As researchers explore the mechanisms behind various rooibos tea benefits, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this delicious, on-trend, and completely caffeine-free beverage contains a wealth of nutrients and anti-inflammatory properties that can improve your overall health and immune system in numerous ways.
In the mid-2000s, rooibos tea began attracting lots of attention in the United States. Gabrielle Jammal, a tea sommelier for the Baccarat Hotel in New York, believes this popularity is well-deserved, calling rooibos one of the most “accessible and delicious” teas out there in an interview. “It’s got notes of honey and vanilla, it’s a little bit herbal, you can have it super light or super strong, and it’s got this beautiful color,” Jammal said.
Oh, and did we mention it contains 50% more free-radical-destroying antioxidants than those found in black or green teas?
Rooibos tea, pronounced “roy-boss,” is made from the leaves of the rooibos plant called Aspalathus linearis that grows in the mountains near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Thanks to the plant’s broom-like appearance and rusty hue the leaves take on during fermentation, it’s also known as red bush tea and African red tea.
It’s possible to purchase unfermented green rooibos tea, which has a grassier flavor and typically costs more than red rooibos tea. It does contain higher levels of antioxidants, however, which may justify the price if you also enjoy the taste.
Rooibos: Better Than Black and Green Teas?
As we already mentioned, rooibos tea contains more antioxidants than black tea or green tea, which contain between 0.57 to 2.62 mmol/100 g and 0.75 to 1.21 mmol/100 g respectively. Rooibos tea also contains powerful antioxidants not found in green and black teas, such as a rare flavonoid called aspalathin that can help keep oxidative stress at bay. Rooibos also contains additional anti-inflammatory flavonoids such as nothofagin and chrysoeriol, which can exert beneficial effects on numerous chronic health conditions.
Rooibos also differs from green and black teas in that it has quite a low tannin content. That means no matter how long you steep it, it never gets bitter, just richer and more intense in its flavor. Tannins have also been shown to interfere with nutrient absorption, so even if you’re not put off by bitterness, it’s best to limit your intake of these natural compounds.
Another point in favor of rooibos tea—it contains far less oxalic acid than green or black tea does. Consuming too much oxalic acid can make you more likely to develop calcium oxalate kidney stones, the most common type. Doctors frequently recommend an oxalate-controlled diet for patients with kidney problems.
Last but not least, rooibos tea is caffeine-free, so if you’re looking for a warming beverage that won’t leave you jittery, or have chosen to avoid caffeine for health reasons, you should definitely give rooibos tea a try.
As with anything you consume, you will want to seek out organic rooibos. In fact, some people insist it’s always better to drink organic tea. The whole question of organic certification can get quite thorny, and seeking out suppliers you trust tends to be a better way to find high-quality tea than depending on a label.
You can also find rooibos with natural flavorings added in, such as vanilla rooibos, coffee rooibos, chocolate rooibos, and even apple-flavored rooibos.
Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea
Heart health, cancer protection, type 2 diabetes protection, appetite control, and glowing skin: 5 benefits of rooibos that make this herbal tea more than just an afternoon or morning delight.
Rooibos Tea Benefit #1: A Healthier Heart
Flavonoids, a kind of polyphenol antioxidant found in rooibos tea, can decrease your risk of dying from heart disease. They may do this by preventing the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein and reducing thrombotic tendency, though more studies are needed to determine exactly how flavonoids protect your heart.
Drinking rooibos tea inhibits angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which causes blood vessels to contract and blood pressure levels to rise. One study published in Public Health Nutrition found that rooibos tea can inhibit ACE activity for 30-60 minutes after you drink it.
A separate study, conducted by researchers at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Bellville, South Africa, found that drinking rooibos tea daily for 6 weeks decreased participants’ low-density (LDL) cholesterol levels—yes, that’s the “bad” kind. They also found a small increase in participants’ “good,” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels.
Rooibos Tea Benefit #2: Decreased Cancer Risk
Two kinds of antioxidants found in rooibos tea, quercetin and luteolin, have been shown to kill cancer cells and prevent tumor growth. Studies published in the International Journal of Cancer and Anticancer Research have looked specifically at how these antioxidants can limit the growth of and encourage apoptotic cell death in pancreatic cancer cells.
More research is needed, however, to determine the effect of the quantities of these antioxidants found in rooibos tea, as well as how well the body absorbs them, before a conclusive statement can be made about their ability to prevent cancer growth.
Rooibos Health Benefit #3: Lowered Risk of Diabetes
Rooibos is one of the only known sources of an antioxidant called aspalathin, which research indicates can balance blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance, two of the most celebrated effects of rooibos. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition based on trials with mice showed that aspalathin has anti-diabetic potential. Again, more human studies need to be done to see how the aspalathin in rooibos impacts human health.
Rooibos Health Benefit #4: Less Mindless Snacking
A study conducted by prominent South African researchers found that drinking rooibos tea can increase your leptin secretion. Leptin signals your body that you’ve had enough to eat, helping reduce your urge to mindlessly snack. The researchers also found that drinking rooibos tea prevented new fat cells from forming and sped the metabolism of existing fat.
These findings, from in vitro research, suggest rooibos could be a good aid for healthy weight-loss efforts.
Rooibos Health Benefit #5: Better Skin
To access this benefit, you may need to whip up a DIY face mask. A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science showed that skin care treatments containing rooibos tea leave your skin looking more moisturized and smoother. And rooibos had an especially dramatic effect on wrinkles, the most significant of any of the plant compounds tested.
Enjoying Rooibos Tea
Making the perfect cup of rooibos tea is simple.
Steep 3 teaspoons of tea leaves in 2 cups of boiling water for a minimum of 6 minutes to make 2 cups of rooibos tea. The longer you steep it, the more antioxidant-infused it will be.
Enjoy hot or cold, with sweetener or without.
If you want to get fancy, you can whip up a rooibos latte, espresso, or cappuccino, all of which are making star appearances at local coffee shops across the nation. Don’t miss out!