Chamomile Blossoms

Antioxidants in Rooibos, Honeybush & Chamomile: What Do They Actually Do? (Antiox Part 6)

Posted by Stephany Morgan

Back to my favorite topic: antioxidants in tea

Today, I will go through the key antioxidant compounds and the studied health benefits of Honeybush, Rooibos, and Chamomile teas one by one and explain their affects in the body from current scientific literature - in plain English. You will learn exactly what happens when you drink a nice cup of red bush or chamomile tea!

Read on for an introduction to antioxidants or if you want to jump ahead...



Lastly, every single one of the health impacts mentioned below were found in the studies cited. No wild claims or exaggerations here, only hard science. If you are curious, follow the links for more information about what and how they tested for these effects. Where possible, I've linked to the study itself.


    Recap! Why do antioxidants matter?

    (You can skip this part if you know all about free radicals and neutralizing them) 

    Free radicals can come from the environment such as pollution; foodstuff such as alcohol, fried food and cigarettes; and also importantly, they are produced constantly in the body with completely natural and normal internal metabolic processes. (No scaremongering here!)

    Free radicals can cause damage to DNA, RNA, cell membranes, lipids, and protein and more, leading to various cancers and other health issues. They can also oxidize cholesterol which may lead to clogged blood vessels and heart troubles (1, 2).

    How and why do they do this? Free radicals is a descriptive term for unstable atoms/molecules which have one or more unpaired electrons, and so in order to become stable, they will ‘grab’ electron(s) from other atoms nearby. This is called oxidation and the effect is described as oxidative stress.

    But what then? You guessed it, the ‘victim’ is now short of an electron too, and now in a more reactive state goes on to steal an electron from another...this is a chain reaction as you can see and it goes on and on causing cascading damage to cell functions.


    What are antioxidants? What do they do?

    Antioxidants again is a descriptive term for certain compounds: they either reduce the creation of free radicals or react with them by donating that electron they so desperately want. This neutralizes them (makes them stable) as now they will not go on to oxidize other atoms/molecules which are part of the proper running of cells, disrupting them. 

    While antioxidants protect against free radical activity, they also play a role in immune system function. Mobilization of various immune reactions as you know involve inflammatory compounds, and this can result in a large production of free radicals.

    In turn, large numbers of antioxidants are needed to modulate this activity. Dietary antioxidants have also been found to modulate the susceptibility and resistance of the host (the person) to infections (caused by infectious pathogens) (3). 


    But what are the specific antioxidants in rooibos, honeybush and chamomile teas, and what do the scientific studies say they do in the body? Well, buckle up because here we go...


    Classy Earl Grey Rooibos in Goblet with Sea



      Also called Redbush and only grown in South Africa, this deliciously smooth, naturally caffeine-free herbal tea can be consumed in the familiar Red form, or in the Green form, which is merely dried without oxidation. Red Rooibos tea is most traditional (any fans of The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books?), with Green Rooibos tea being less common but with a significantly larger antioxidant load - almost twice that of matcha tea.

      The oxidation process that creates Red Rooibos is the reason for the difference, in a similar way you may have heard how less-oxidized green tea is famous for antioxidants rather than the fully-oxidized black tea (1).


      Key Rooibos Antioxidants

      Here are their rather intimidating-sounding names (but don't be scared!):

      Polyphenol flavonoids, including quercetin, rutin, luteolin, aspalathin, nothofagin, and orientin. The largest amounts are aspalathin, rutin, and orientin.

      In Red Rooibos, the oxidation decreases amounts of aspalathin and nothofagin, because they’re oxidized into other substances, which causes the familiar, lovely red color! (1)

      It still overall has a high antioxidant load however, higher than matcha tea even. Let’s investigate!


      Quercetin, rutin, and luteolin

      These were found to inhibit lipid peroxidation. Sorry, too sciency? Okay, this is a good thing to inhibit as it exacerbates free radical damage and can lead to disease such as atherosclerosis, cancer, rheumatic arthritis and Alzheimer’s (1, 4).

      Rutin supports the strength of capillary walls and is used for vein health and circulation (1).

      Quercetin and luteolin act together to assist with cancer cell death, reduce cancer cell proliferation (thyroid and colon cancers) and may have anti-colon cancer effects. They’re present in higher amounts in Green Rooibos (1).


      Aspalathin and nothofagin

      Aspalathin is rare in other teas, and is very similar in structure to nothofagin leading researchers to think that they may have similar properties. Although it is not deeply studied, this means so far it has shown free radical scavenging activity and acts similar to quercetin described above (1).

      Another study found that aspalathin improved lipid and glucose metabolism, as well as improves the free-radical interrelated condition Metabolic Syndrome (5) - a group of conditions that can occur together in the body increasing risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Remember though as we’ve said, this has not yet been deeply studied but we can share what we have found in the scientific journals.. No fake news here at!



