It has an exotic name that’s difficult to pronounce, but despite this — or perhaps because of it — rooibos tea has been exploding in popularity.
Rooibos (pronounced roy-BOSS) is a tea touted for many health benefits ranging from wrinkle reduction to cancer prevention. But is rooibos tea really a super-beverage? Or is it just a fad?
As you’ll find out, this caffeine-free tea is more than just a sweet herbal tea — it can give your immune system a huge boost. And many of its claims can be backed by scientific evidence. Read on to discover the real rooibos tea benefits.
Despite the name, rooibos isn’t a true tea — it’s an herbal infusion or tisane (pronounced ti-ZAHN). Rooibos tea, also known as red bush tea or red tea, is made using the leaves from the Aspalathus linearis.
This plant is a bush grown only in the Cedarberg and neighboring mountains of the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The needle-like leaves of the rooibos are harvested and bruised to encourage oxidation. It is left to oxidize in the sun until it develops the characteristic deep, rich red color and sweet flavor.
Most commercially available rooibos teas are made from fermented leaves, although “green rooibos” is made from non-oxidized rooibos leaves. Because it does not undergo oxidation, green rooibos is said to have higher antioxidant content than red rooibos tea[*].
Although South Africans have long considered rooibos tea the national drink, it wasn’t until the 1900s that rooibos started being cultivated on a large scale to be exported to countries worldwide.
The U.S. also hardly imported any rooibos until the early 2000s, mainly due to the economic sanctions on South Africa. But since then, rooibos tea has enjoyed explosive popularity in the U.S.
What Does Rooibos Tea Taste Like?
Some say it has a hint of vanilla, honey, or nut. Then there are those that say it has a fruity or even a flowery taste.
Whichever way you want to describe it, part of the surge in popularity of fermented rooibos tea is likely due to its mild and slightly sweet taste. Many people get cravings for sweets while on the keto diet, and this tea’s natural sweetness makes it a great substitute for a sugar cookie.
On the other hand, green or unfermented rooibos has a grassier taste and is less sweet. Still, neither fermented or unfermented rooibos has a bitter taste common to many other types of teas.
So, if you’ve been avoiding teas because of their bitter taste, you may want to give rooibos tea a chance.
You may be wondering: If rooibos tea is not a “true tea,” does it provide the same beneficial effects?
The short answer is yes. In fact, the substantial health benefits are a big part of the reason why rooibos has enjoyed such a surge in popularity.
Some supposed health benefits, such as its ability to decrease stomach cramps and improve bone health are still being researched. However, the following ten rooibos tea benefits are backed by science.
#1: It’s Full of Powerful Antioxidants
Like other types of teas, rooibos tea benefits include high levels of polyphenols. These chemical compounds receive considerable attention from researchers for their health benefits[*].There are several types of polyphenols:
- Phenolic acids
Of these, you’ve most likely heard of flavonoids. They’re responsible for giving your fruits and vegetables those luscious colors. They also have powerful antioxidative, anti-mutagenic, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory properties that make them an indispensable part of supplements and medicines[*].
Rooibos tea is brimming with flavonoids, including one that only exists in the rooibos plant: aspalathin. In addition to aspalathin, the following flavonoids have been identified in rooibos tea (in decreasing order of abundance):
As you’ll soon see, aspalathin and nothofagin could have significant health effects. In one 200 mL cup, rooibos tea can supply as much as 60 to 80 mg of polyphenols, depending on factors such as brewing time, quality grade, and the amount of leaves used[*][*].
While this may sound like a lot, it’s not as much as green tea, matcha, or black tea.
However, the polyphenols in rooibos tea are different from the ones in green and black teas, so you shouldn’t judge their potential health benefits based solely on their total polyphenol content.
