The Case Against Rooibos

from Mountain Rose Herbs

I've been drinking tea for years and have established only one Tea Foe: Red Rooibos (RR). (People seem to disagree on the spelling. This is the most common way to spell I could find.)

Why is RR a Tea Foe? Because for some reason it gives me a headache. Just the smell of RR can send my head spinning. I am prone to migraines - I get at least four a month, if not more - so I am trying anything and everything to avoid headache triggers. RR is definitely one of them.

It began when I tried a RR from Adagio. I don't remember what kind. I just remember ordering it as a caffeine-free alternative to other teas. Once I opened the lid of the little sample and I smelled that woodsy/sawdust flavor my head started to pound. 

I threw it out, thinking it was old. Tried again, this time at Teavana, with the Sweet Amore blend. I don't believe they have this blend anymore, but this was heavy in RR. I couldn't take it. I gave it away, knowing it wasn't tea going bad, that's just how it smelled. Ugh.

Fast forward to about a month ago, when I realized there is another variety of Rooibos - green! I've tried it and am satisfied: NO HEADACHE.

So what gives? What is in the RR that triggers my headache? The answer is: Tannin. Tannin is a pesky trigger for people who suffer from chronic headaches and migraines like I do. I have to be careful when drinking red wine, too, for high tannin levels. According info provided to Wikipedia, with the exception of tea drinking, imbibing large amounts of tannins isn't recommended. For example, red wines are produced with a larger amount of tannins to preserve the color and flavor (i.e., of the wood barrel).

From http://www.ochef.com/197.htm:

"Tannins are substances present in the seeds and stems of grapes, the bark of some trees, and yes, tea leaves. They are described as interfering with digestive processes, and until more effective synthetics were found, were used to tan animal hides and turn them into leather."

Gross! Used to make leather? Astringent? What else is in the seedy history of Rooibos?
"For centuries, rooibos tea was drunk by the Khoisan tribe of South Africa, who used it as a herbal medicine. 
In 1904, a Russian immigrant called Benjamin Ginsberg began to offer Rooibos to a worldwide market, calling it 'Mountain Tea'. 

In 1968, a South African mother named Annique Theron accidentally used some leftover rooibos tea in her baby daughter's bottle and discovered that it had a calming and soothing effect, relieving the baby's chronic restlessness, vomiting and stomach cramps. She advertised in her local newspaper and found other mothers whose infants had similar problems, and these provided a testing ground for her theories about the healing properties of rooibos tea. Wanting to share her discovery with the rest of the world, she wrote a book on the anti-allergic qualities of the Rooibos plant called Allergies: an Amazing Discovery. She later created a range of skincare products containing rooibos extract, which are used to treat dry, irritated and allergic skin.

In 1997, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) awarded rooibos a gold medal for its anti-allergic properties, and in 1998 it awarded Annique Theron 'Woman Discoverer of the Year'."

Crazy! But it makes sense - some say that rooibos HELPS their headaches: http://www.teachat.com/viewtopic.php?t=1804

The investigation continues... for now I just avoid RR, my sole Tea Foe, and focus on its new sib, Green Rooibos.

For more information:


  1. This might not be the only reason! I am allergic to beans and rooibos and honeybush is a legume family plant. I have migraines and fibromyalgia with allergies to nightshade foods too! If you google and read about these conditions and allergies tannin is not the culprit. There are other common issues however.

  2. I was thinking of switching to rooibos after giving up caffeine but read that fermentation is part of the process for red rooibos, but not green. Tyramine is a by-product of fermentation and is in all the foods that trigger my migraines (wine, beer, aged cheese, soy, peas, chocolate).

  3. I have discovered also that I get migraines from drinking Rooibos tea. The headache hits from the side of my head.

  4. Same here dammit I bought a big box of it too awell I will have to move on to something that doesn't give headaches

  5. Same here dammit I bought a big box of it too awell I will have to move on to something that doesn't give headaches

  6. Had my first cup last night and immediately developed a headache. And like lock ness, I bought a big box (100 tea bags) too. Oh well..


  7. Hi there, also a migraine suffering. Aside from yerba maté (which is highly caffeinated) the only other teas that gives me a headache are Red Rooibus and Honeybush. I didn't realize they were related until recently which makes sense. I was wondering what it could be in these decaffeinated teas that triggered it. This blog gives some insight. Thanks!

  8. Feeling a headache after a pot, I'm investigating. Don't suffer from migraines nor noticed reactions to tannins, legumes or soy. Thanks for the food for thought

  9. Feeling a headache after a pot, I'm investigating. Don't suffer from migraines nor noticed reactions to tannins, legumes or soy. Thanks for the food for thought

  10. Just started drinking rooibos today and have a headache that started at the back of my neck and won't shift, so decided to google as I don't normally get headaches

  11. Rooibos gave me one of the worst migraines I´ve ever had. It took me a while to discover the link, as Rooibos is hailed everywhere as such a healthy kind of tea. Now I don´t dare touch it anymore.

  12. Rooibos has no tannins, black and green tea does, it is however part of the legume family. But what I have not yet seen anyone considering here is the dreaded caffeine withdrawal headache ... if you have been consuming, coffee and normal black/green tea after switching to rooibos you will suffer caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Consider slowing transitioning by making a blended pots at first and gradually increasing the rooibos content.