      A flavonoid antioxidant with a litany of effects in the scientific literature:


      • Its effects on collagen and protection against oxidative stress lead to its potential for reducing noticeable signs of ageing
      • It supports brain growth (in mouse studies), and reduced the lifespan of mutated cells
      • It’s antiviral and antibacterial (effects are enhanced when multiple antioxidants interact synergistically)
      • It’s anti-inflammatory with an affinity for vascular inflammation - which can lead to atherosclerosis and diabetes.
      • Reduced oxidative stress biomarkers
      • Cardioprotective
      • Has antidepressant-like properties
      • Is radioprotective (preventative against gamma radiation).


      Orientin is also neuroprotective - one referenced study found that the antioxidant action reduced or stopped destruction of cells and tissues, and delayed the ageing process in mice. 

      Phew! We’re not done yet...just one more to tell you about:

      Orientin has exhibited pain relieving effects, and can help with obesity by preventing the differentiation of precursor cells into fat cells (6). A quick definition by Britannica: “Precursor cells are stem cells that have developed to the stage where they are committed to forming a particular type of new blood cell”.

      So, to explain it another way, fat cells were less likely to develop in this study (6).


      Sweet Dreams Chamomile Honeybush Tea



      Also naturally caffeine-free, this deliciously sweet herbal tea is a cousin of the rooibos bush and comes in two varieties just like rooibos: oxidised (most common) and unoxidised (extremely uncommon). (For a deep dive on honeybush, read this)


      Honeybush key antioxidants

      Here they are:

      Hesperidin, mangiferin, phenolic compounds, xanthones, isomangeferin, and benzophenones. Let’s have a look at the main three!



      This is a flavanone glycoside with antioxidant properties. It is also neuroprotective, and can protect against harmful abnormal proteins in the brain (which can lead to certain disease states). The referenced studies have found that herperidin:

      • Mediates programmed cell death in cancer cells
      • Supports vein health
      • Supports a positive mood
      • May prevent elevated imbalances in blood pressure
      • Is ultra-violet protective
      • Is immunomodulatory. In plain English, that means that hesperidin impacts the immune system in a positive way in this case (7).

      Phenolic Compounds

      As a whole, these have been studied to have (8, 9):

      • Antioxidant
      • Antitumor
      • Antimutagenic (prevents DNA damage)
      • Antiatherosclerotic (prevents atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on your artery walls, this plaque can restrict blood flow)
      • Anti-inflammatory
      • Antiviral effects

      Additionally, the phenolic compound Tyrosol is found in honeybush and is a weak antioxidant that can reduce noticeable signs of ageing and has protective action for heart muscle tissue (10).



      Sometimes referred to as a “natural miracle”, this bioactive compound exhibits antioxidant properties in addition to being…are you ready for this?....:

      • Anti-viral
      • Immunomodulatory
      • Liver-protective
      • Antidiabetic
      • Anti-aging
      • Antiallergic
      • Antimicrobial

      Additionally, it has anticancer properties demonstrating anti-proliferative properties (does what it sounds like!), suppresses TNF (most simply, a factor that plays a role in cancer and tumor survival), and induces cancer cell death (11). It’s found in mango hence the name, as well as in honeybush.


      Fresh Chamomile



      A relaxing herbal, chamomile has a floral apple-esq flavor and comforting appeal. Though anything can be abused, chamomile is considered non-toxic in routine or daily consumption, for example as tea (12). I say this as you may have heard of some concerns, such as allergies, which a very small part of the population have (those allergic to daisies, marigolds, ragweed, etc.).


      Chamomile Key Antioxidants

      Chamomile's antioxidants are apigenin, umbelliferone, luteolin, esculetin, and quercetin. I've examined its two main antioxidants below (these are the big ones!):


      This powerful flavonoid antioxidant is also anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive (reduces blood pressure), antibacterial, antiviral, and has anticancer properties on multiple cancer mechanisms (13)!


      This bioflavonoid is an antioxidant with anticancer action (14). It’s liver-protective (15), antidiabetic and prevents high blood glucose (antihyperlipidemic) (16). It’s also anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing (antinociceptive) (17), which is supported by Chamomile’s ability to alleviate discomfort.


      Teapot and Cups


      A Note from the Herbalist

      Quite a science-packed blog article! With a ton of references below to match. I hope it’s readable (enough!) and you learned something. :-)

      One thing to finally note: although I mention red rooibos as having a lower total antioxidant capacity (ORAC) than the unoxidised green variety, its still higher than matcha tea which is famous itself for being a superfood.

      Matcha tea though, is not only beat by rooibos, but by a loooooong way in green rooibos and honeybush. For full ORAC levels of all these teas, check my matcha comparison blog here. You can see why asked me to research and write this blog!

      If what you’re after is a load of antioxidants, such as the ones listed and explained above, then these are some great teas.


