Rooibos tea (pronounced ROY-boss) is less well known than its green, black and oolong alternatives, but it has excellent health benefits and a delicate flavor that is sweet and aromatic. Rooibos tea contains antioxidants, enzymes, and chemical compounds that help skin look youthful, reduce inflammation that causes pain, and prevent serious illness.
Rooibos tea, also known as red tea, is unique in that it is grown mainly on the African continent and contains polyphenols such as aspalathin that are not found in any other foods. With powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, drinking a cuppa rooibos tea every day can help you stay healthy.
What is Rooibos Tea?
When ordering red tea, you may be surprised to find that sometimes you end up with a black tea instead of rooibos tea depending what region you are in. This is because in China, the term red tea is used to describe traditional black tea. For all intents and purposes, red tea in the Western world refers to rooibos tea. Rooibos tea does not contain any leaves from the Camellia sinensis tea plant so it is not a true tea.
Rooibos tea—also known as red bush tea and African red tea—is an herbal tea made using the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant. Rooibos means “red bush” in Afrikaans and references the rich, deep crimson of rooibos tea. Rooibos tea is made using the long needle leaves, which are green when still growing on the plant and turn red during the fermentation process.
The Aspalathus linearis plant is native to South Africa and like most teas, contains high levels of polyphenols that provide an array of health benefits. Rooibos is grown mainly in the mountainous Cederberg region of South Africa in the Western Cape province. There are two many types of rooibos tea: red rooibos and green rooibos. Red rooibos tea is oxidized and tastes more similar to black tea and oolong tea. Green rooibos tea is unoxidized and has similar flavor characteristics to green tea.
Rooibos tea has a sweet, nutty flavor that is often compared to hibiscus tea and earthy tones that are similar to yerba mate teas. It is also described has having hints of caramel, vanilla and a smoky essence that is likened to tobacco.
Rooibos has a light mouth feel that is subtle and not overpowering. It's often described as having a neutral, yet sweet flavor profile that can be enhanced with slices of lemon or a dash of honey. It brews into a reddish-brown hue that can be as visually stunning as it is tasty.
Rooibos tea is also caffeine-free, making it a good beverage at any time of the day. Thanks to its high concentration of vitamins and polyphenols, rooibos tea offers not only delicious taste, but also helps to keep you healthy. Rooibos tea can be brewed asa hot tea or as an iced tea.
Rooibos tea contains vital minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and alpha hydroxyl acid. As with most true teas and herbal teas, it also contains high levels of vitamin C along with powerful antioxidants such as aspalathin that offer extensive health benefits. Rooibos tea contains polyphenols that help to fight free radicals, keeping your body healthy and ready to tackle the day.
Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea
1. Aids Weight Loss
Like green tea and black tea, drinking rooibos tea is a good way to enjoy a delicious beverage without packing on the pounds. Each cup of rooibos tea contains only 2 to 4 calories, so you can drink this delightfully smoky beverage without worrying about ruining your diet. Keep in mind that adding sugar, honey or other sweeteners can rack up the calorie count, so keep additions to a minimum if your goal is to lose weight.
2. Improves Appearance of Skin
Rooibos tea contains alpha hydroxy acid, which is one of the main ingredients in skin treatments such as chemical peels that you can get at your dermatologist’s office. Not particularly common in foods, alpha hydroxy acid in rooibos tea can aid in your skin care routine and help to reduce wrinkles.
In a 28-day clinical study, a formula of tea and rooibos demonstrated almost a 10 percent improvement in the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Rooibos tea offers a soothing effect, thereby reducing irritation and redness resulting in more even-toned skin. Rooibos tea also contains zinc, which has shown potential to help treat common skin conditions such as eczema and acne (1).
Rooibos tea contains superoxide dismutase, which has anti-aging properties and helps to slow down the development of wrinkles. Superoxide dismutase is an enzyme that works to produce healthy skin cells that keep you looking young longer. This enzyme works alongside other antioxidants in rooibos tea to fight free radicals that can accelerate the aging process. While more research is needed, there is evidence that drinking a cup or two of rooibos tea per day can keep skin looking even and youthful.
3. Alleviates Pain
Rooibos tea contains antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce inflammation and feelings of aches and pains. The anti-spasmodic compounds in rooibos tea help to alleviate abdominal pain such as stomach cramps by activating potassium ions throughout the body (2).
By reducing inflammation, rooibos tea can also aid in treating the painful symptoms of arthritis. Rooibos tea is also high in vitamin C, which works to repair collagen and connective tissue in the joints.
This South African brew contains a bioactive flavonoid known as chrysoeriol, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Working as a bronchodilator, rooibos tea can help relieve the feelings of wheezing and coughing that are caused by allergic rhinitis and asthma (3).
Rooibos tea contains another flavonoid called Quercetin which helps to prevent allergies from triggering in the first place. Quercetin essentially blocks mast cells, which are responsible for releasing histamine, the main element that triggers an allergic response (4).
