Rooibos has a wide assortment of health benefits. Some benefits of rooibos (also known as "red tea" or "red bush tea") are backed up by modern science. Other health benefits have yet to be explored in this way, but have been confirmed by many generations of use. Traditional South African medicinal uses of rooibos include alleviating infantile colic, allergies, asthma and skin problems. Modern science has explored other benefits, such as antioxidant contents, cardiovascular benefits and effects on HIV.
Here are some of the major health benefits of rooibos:
- Antioxidant contents: Rooibos has high concentrations of the antioxidants superoxide dismutases, aspalathin and nothofagin, as well as lower concentrations of many other antioxidants. These antioxidants are believed to help prevent cancer by scavenging free radicals in the bloodstream, to safeguard against heart disease and to have anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Anti-cancer benefits: Two flavonoids found in rooibos (quercetin and luteolin) are known to have cancer fighting qualities. Furthermore, some studies have demonstrated a linkage between drinking rooibos and a reduction of cancer-causing chemicals in the body. This is thought to be because of the high level of antioxidants in rooibos, some of which have anti-mutagenic properties (that they defend cells and DNA against damage and inhibit them from developing into cancerous cells).
- Cardiovascular health benefits: Rooibos may benefit heart health in several ways. First, it improves circulation – One of the many potent antioxidants in rooibos tea is called Chysoeriol. It can improve circulation by preventing the activity of the enzyme that triggers cardiovascular disease. Drinking rooibos tea also lowers high blood pressure and cholesterol, and may supress the increase in fasting blood sugar levels and improving glucose tolerance for people with Type 2 diabetes.
- Minerals and other goodies: Rooibos contains substantial amounts of copper, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, fluoride and magnesium. These minerals benefit the nervous system, teeth, bones, metabolism and much more. Rooibos also contains a number of phenolic compounds, including flavanols, flavones, flavanones, and dihydrochalcones.
- A caffeine-free alternative to coffee and tea: Like many other herbal teas, rooibos is naturally caffeine free. And although it does not need to be decaffeinated or undergo any chemical processes to be caffeine free, many people find it to be an excellent alternative to decaf coffee and tea. Those with caffeine sensitivity can drink it in much larger quantities than they can drink coffee, and it's common for people in South Africa to drink five to six glasses of it at all hours of the day and night. Furthermore, rooibos is said to reduce many of the issues associated with caffeine consumption, including nervous tension, stress, irritability and headaches, and it encourages restful sleep both with its lack of caffeine and its natural abilities to calm people.
- A possible treatment for gout: Rooibos may aid in gout treatment, due to its impact on reducing xanthine oxidase, a chemical which plays a role in conversion of purine to uric acid.
- Anti-spasmodic properties: Rooibos is naturally anti-spasmodic, making it useful in relieving stomach cramps in adults and colic in infants.
- Stomach-soothing abilities: The flavonoids (such as quercetin) in rooibos may be behind its traditional use as a stomach soother. Rooibos can purportedly relieve numerous abdominal ailments such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, heartburn, stomach ulcers and constipation. (For more herbs with similar properties, see "Herbs for Digestion".)
- Respiratory relief: In South Africa, rooibos has traditionally been used to treat hay fever and asthma.
- Liver tissue regeneration: In lab studies, rats' livers recovered more quickly after prolonged intoxication. For humans, that means that rooibos may help people's livers recover after a bender. (Hangovers are another issue, though!)
- Immune benefits: Rooibos is thought to boost the immune system in general. Additionally, rooibos extract fights HIV by helping the body produce antigen-specific antibodies.
- Health and bone benefits: It is traditionally believed that people who drink rooibos from a young age (which is perfectly safe) will develop strong, healthy teeth and bones.
- Less interference with iron absorption: For some people, drinking black tea regularly may interfere with iron absorption. Rooibos has about half the tannins of most black teas, and interferes with iron absorption less.
- Protection against Parkinsons and Alzheimer's diseases: Drinking rooibos regularly protects against a process known as lipid peroxidation in which free radicals damage brain cells and nerve tissues. Over time, lipid peroxidation can lead to deteriorating brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's.
- Skin benefits: Rooibos has long been used to relieve eczema and other conditions. Modern science has found that rooibos may be an effective treatment against acne, psoriasis and eczema when applied topically. This can be done to small areas with a wet rooibos teabag, or to larger areas with a rooibos bath or rooibos beauty products.
- Safe for pregnancy, nursing and young children: Rooibos is believed to be completely safe for young children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
Green rooibos has a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals oxidized rooibos. You could say that it may be "healthier" than red rooibos for this reason. However, I always say that the "healthiest" tea or herb is the one you drink every day, so if you love the taste of red rooibos and don't like green rooibos, by all means, drink red rooibos!
Also, when drinking rooibos specifically for health reasons, it is advisable to select only organic rooibos.