#2: Rooibos Tea Might Help Prevent Cancer
there are many studies on the benefits of antioxidants on cancer cells. Of the flavonoids in rooibos, quercetin and luteolin have been extensively studied, and have shown anti-cancer benefits such as:
- Protecting against DNA damage[*]
- Stopping tumor growth and spread of cancer cells[*]
- Blocking pro-inflammatory enzymes[*]
- Blocking the formation of lipid peroxides, which damages cell membranes along with free radicals[*]
Although aspalathin hasn’t been studied as extensively as the two above, research so far has shown that it can:
- Inhibit certain types of tumors[*]
- Block X-ray induced transformation of cells into cancerous cells[*]
- Protect genes by preventing mutations[*]
Unfermented rooibos tea has considerably more flavonoids than the fermented version. And while the antioxidant content of rooibos tea might sound exciting, it’s important to remember that there isn’t much evidence of its benefits from human clinical trials.
In other words, scientists aren’t sure yet if rooibos tea can help prevent cancer. And that may be because rooibos tea does not have a long-term effect on blood antioxidant levels.
#3: It’s Good for Your Skin
Rooibos tea has incredible mineral content, including calcium, iron, magnesium, and something called alpha hydroxy acid, one of the main ingredients you see in many skin-care products. For this reason, many people believe it can help with your skin health, although research is still growing[*][*].
The flavonoids in rooibos tea may also help prevent wrinkles. In one clinical study, 20 healthy women between the ages of 36 and 52 were asked to apply commercial anti-wrinkle gels containing a mixture of tea (Camellia sinensis) and rooibos and soybean (Glycin soja). Researchers noted that the mixture was effective on wrinkle reduction after use for 28 days[*].
#4: It’s Good For Your Hair
Rooibos tea might also help you grow more hair. In one study, men with male-pattern baldness used a topical blend of licochalcone, shiso, green rooibos tea (unfermented rooibos), and saw palmetto. They saw an increase in hair density, number of active hair follicles, and hair growth rates comparable to Rogaine® Extra Strength[*].
#5: It Might Help Heal Wounds
Both fermented and unfermented rooibos can be effective at treating wounds. However, in the cases of chronic wounds, green rooibos is better suited for treatment due to its higher phenolic content, especially aspalathin.
#6: Could Be Good for Your Brain
To prevent cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, scientists have been studying dietary antioxidants, such as vitamin C, glutathione, and polyphenols in the hopes that they might be able to help limit the excessive amount of free radicals released in the brain.
Among polyphenols, flavonoids like aspalathin have been receiving special interest for treating neurodegenerative diseases.The brain is a difficult organ to target with drugs because of a protective barrier called the blood-brain barrier. Just like a security screening at an airport, the blood-brain barrier is extremely selective about the substances it allows to pass through.
But since flavonoids can cross this barrier, it means that they can directly access the brain to slow disease progression[*]. This may be good news for Alzheimer’s disease research.
When designing drugs, researchers have to know how the drug will interact with the target molecule, usually a protein. In one study of 39 flavonoids evaluated, aspalathin was one of seven that had the best results for Alzheimer’s disease with no toxicity risks and high absorption rates[*].
#7: May Be Good for Your Heart Health
The heart health benefits of rooibos tea is more extensively studied. This means that there is good scientific evidence that rooibos tea may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
One way it does so is by inhibiting the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). ACE is involved in the production of a protein that can raise blood pressure, which is why someone is prescribed an ACE inhibitor like lisinopril to treat high blood pressure.
A study of 17 healthy volunteers showed significant ACE inhibition 30 to 60 minutes after drinking rooibos tea. No decrease in blood pressure was observed[*]. However, this was not a long-term study.
A previous study using black tea showed a reduction in blood pressure after a week[*]. Another study showed that drinking six cups of rooibos tea daily can lower levels of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and other fats in your blood while increasing the “good” cholesterol, decreasing your risk of heart attacks, stroke, and other forms of heart disease[*].
This could have been due to the significant increase in glutathione, one of your body’s most important antioxidants[*].
#8: Has No Caffeine and Low Tannin Content and Oxalic Acid
If you’re looking to reduce caffeine consumption or avoid it altogether, rooibos tea is an excellent choice. It’s naturally caffeine-free, so it doesn’t lose any of its antioxidant content during the decaffeination process[*].