       If you want to dig deeper, read our


      Smell the Roses Cherry Rooibos Explore our Rooibos & Honeybush Collection for a wide range of pures and blends


      Bamboo Paradise Chamomile Or our Chamomile Collection. Like rooibos and honeybush, this is naturally caffeine free and can be brewed as long as you want without getting bitter (unlike traditional tea)



      Read more of our Tea Science & Lifestyle blog


      All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.


      Antioxidants in Chamomile, Honeybush & Rooibos References and Further Reading

      1. HerbalGram Issue 59 Article 2550
      2. Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A., & Chandra, N. (2010). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. Pharmacognosy reviews, 4(8), 118–126.
      3. A. Puertollano, M., Puertollano, E., Alvarez de Cienfuegos, G., & A. de Pablo, M. (2011). Dietary Antioxidants: Immunity and Host Defense. Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry, 11(14), 1752–1766.
      4.  Ramana, K. V., Srivastava, S., & Singhal, S. S. (2013). Lipid Peroxidation Products in Human Health and Disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2013, 1–3.
      5. Johnson, R., Beer, D. de, Dludla, P., Ferreira, D., Muller, C., & Joubert, E. (2018). Aspalathin from Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis): A Bioactive C-glucosyl Dihydrochalcone with Potential to Target the Metabolic Syndrome. Planta Medica, 84(09/10), 568–583.
      6. Lam, K. Y., Ling, A. P. K., Koh, R. Y., Wong, Y. P., & Say, Y. H. (2016). A Review on Medicinal Properties of Orientin. Advances in Pharmacological Sciences, 2016, 1–9.
      7. Hajialyani, M., Hosein Farzaei, M., Echeverría, J., Nabavi, S. M., Uriarte, E., & Sobarzo-Sánchez, E. (2019). Hesperidin as a Neuroprotective Agent: A Review of Animal and Clinical Evidence. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(3), 648.
      8. Słoczyńska, K., Powroźnik, B., Pękala, E., & Waszkielewicz, A. M. (2014). Antimutagenic compounds and their possible mechanisms of action. Journal of applied genetics, 55(2), 273–285.
      9. Zulfaqar Dudhia, Johan Louw, more.. . Cyclopia maculata and Cyclopia subternata (honeybush tea) inhibits adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 pre-adipocytes , Phytomedicine Volume 20, Issue 5 , (15 March 2013): Research published in the March 2013 Journal of Phytomedicine found that honeybush tea inhibits fat accumulation in cellular and animal models of obesity. Drinking honeybush tea may slow your body's fat storage and even help to burn existing fat store., Pages 401-408 /// Assorted . A review of the bioactivity of South African herbal teas: rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) , American Botanical Council, (Phytother Res. 2007;21:1-)
      10. Karković Marković, A., Torić, J., Barbarić, M., & Jakobušić Brala, C. (2019). Hydroxytyrosol, Tyrosol and Derivatives and Their Potential Effects on Human Health. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(10), 2001.
      11. Imran, M., Arshad, M. S., Butt, M. S., Kwon, J. H., Arshad, M. U., & Sultan, M. T. (2017). Mangiferin: a natural miracle bioactive compound against lifestyle related disorders. Lipids in health and disease, 16(1), 84.
      12. Botanicals Online, Chamomile Toxicity, accessed 20th April 2020 . Retrieved from
      13. Yan, X., Qi, M., Li, P., Zhan, Y., & Shao, H. (2017). Apigenin in cancer therapy: anti-cancer effects and mechanisms of action. Cell & bioscience, 7, 50.
      14. Muthu, R., Selvaraj, N., & Vaiyapuri, M. (2016). Anti-inflammatory and proapoptotic effects of umbelliferone in colon carcinogenesis. Human & Experimental Toxicology, 35(10), 1041–1054.
      16. Ramesh, B., & Pugalendi, K.V. (2005). Antihyperlipidemic and antidiabetic effects of umbelliferone in streptozotocin diabetic rats. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 78, 189 - 196. Retrieved from
      17. Rauf, A., Khan, R., Khan, H., Pervez, S., & Pirzada, A. S. (2014). In vivoantinociceptive and anti-inflammatory activities of umbelliferone isolated fromPotentilla evestita. Natural Product Research, 28(17), 1371–1374. (Viewed for source info and supplemental info for readers, but not directly cited.)
      18. De Beer, D., Schulze, A. E., Joubert, E., de Villiers, A., Malherbe, C. J., & Stander, M. A. (2012). Food ingredient extracts of Cyclopia subternata (Honeybush): variation in phenolic composition and antioxidant capacity. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 17(12), 14602–14624.
      19. Joubert, E., Otto, F., Grüner, S., & Weinreich, B. (2003). Reversed-phase HPLC determination of mangiferin, isomangiferin and hesperidin in Cyclopia and the effect of harvesting date on the phenolic composition of C. genistoides. European Food Research and Technology, 216(3), 270–273.
      20. NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, accessed 14th April 2020. Retrieved from
      21. Liou, Stephanie 29 Jun, 2011 Free Radical Damage, Huntington's Outreach Project for Education, at Standford, accessed 14th April 2020

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