Known as the “golden root,” Chinese emperors and Scandinavian Vikings alike coveted this amazing, health-giving herb. For centuries, Rhodiola has held a place in Asian and Scandinavian traditional medicine for enhancing strength and physical endurance, longevity and fertility. Over the past 30 years, numerous studies have been conducted in the former Soviet Union and Russia as well as Sweden, confirming these traditional uses, and more.
Rhodiola is an herb with a wide variety of uses in today’s hectic world of intense mental and physical stress. It is one of a class of herbs known as adaptogens; adaptogens these help us to adapt to non-specific mental, emotional and physical stress. A relative newcomer in the U.S. herb market, Rhodiola has begun is gaining more attention recently with features in Newsweek magazine and Herbalgram.
Rhodiola is a genus of the Crassulaceae, also known as the Sedum or Stonecrop family. The genus contains a number of species, spread throughout the northern hemisphere. The species we use, Rhodiola rosea, is primarily (although not exclusively) native to Russia and Scandinavia. It prefers high elevation, mountainous regions in latitudes above the Arctic Circle. Extremely limited populations of R. rosea occur, however, in the northeastern U.S., Tennessee and North Carolina. Several other non-medicinal species occur in various regions of the U.S., including R. integrifolia in Oregon.
Common names for this herb include “golden root”, “rose root”, “rose stonecrop” and the genus name, Rhodiola. The plant itself is a small, succulent perennial from 12 to 30 inches tall when bearing its yellow flowers. The root is very thick and fleshy, smelling of rose attar when sliced. The delicious, rose-like fragrance of the root led to the specific name “rosea” as well as some of the common names.
Without painting Rhodiola as a panacea, it is important to recognize the broad application of an herb that can effectively help us to deal with non-specific stress. The stress of chronic overwork alone can have an impact on various aspects of our bodies and our lives, including sleep, appetite, mood, mental clarity and energy level. Rhodiola is particularly well suited to deficient, stress-related states that manifest in disturbed sleep or sexual function, poor appetite or over-eating, irritability, depression, hypertension, headache, general fatigue or cardiac anomalies such as rapid heartbeat. Keep in mind that many of these conditions can be symptoms of more severe health problems, which you should discuss with your health-care practitioner.
The following bullet points highlight Rhodiola’s most important uses.
• Adaptogenic; increases non-specific resistance (generalized adaptability) to chemical, biological and physical stressors
• Psychostimulant; increased mental ability, attention, clarity and learning
• Increased endurance and capacity for physical work or exercise
• Antioxidant; free-radical scavenging, reducing destructive reactions in the body that lead to disease
• Immune support when immunity is affected by stress
• Anti-depressive; improves gloomy moods and decreases depression
• Cardio-tonic; cardiac support and protection
• Support in fatigue, lassitude and altitude sickness
• Anti-hypoxia; increases oxygen absorption in the body
• Support in recovery from illness
• Support for stress-related reproductive syndromes
• Increased overall energy and general well being
Energetically, Rhodiola appears to be cooler than many of the better-known adaptogens such as Asian Ginseng. It is a primary adaptogen for those who find these other herbs to be too heating or stimulating. Rhodiola is suited to practical application in treating a number of sexually related conditions in men and women. Preliminary studies show positive effects in normalizing menstrual periods and supporting fertility in women. It also appears to benefit long and short term memory, as well as activities requiring intense mental focus such as final exams.
Herb Pharm’s Rhodiola is a 1 : 5, weight to volume extract of wildcrafted root. It bears a wonderfully rose-like fragrance and rather astringent taste. Rhodiola combines well with other adaptogens and tonics such as the Ginsengs, Eleuthero, Schisandra, Maca, Ginkgo, Hawthorn and Ashwagandha. Rhodiola is useful as a long-term tonic in the face of chronic or expected stress, or for improving overall health. In acute stress, increase the dose for a day or two and then reduce it to a normal dosage level. We also have Rhodiola powdered extract in capsule form.
With such a broad range of application relevant to today’s stressful world, Rhodiola looks poised to become a significant adaptogen and tonic in Western herbal medicine.