Native to South Africa, rooibos (pronounced roy-boss) comes from the Aspalathus Linearis plant, and is commonly known as red bush tea. It brews into a mellow cup of tea with a mild red hue.
The Health Benefits of Rooibos Tea
The history of rooibos began in the Cederberg region of South Africa and the tea leaves are still harvested and grown only in that area. It’s popular across the globe as a herbal alternative to black tea. In South African homes, it’s often used as a traditional medicine for ailments such as headaches, tummy aches and insomnia. It’s being studied in relation to its protective effects on bone and cardiovascular health, and its potential to ward off cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Rooibos tea is high in beneficial antioxidants and polyphenols, including a unique compound called aspalathin. Antioxidants, including polyphenols, bind to free radicals before they can cause harm. Free radicals create oxidative stress, which can damage DNA and cause inflammation — two mechanisms that lead to aging and chronic diseases, such as cancer.
One past study also found that the polyphenols in rooibos improved cholesterol levels in participants studied. While high in antioxidants, rooibos still trails behind black and green tea in terms of antioxidant content. But if you are looking to avoid caffeine, rooibos is a great way to sip tea and still take in antioxidants.
Red Rooibos Tea vs. Green Rooibos Tea
With its mellow flavor and hint of sweetness, rooibos is less astringent than regular black tea. That’s likely because rooibos doesn’t contain caffeine or bitter tannins that are part of the black tea family (orange pekoe, Earl Grey, etc.). You can buy rooibos in tea bags or loose leaf.
There are two main types:
Red Rooibos Tea
The most common type of rooibos, the red tea version undergoes oxidation and fermentation. It can be enjoyed on its own or with a bit of sugar and milk. You can also find red rooibos with added flavours, such as caramel, mint or vanilla rooibos. You can buy it in most grocery stores.
Green Rooibos Tea
When the rooibos leaves skip fermentation and oxidation, they’re called green rooibos tea. This version has more antioxidants and a mellower taste, since it skips the fermentation stage. You’ll have more luck locating it in specialty tea shops.
How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Rooibos Tea
Rooibos tea is prepared in a similar fashion to black tea. If you’re using tea bags, use one bag for each cup. If you’re brewing loose leaf tea, use one teaspoon for every cup (8 oz.) of water.
Brew it in boiling water, and steep it for a minimum of five minutes to get the most antioxidants into each cup. Since rooibos tea contains no caffeine, it won’t get too strong if you steep it longer. Rooibos makes an excellent iced tea too. Follow the brewing instructions above, then refrigerate or serve over ice.
Editor’s note: Rooibos has no known adverse effects when taken with food or herbal supplements. It may decrease the effectiveness of sleep aid and anti-anxiety medication midazolam. If you take midazolam, check with your doctor or pharmacist before consuming green or red rooibos tea.