea in the evening and not worry about your quality of sleep. That also means that pregnant women and children can enjoy it too. Some say red rooibos tea helps prevent or ease headaches as well.
6) Reduces the risk of cancer
Rooibos tea is rich in the flavonoids, quercetin and luteolin. These powerful antioxidants have been shown in at least one study to be anti-inflammatory and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Researchers found that when the cells were treated with specific amounts of these antioxidants, they basically stopped the progression of cancerous growth.
Researchers also cite the complex mix of compounds present in rooibos tea as possibly stopping a cell from becoming cancerous even if it shows signs of damaged DNA.
Of course, more studies need to be done, in particular, human studies. Also, the tea is not as rich in antioxidants as other fruits and vegetables.
7) Improves skin health
Rooibos tea contains anti-aging properties including alpha-hydroxy acids and zinc, providing valuable skin protection. Those flavonoids once again seem to be in play here as they have been found to reduce wrinkles by up to 10 percent.
Du Toit says the best way to see noticeable skincare benefits is to drink two to three cups of rooibos tea a day. However, you can also apply it directly to your skin. Add three cups of boiling water to one or two tea bags, let them cool, and place them on your face for at least 10 minutes.
Rooibos has also been known to soothe skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis.
Rooibos can tame the symptoms of allergies. The bioflavonoids, rutin, and quercetin are histamine-blockers, meaning they stop the release of chemicals your body produces in response to allergens. So, a cup or two of this tea may alleviate symptoms like itchy eyes or a runny nose.
Also, you can reduce any skin irritations by making a tea-infused bath and soaking in it for at least 10 minutes.
Soothe puffy and sore eyes by treating them with cooled rooibos tea bags.
Annique Theron realized in 1968 that rooibos tea “cured” her baby of chronic restlessness, vomiting, and stomach cramps. This discovery was a major step in recognizing the herbal tea as a health booster.
Side effects of rooibos tea
Studies are continuing to further prove and strengthen health claims about rooibos tea with the prediction that it may be considered a drug in the future. However, as with any beverage that has health effects, it’s important to know that they may incur side effects in some people. Here are the potential side effects of rooibos tea.
You may have read reports of people getting headaches from sipping rooibos. For instance, one drinker says she finished two large cups of red rooibos tea before bed, and woke at 3 am with a pounding headache. It stopped just short of being a migraine. She says she has never had another cup of rooibos and never had another headache.
The red rooibos is thought to be the culprit in causing these symptoms. During its fermentation process, an amino acid called tyramine is produced. There is a link between high amounts of tyramine and migraine headaches.
Sufferers are typically told to avoid foods that are aged or heavily fermented. They include cheese, as well as drinks like colas and coffee. However, rooibos is said to have lower amounts of this element. Green rooibos is likely a better option if you are fearful or susceptible to experiencing headaches or migraines. You should seek medical advice if you are experiencing prolonged periods of headaches.
2) Liver problems
One case study in 2013 showed that there may be a connection between drinking a high volume of rooibos tea daily and liver damage. The 52-year-old man recovered from liver failure after he stopped drinking the tea. Researchers noted that this type of illness is rarely reported. However, they do confirm that the man suffered from a liver injury due to a “herbal cause”.
3) Hormone sensitivity
There are some compounds in rooibos tea that have been found to affect the female sex hormone, estrogen. This can be a problem for those who have hormone-related cancers like breast cancer, since it may stimulate production and cause the cancer cells to grow.
Negative reactions from drinking rooibos tea are rare. In general, rooibos tea is safe to drink.
How to brew rooibos tea
In just a few steps, you can relish a traditional cup of rooibos tea:
- Boil about eight ounces of water in a kettle or saucepan. You can boil a little extra water if you like to warm up your teapot before adding tea.
- One teaspoon of loose-leaf tea or one tea bag can be added for every eight ounces of water. Or you can measure according to your preferred taste. If you’re using a teapot, pour the hot water over the tea leaves or tea bag in your teapot.
