Unproven Health Benefits of Rooibos

rooibos (red bush) tea
Philippe Desnerck/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you prefer a diet of "natural" foods and beverages, you may have heard of rooibos (pronounced roy-bos), a caffeine-free herbal infusion made from the South African plant Aspalathus linearis. Unlike black, green, and white teas, rooibos does not contain leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. So it isn't technically considered a tea, even though it's prepared the same way: by pouring a hot liquid over the leaves (infusion). However, rooibos is often referred to as "red tea" and is typically sold in the tea section of grocery and health-food stores.

Suggested Reasons for Using Rooibos

Long used in alternative medicine in South Africa, rooibos has been suggested as a natural remedy for the following conditions, although these claims are unproven — that is, not supported by results of clinical studies:

Potential Health Benefits 

To date, very few clinical studies have tested the potential health benefits of drinking rooibos, and none of them involved humans. However, some animal research and test-tube studies have shown that rooibos may have certain beneficial effects on health. Here's a look at several study findings:

Inflammation. Rooibos may help fight inflammation, as suggested by the results of a 2009 study on rats. The study also appeared to show that rooibos may help protect against DNA damage from free radicals, possibly due to its antioxidant content.

Immunity. In addition to offering antioxidant benefits, rooibos may help strengthen the immune system. That's the finding of a 2007 clinical study that reviewed previously published animal studies of rooibos and its biological effects. The review's authors also found that rooibos is a rare source of several potent antioxidants, including dihydrochalcones, aspalathin, and nothofagin.

Cancer. There have been no clinical studies of rooibos and cancer in humans, so it should not be used for cancer-related purposes. Rats have been studied for this purpose, however, and a 2009 clinical trial showed some early promise. 

Rooibos Also Tastes Pretty Good

Although there's no research support for any claims that rooibos can enhance human health, you may enjoy drinking it simply because it tastes good and is pleasantly fragrant. If you're thinking of cutting back on your consumption of caffeine, you might want to try rooibos as an alternative to coffee.

What Else Should I Know?

If you're considering using rooibos for any health purpose, make sure to consult your doctor first.

You've no doubt heard that making the decision to self-treat when you may have a medical condition can have serious consequences. Why? Because self-treating extends the time before symptoms worsen enough for you to seek medical care; during that time, the illness gets worse, too. Protect your health by always checking with your doctor about any symptoms that concern you. That way, they can be treated properly.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • “Rooibos tea.” Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (2013).    
  • Baba H, Ohtsuka Y, Haruna H, Lee T, Nagata S, Maeda M, Yamashiro Y, Shimizu T. "Studies of anti-inflammatory effects of Rooibos tea in rats." Pediatr Int. 2009 Oct;51(5):700-4.
  • Joubert E, Gelderblom WC, Louw A, de Beer D. "South African herbal teas: Aspalathus linearis, Cyclopia spp. and Athrixia phylicoides--a review." J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 28;119(3):376-412.
  • Marnewick JL, van der Westhuizen FH, Joubert E, Swanevelder S, Swart P, Gelderblom WC. "Chemoprotective properties of rooibos (Aspalathus linearis), honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) herbal and green and black (Camellia sinensis) teas against cancer promotion induced by fumonisin B1 in rat liver." Food Chem Toxicol. 2009 47(1):220-9.
  • McKay DL, Blumberg JB. "A review of the bioactivity of South African herbal teas: rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia)." Phytother Res. 2007 21(1):1-16.