Rooibos vs. Honeybush: What's the Difference?

Posted by Stephany Morgan on

Are Honeybush and Rooibos the same thing?

When you do a Google search for Honeybush, Rooibos infiltrates the top results. Although the two “teas” are similar, particularly in taste, they come from entirely different African plants and are NOT the same thing. Honeybush is the sweeter of the two, as the name suggests, and Rooibos (aka 'Red Bush') has a woodier taste. Both are delicious, healthy and naturally caffeine-free.

Both Honeybush and Rooibos contain trace minerals, and beneficial phytochemicals. Both have potential anti-cancer benefits, and Honeybush and Red Rooibos are manufactured using the same methods including oxidation to give them their beautiful red hue.

Green Rooibos is a less common type of Rooibos, with the only difference from its famous sibling being that it is not fermented/oxidized, and therefore has a greener, citrus-y taste and is higher in antioxidants (because, as the word suggests, oxidizing tea leaves means reducing the antioxidants as they bond with free radical oxygen particles in the air).

Red and Green Rooibos come from the same plant, it is just the oxidation process where they differ.

Honeybush Red and Green Rooibos Matcha Alternatives

What is Honeybush?

Honeybush has the highest amount of antioxidants of any herbal tea! It is low in tannins and doesn’t become bitter with extended simmering or brewing. The longer it’s steeped, the higher the antioxidant levels! These contribute to Honeybush's immune-support benefits. It is anti-inflammatory, supports gastrointestinal health and women’s health. Wonderfully, Honeybush has no known negative side effects. Taste-wise, it is sweet and floral. This tea is soothing and delicious!

What is Rooibos

Green or Red, Rooibos has high levels of antioxidants, many health benefits and a flavor profile that can please any tea-drinker’s palate. Red Rooibos is rich and earthy while Green Rooibos is refreshing with a citrus zing. Both types of Rooibos have antihistamine qualities making it a great choice for helping alleviate Hay Fever symptoms. Rooibos also has many skin benefits, anti-ageing properties, helps with appetite control and, as a bonus, it improves sleep. Toss out the warm milk, folks! Rooibos’ ability to relieve tension and help relax makes it an ideal bedtime beverage.

 Shop Our Rooibos & Honeybush Collection


Rooibos DIY Teabag Matcha Alternatives

Where are Honeybush and Rooibos from? 

All Honeybush and Rooibos are from South Africa, and no where else. Rooibos production started around 1900, going commercial in the 1930s when producers figured out how to germinate the seeds instead of harvesting the leaves from the wild. Rooibos is only grown in a 3000 square-mile area in the Cedarburg Mountains near Cape Town, South Africa. 

Honeybush is even rarer: it only grows in the mountains just north of the Cape of Good Hope, and, believe it or not, is only grown in the wild. Despite decades of research, Honeybush has resisted efforts to cultivate it commercially. This may be due to as-yet-unknown interactions with ants and birds, meaning that only 25% of the world's honeybush is grown on commercial plantations and these are quite small. The rest is collected from the mountains where it grows wild. 

Honeybush and Rooibos Growing Regions - Matcha Alternatives

How do you brew Rooibos and Honeybush? Are there different techniques?

Happily, both Rooibos and Honeybush are very forgiving teas and can both be brewed the same way. They never go bitter, even if you forget all about the teabag in your thermos and only remember at lunchtime. They will also brew nicely at a range of temperatures, but you'll get the best taste using boiling water. Minimum brew length is five minutes to get the taste + antioxidants, but seven minutes is a good rule of thumb. Because they don't go bitter, you can put the leaves loose in your teapot and filter them out using a mug strainer, or you can use an infuser for less mess. 

For iced tea, both types will make a yummy and refreshing drink. Use triple the quantity of tea you would normally use for a hot tea (i.e. 3-4 teaspoons instead of 1-2) used. I like to make at least 32oz (a quart) so I have plenty to drink, and find 3-4 tsp is good for that much water. Let the tea steep for at least twenty minutes, possibly overnight. Then put in the fridge, or pour directly over ice. 

Rooibos Loose Leaf - Matcha Alternatives

Antioxidant levels of Honeybush and Rooibos

  • Honeybush has the highest levels of antioxidants, with an ORAC of an incredible ~2705 / 8fl oz
  • Green Rooibos comes second, with an ORAC of ~2093.6 / 8fl oz
  • Red Rooibos comes third, with an ORAC of ~1537.6 / 8fl oz

ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity and is a scale to gauge antioxidant units.The higher the ORAC value, the higher the antioxidant level. For comparison, the same amount of Matcha has an ORAC of ~1384.

It’s a Rooibos-Honeybush Tie!

With full marks across the board, both of these comparable albeit unique beverages are healthy and delicious. Whichever you choose, you can’t go wrong! When it comes time, pick based on your preferences! But if you can’t decide, what’s the harm in getting a little of everything?

Here are my top picks (the first three are unflavored versions, and the last three are my favorite blends):

'The Purist' Organic Honeybush Looseleaf - $6 for 1oz, or ~14 cups

'The Purist' Organic Red Rooibos Looseleaf - $6 for 1oz, or ~14 cups

'The Purist' Organic Green Rooibos Looseleaf - $6 for 1oz, or ~14 cups

Sweet Dreams Chamomile Honeybush Looseleaf (a blend of pure chamomile with pure honeybush, and every customer who's tried it has emailed to say how well they are sleeping!) - $7 for 1oz, or ~14 cups

Caramel Christmas Green Rooibos (a blend of red and green rooibos, plus caramel, so good) - $7 for 1oz, or ~14 cups

Honey I Shrunk the Rooibos (red rooibos with the gorgeous sweetness of honey running through it) - $7 for 1oz, or ~14 cups

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Caramel Christmas Rooibos - Matcha Alternatives

A note from the Herbalist...

And of course...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. The information here is for educational use only.

Rooibos & Honeybush References and Further Reading

Herbst (2015). Fact Sheet on Honeybush. Affiliation: Cancer Association of South Africa. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.1824.0804. Retrieved 7/14/19 

Herbst (2015). Fact Sheet on Rooibos. Affiliation: Cancer Association of South Africa. DOI: 10.13140/2.1.2544.9760 Retrieved 7/14/19

'Honeybush Tea', South African Rooibos. Retrieved 7/14/19.

'Rooibos Tea: A Caffeine-Free Tea That’s Bursting With Antioxidants', Mercola. Retrieved 7/14/19.

'6 Rooibos Tea Benefits That Could Make It Worth Buying', Reader's Digest. Retrieved 7/14/19.


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