Quercetin, Caffeic- and Rosmarinic acid exposure extend lifespan in Caenorhabditis elegans. This comparative study uncovers basic common and contrasting underlying mechanisms: For all three compounds, life extension was characterized by hormetic dose response curves, but hsp-level expression was variable. Quercetin and Rosmarinic acid both suppressed bacterial growth; however, antibacterial properties were not the dominant reason for life extension. Exposure to Quercetin, Caffeic- and Rosmarinic acid resulted in reduced body size, altered lipid-metabolism and a tendency towards a delay in reproductive timing; however the total number of offspring was not affected. An indirect dietary restriction effect, provoked by either chemo-repulsion or diminished pharyngeal pumping was rejected. Quercetin and Caffeic acid were shown to increase the antioxidative capacity in vivo and, by means of a lipofuscin assay, reduce the oxidative damage in the nematodes. Finally, it was possible to demonstrate that the life and thermotolerance enhancing properties of Caffeic- and Rosmarinic acid both rely on osr-1, sek-1, sir-2.1 and unc-43 plus daf-16 in the case of Caffeic acid. Taken together, hormesis, in vivo antioxidative/prooxidative properties, modulation of genetic players, as well as the re-allocation of energy all contribute (to some extent and dependent on the polyphenol) to life extension.