- Turn the stove to medium-low heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Or cover your teapot and let steep for a minimum of five minutes. If you want a stronger taste, let the tea sit for eight minutes or more.
- Strain the tea leaves using a fine mesh strainer.
- You can add milk, honey, or even a slice of lemon to your cup.
Tip: Rooibos can be made into iced tea, mixed with fruit juice or wine as a special cocktail.
Frequently Asked Questions About Rooibos Tea
Does rooibos tea have caffeine?
No, red bush tea has no caffeine. This makes it an ideal drink if you are sensitive to caffeinated drinks or if you are pregnant. You can also enjoy it pre-bedtime as a relaxing and calming treat.
What does rooibos tea taste like?
You won’t find a true consensus on the taste of red rooibos tea or green rooibos tea. Depending on what form of the drink you are consuming, it runs the gamut between soft and sweet to nutty and smoky.
Plain rooibos leans towards caramel, earthy, and tobacco flavors, whereas flavored versions can be described as sweet, fruity, and a little nutty. It’s a good idea to start with the flavored version like Vanilla Rooibos, Orange Rooibos, or Almond Coconut if you’ve never had the tea before.
You can also blend plain tea with other teas to round it out or change it up. Steeping the tea for a longer time will bring out more of the tea’s flavors and make it darker in color. And you can add your choice of milk, honey, or lemon to adapt the flavor to your preference. Some drinkers add maple syrup to their rooibos tea as well.
How much rooibos tea should I drink a day?
Rooibos is safe to drink and having several cups throughout the day should not be a problem. You can enjoy up to six cups a day to truly get the effects of antioxidants in rooibos tea discussed previously.
Can you drink rooibos tea when breastfeeding?
Rooibos tea is safe to drink for breastfeeding mothers. It is decaffeinated and is also low in tannins, which can sometimes cause nausea or low iron. Since rooibos is commonly used as a relaxant, nursing mothers can indulge in up to three cups of this herbal infusion. In fact, rooibos tea has been used to calm babies with colic – helping relieve stomach cramps and irritability.
Does rooibos tea make you sleepy?
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence behind rooibos tea as a calming and soothing drink to make an argument for taking it before bed. The magnesium and calcium in the tea affect the nervous system, leading to relaxation of the body. A cup one hour before bed may make you feel sleepy, but the tea tends to affect individual drinkers differently.
Rooibos tea is growing in popularity as the list of its known health benefits grows. It’s full of antioxidants helping to protect the body against metabolic and cardiovascular conditions.
The sweet, nutty, and earthy taste appeals to tea drinkers who are looking for a non-caffeinated beverage. It’s also called the “yoga of tea drinkers” – for those who want a healthy way to unwind in the evening.
There are reported side effects from drinking rooibos, but they are rare. Still, the tea is not a medicine, so it should be consumed in moderation, like any other tea. There are so many ways to enjoy this unique South African delight, hot and cold. You can keep a pot of rooibos on for hours without it losing its flavor.
Now that you’ve learned about rooibos tea benefits, learn about black tea benefits next: “What Is Black Tea Good For?“
- In vitro comparison of various antioxidants and flavonoids from Rooibos as beta-cell protectants against lipotoxicity and oxidative stress-induced cell death. Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Selective bronchodilatory effect of Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis) and its flavonoid, chrysoeriol. Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Blockade of the epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase activity by quercetin and luteolin leads to growth inhibition and apoptosis of pancreatic tumor cells.Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Rooibos Council. Sarooibos.co.za
- Sports science | Potential benefits of rooibos tea.
- Rooibos Tea and Health – A Systematic Review of the Evidence from the Last Two Decades. Researchgate.net/publication
- Clinical efficacy comparison of anti-wrinkle cosmetics containing herbal flavonoids. Pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Tyramine and Migraines. Webmd.com
- Tea not Tincture: Hepatotoxicity Associated with Rooibos Herbal Tea. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Disputing a Name, Developing a Geographical Indication. WIPO.int
- The Plights of African Resources Patenting Through the Lenses of the World Trade Organisation: An Assessment of South Africa’s Rooibos Tea’s Labyrinth Journey. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov