Rooibos tea has been a popular beverage in Africa for centuries. However, this healthy drink has gained popularity in the US only in recent years. Not only is this tea great to taste, but it also provides many health benefits, including reduced cancer risk, improved heart health, and diabetes prevention. Let us learn more about this antioxidant-rich tea and its many health benefits.
What is rooibos tea?
Rooibos tea (pronounced ROY-boss) is a red herbal tea that is native to the African continent. It is grown mainly in the mountainous Cederberg region of South Africa in the Western Cape province. This tea does not contain any leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, so it is not considered a pure tea. Rooibos tea is made using the leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant. The word ‘rooibos’ means ‘red bush’ in Afrikaans.
The long needle-shaped leaves of the Aspalathus linearis plant are still green when on the plant but they turn red during the fermentation process. Rooibos tea brews into a reddish-brown hue that is visually appealing and exceptional in taste. It has a sweet, nutty flavor, with hints of caramel and vanilla. You can drink this tea as a hot tea or as an iced tea. Rooibos tea is caffeine-free and has a high concentration of powerful antioxidants. It also contains copper and fluoride.
Rooibos tea nutrition facts
- Rooibos tea has no calories and cholesterol.
- It’s needle-shaped leaves, and stems contain polyphenolic antioxidants known as chalconoids.
- Roobios leaves contain important dihydro-chalcones – Aspalathin (a dihydrochalcone glucoside) and Nothofagin (a phloretin glucoside). These compounds exhibit antibacterial, antifungal, antitumor, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Roobios plant also contains flavones (orientin, isoorientin, vitexin, isovitexin, luteolin, chrysoeriol), flavanones (dihydro-orientin, dihydro-isoorientin, hemiphlorin) and flavonols (quercetin, hyperoside, isoquercitrin, rutin.
- This plant also contains trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, copper, and zinc.
Roobios tea history
The history of Rooibos tea is rooted in the Cederberg region of South Africa. The indigenous bushmen of the area known as the Khoisans harvested the leaves and used them to treat ailments for centuries. With the dwindling of the Khoisan tribes, the use of this tea also decreased. However, in 1772 a botanist named Carl Humberg rediscovered rooibos tea and revived the interest in this tea. In 1904 a Russian immigrant named Benjamin Ginsberg began marketing this drink as an herbal alternative to tea.
During World War II importing tea from Asian counties became very difficult. During this time, rooibos tea was shipped around the world as an alternative. In 1968 Dr. Annique Theron discovered that rooibos could calm her allergy-prone colicky baby. She soon published a book on rooibos tea’s incredible benefits. After the release of the book, several studies were done on the benefits of rooibos. Thanks to this new scientific understanding of the health advantages of Rooibos, the tea’s popularity exploded.
Health benefits of Rooibos
1. Does not contain caffeine and oxalic acid
Rooibos tea is an excellent alternative for people who want to avoid caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is found in both green and black tea. Though consuming it in moderate amount is beneficial for concentration and mood, too much caffeine has been linked to heart palpitations, sleep problems, increased anxiety, and headaches (1).
Roobios tea is an excellent choice for people with kidney problems as it is free of oxalic acid. Consuming too much oxalic acid can increase the risk of kidney stones (2). Rooibos tea also has lower levels of tannins than black or green tea. Tannins interfere with the absorption of certain nutrients like iron (3).
2. Has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties
Inflammation and oxidative stress can lead to many diseases. Feeding your body with nutrients that damage free radicals and reduce inflammation is the best way to prevent diseases. Rooibos tea contains antioxidants like quercetin, aspalathin, and nothofagin (4, 5). Quercetin is a plant pigment that helps treat conditions of the heart and blood vessels and prevents cancer. It also treats arthritis, bladder infections, and diabetes.
Aspalathin and nothofagin are major active dihydrochalcones fond in green Rooibos, which are known for their antioxidant activities. A study from Italy assessed the effect of drinking rooibos tea on the total antioxidant capacity, lipid triglycerols, cholesterol, and glycemia plasma levels in humans. The study found that the blood levels of antioxidants increased by 2.9 percent when they drank red Rooibos and 6.6 percent when they drank green Rooibos (6).
3. May have an anti-diabetic effect
According to studies conducted by the South Africa Medical Research Council, rooibos tea can delay and prevent the onset of type II diabetes. According to the researchers, the aspalathin-enriched extract of green Rooibos effectively lowered raised blood glucose levels in diabetic rats (7).
Aspalathin is a unique phenolic compound which is found only in rooibos plant. A study from Japan studied the effects of aspalathin on glucose metabolism. The results of the study suggest the aspalathin balanced blood sugar levels and reduced insulin resistance in mice (8). More studies are needed to see if rooibos tea has a similar effect on humans.
4. Improves heart health
Drinking rooibos tea can lower blood pressure and improve blood circulation. It can also help in lower blood cholesterol levels. According to a study from Sweden, oral intake of rooibos tea has a beneficial effect on blood pressure by significantly inhibiting the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity. During this study on 17 healthy volunteers, drinking rooibos tea lowered ACE activity after 30 minutes (9). ACE increases blood pressure by contracting the blood vessels.
Another study from the Republic of Korea found that rooibos tea can decrease hypertension by regulating hormones secreted from the adrenal gland (10). Aspalathin and nothofagin, two compounds present in rooibos tea, affect the inflammation of the entire vascular system and are effective in treating complications from diabetes-related to heart.
Rooibos tea is also useful in lowering LDL cholesterol and boosting HDL cholesterol. According to a study from Oxidative Stress Research Centre, University of Technology, South Africa, that involved 40 volunteers, consumption of fermented Rooibos improves the lipid profile as well as redox status, both relevant to heart disease, in adults at risk for developing cardiovascular disease (11).
4. Reduces the risk of cancer
Quercetin and luteolin, the antioxidants present in rooibos tea can prevent tumor growth and kill cancerous cells (12). Many doctors prescribe these antioxidants in supplement form to treat cancer as they stop the process involved in cell mutation and prevent tumor growth. More studies are needed to confirm if Rooibos contains enough of these two antioxidants and if they are efficiently the body from absorbed into Rooibos. According to a study from Okayama University, Japan, rooibos tea helps the immune system produce antibodies to prevent cancer, allergy, AIDS, and other infections (13).
5. Improves digestion
Rooibos tea contains nutrients that have antispasmodic properties that help prevent stomach pain. According to a 2006 study, the constituents of Rooibos like chrysoeroil, orientin, and vitexin, helped to relax the digestive system and relieve the feeling of discomfort. The study also showed that the tannins in Rooibos helped reduce the symptoms of diarrhea (14). The vitamin and mineral content of rooibos tea also supports the immune system and fends off invading pathogens that can cause diarrhea.
6. Weight loss
Weight loss is one of the many benefits of rooibos tea. One cup of this tea contains just 2.4 calories, which makes it an excellent option for those trying to lose weight. Its naturally sweet flavor can control sugar cravings. It also increases the levels of the hormone leptin, that helps regulate food intake. According to a 2014 study from South Africa, Rooibos also prevents new fat cells from forming and causes the existing fat cells to metabolize faster (15).
7. Helps prevent wrinkles
Rooibos tea is rich in antioxidants which provide it anti-aging properties. According to the scientist at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Rooibos protects against the degeneration of preadipocytes, the prominent cells found in fat tissues, and could reverse the onset of age-related diseases and keep wrinkles at bay (16). The study also showed that Rooibos can partially restore the function of aged cells and that both red and green rooibos can protect cells from oxidative stress. Roobios is also an effective antibacterial and can help with skin problems like eczema, acne, and the effects of aging due to the presence of the enzyme superoxide dismutase.
Applying rooibos tea on the skin can also reduce the appearance of wrinkles. During a 2010 study from Thailand, anti-wrinkle researchers formulated cosmetics from the ginkgo, a mixture of tea and Rooibos and soybean. The researchers found tea and Rooibos to be most effective in reducing wrinkles (17).
8. Improves bone health
Roobios tea contains many minerals like calcium, fluoride, and manganese that help improve bone health. Flavonoids in tea are potential estrogen mimics and may positively influence bone metabolism in estrogen-deficient women. Rooibos tea contains flavonoids luteolin and orientin, which increase mineral content in bones. It also doesn’t contain any caffeine, which is detrimental to bone health (18). Tea also increases osteoblast activity. Osteoblast cells create bone mass, so increased activity in these cells means stronger, denser, and healthier bones (19).
9. Helps treat allergies
Rooibos contains flavonoids like rutin and quercetin that help relieve symptoms of seasonal allergy-like itchy eyes and runny nose. These bioflavonoids block the release of histamines, a chemical produced by the body in response to allergens. Quercetin has a huge anti-allergenic potential and treats allergies as effectively as some prescribed medications without side effects (20).
Side effects of rooibos tea
- Though rooibos tea improves sperm function owing to its antioxidant properties, prolonged use may lead to subtle structural changes in the male reproductive system, which can impair fertility (21).
- Drinking a large amount of rooibos tea can lead to an increase in liver enzymes, which indicates a liver problem (22).
- People with hormonal cancers like breast cancer should avoid this tea.
- Rooibos tea can also interfere with chemotherapy treatment.
How to brew rooibos tea
Rooibos tea is delicious, both hot and cold. You need to steep this tea longer than regular to tea to get the perfect flavor. Steeping the tea for longer does not make it bitter as it is naturally sweet. Put one teaspoon in an infuser and pour boiling water over it. Let it steep for 5 to 15 minutes. For iced tea, double the amount of tea and steep it for ten minutes. You can mix some honey into this tea to sweeten the taste.
Rooibos tea is a herbal tea that is native to the African continent. Rooibos tea brews into a reddish-brown hue that is visually appealing and exceptional in taste. This tea does not contain caffeine and oxalic acid, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, prevent diabetes, improves heart health, reduces the cancer risk, improves digestion, boosts bone health, helps in weight loss and prevents allergies.