In essence, rooibos tea works as an antihistamine, without the drowsy side effects that come along with many of those medications. While not a replacement for advanced allergy treatments such an inhaled corticosteroids and high doses of antihistamines, drinking a few cups of rooibos tea every day can limit your body's over-reactive immune response that triggers allergies.
5. Helps Build Strong Bones
Like the true teas and many herbal tisanes, rooibos tea contains minerals such as calcium, manganese and fluoride that help build strong bones. These minerals produce increased activity of osteoblast calls, which are responsible for building strong bone mass (5).
While many teas contain these essential minerals that help protect healthy bones and prevent diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis, rooibos contains two other compounds that are even more beneficial to bone health. Rooibos tea contains the flavonoids luteolin and orientin, which studies have shown have the potential to increase mineral content in bones (6).
6. Streamlines Digestion
Many Americans struggle with digestive problems. The increasing incidence of illnesses such as Celiac disease, acid reflux and chronic upset stomach shows no signs of stopping. While many digestive problems can be attributed to a poor diet high in processed foods, there is also increasing support for the potential digestive benefits of drinking tea.
Rooibos tea contains several nutrients that are antispasmodic, which help to prevent stomach pains. A study published in the Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology Journal showed that compounds such as quercetin, orientin and vitexin helped to relax the digestive system and relieve feelings of discomfort. This same study demonstrated that tannins in rooibos tea had the potential to reduce symptoms of diarrhea (7).
Rooibos tea also has beneficial effects for the immune system.It's chock full of vitamins and minerals that help support immune function and fend off invading pathogens that can make you sick. Rooibos may be effective in eliminating pathogens that cause stomach upset and diarrhea.
7. May Help Control or Prevent Diabetes
Drinking rooibos tea may help to keep diabetes in check or to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. A 2013 Tokyo animal study showed that polyphenols in rooibos tea work to regulate blood sugar levels and increase glucose tolerance in diabetic mice. Even though rooibos tea won't cure diabetes, it may help decrease insulin resistance and improve symptoms (8).
Specifically, the polyphenol aspalathin works to increase glucose uptake and suppressed the increase in fasting glucose levels that can lead to blood sugar spikes in diabetic individuals. The mice in this study were given aspalathin in levels similar to those present in rooibos tea for five weeks. The mice were also shown to have lower levels of expression in genes that have been connected to hereditary risks of diabetes.
8. Supports Heart Health
Rooibos tea is excellent for heart health and helps to keep blood circulation pumping smoothly. Containing the chrysoeriol flavonoid that is a bronchodilator, this compound is also an effective agent for lowering high blood pressure and increasing circulation. The relaxing effects of rooibos tea help to open up blood vessels while antioxidants work to lower bad cholesterol and prevent plaque buildup.
A 2015 Korean study found that the aspalathin that is credited with regulating symptoms of diabetes could also prevent dangerous illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. Aspalathin works to reduce the risk of hypertension through hormone regulation. This polyphenol can also help to prevent vascular inflammation that can restrict blood flow to the heart (9).
Side Effects of Rooibos Tea
Red rooibos tea is generally safe to drink and has demonstrated little to no side effects. Existing side effects are restricted to certain populations and typically only occur in large doses.
Rooibos tea has demonstrated estrogenic activity, which means it can increase the production of the female hormone, estrogen. While typically nothing to be concerned about, people with breast cancer or other hormone-sensitive diseases may want to consult with a doctor before drinking rooibos tea.
Interactions With Medications
As with many other teas, the antioxidants and chemical compounds of rooibos tea may interfere with medications. Consult your physician before adding rooibos tea to your diet if you are taking any medications. Remember that research is ongoing so using rooibos tea as a replacement for any medications without consultation with medical professionals is not advised.
How to Brew Rooibos Tea
Rooibos tea can be consumed cold for a refreshing break during the summertime heat, or as a piping hot drink to warm up when you're feeling under the weather or heading in from the cold. Since it contains no caffeine, you can drink rooibos tea before bed and don't have to worry about insomnia.
Step 1: Prepare Tea Leaves
If you are using a rooibos tea bag, simply brew according to the directions. If you are brewing loose leaf rooibos tea, aim for one heaping teaspoon of leaves for every 8 ounces of water. In between uses, make sure to store tea leaves in a dark, airtight container to preserve the flavour and aroma profiles.
Step 2: Prepare Water
Rooibos tea is best enjoyed using pure or filtered water. Make sure not to use distilled water when brewing tea because it does not allow the flavours to develop properly. Rooibos tea should be brewed using boiling water.
Step 3: Steep the Rooibos Tea
Rooibos tea should be steeped for at least 4 to 5 minutes although some brands recommend steeping up to 10 minutes for greater antioxidant development. You can consume as is or add a splash of milk, honey or sugar for a sweeter flavour.
Brew Rooibos Tea for Health
Rooibos tea shows promise when it comes to treating common ailments such as pain and skin conditions, as well as more serious diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. With a rich, crimson colour that is visually pleasing along with a smoky, fruity and subtle flavour profile, drinking rooibos tea is a pleasure. Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy a sweet tea experience and reap the health benefits.