Rooibos tea has low levels of tannin (about 3.2% to 4.4%), an antioxidant responsible for the astringent and bitter taste associated with many teas[*]. Despite its cancer-fighting and cardiovascular benefits, tannins can reduce the absorption of iron[*]. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that rooibos tea won’t block iron absorption, its effects appear to be less significant compared to that of green and black teas[*].
Rooibos tea has low oxalic acid when compared to other teas. Having low oxalic acid content may help decrease the risk of developing kidney stones[*].
#9: May Help Treat and Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
It may not surprise you to know that oxidative stress and chronic inflammation also play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. But scientists believe that rooibos tea — with its mineral and polyphenol content — may help.
Other studies showed that aspalathin and orientin alleviated glucose-induced inflammation of blood vessels, a key contributing factor to fat buildup in blood vessels and a major diabetes complication[*][*].
Luteolin, another flavonoid found in rooibos tea, was shown to protect against diabetes-associated cognitive decline[*]. All of these studies and more demonstrate evidence that rooibos tea has antidiabetic properties.
However, diabetes is a complex disease, so more human studies need to be done to determine the effects of rooibos tea on the prevention, treatment, and maintenance of diabetes.
#10: It Can Help With Weight Loss
If you’re trying to lose weight while being on the keto diet, rooibos tea is a great beverage that can support your goals.
Not only is it low in calories and a natural sweetener, the polyphenols in rooibos tea have anti-obesity properties. They have also been shown to increase energy production and regulate energy balance[*].
Rooibos tea is generally considered safe. Although there are no official dosage recommendations, study participants drank up to six cups of rooibos tea daily without side effects.If you’re thinking about taking rooibos tea, there are some side effects you should know about.
Possible Liver Damage
There have been at least two reports of possible liver toxicity from patients who drank rooibos on a regular basis. One patient experienced increased liver enzymes, while the other experienced acute hepatitis and liver failure[*][*].These cases are interesting because rooibos tea was shown to have protective effects on the liver in animal studies.
It’s important to note that the two patients had a complex medical history prior to experiencing the liver toxicity. Talk to your doctor prior to consuming large amounts of rooibos tea, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.
Unknown Pregnancy Effects
There haven’t been any studies examining the safety of rooibos tea for pregnancy or breastfeeding. It may be best for pregnant or lactating women to avoid rooibos tea.
Might Interfere With Iron Absorption
Iron is an essential element that you need to produce hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that helps distribute oxygen from the lungs to other tissues in your body. If you don’t have enough iron, you may experience symptoms of iron deficiency anemia, such as fatigue, lightheadedness, brittle nails, and weakness[*].
While rooibos tea has lower tannin levels than green and black teas, it could still influence iron absorption. If you have iron deficiency, consult your doctor before drinking rooibos tea.
Rooibos tea has been shown to possess estrogenic activity in lab tests, meaning it can increase your production of estrogen[*]. For this reason, rooibos tea is not recommended for people who are highly sensitive to estrogen or are at a higher risk of developing hormone-related cancers.
You can enjoy rooibos tea hot or cold. And since it’s naturally sweet, you won’t have to worry about adding things like honey or sugar, which can kick you out of ketosis.You can make rooibos tea in three easy steps:
- If you’re using a tea bag, simply follow the instructions. If you’re using loose tea leaves, use 1 to 1 ½ teaspoons of tea leaves for every 8 ounces of boiling water.
- Boil water.
- Let the tea steep for 5 to 6 minutes. Even if you decide to let it steep for longer, it will not make the taste bitter.
You may be wary of all the health food trends out there, and for good reason. Many of the so-called health benefits can’t be verified by strong scientific research.
Rooibos tea isn’t entirely free from such outrageous claims, but there is enough evidence that rooibos tea can pack a powerful punch.
All things considered, rooibos tea is a great addition to your keto diet and could help you on your journey to optimal health. Is rooibos tea the new super-beverage in town? You’ll just have to see.