Rhodiola {Crassulaceae – Rhodiola rosea}

Other members include jade plant.

Also, Known As:

Golden root, rose root, and arctic root.

Plant Part Used:


rhodiola_rosea_a2Rhodiola is a perennial that grows to 30 inches, produces bushy yellow flowers, and has a thick, gold-pink rhizome, hence the names golden root and rose root. It thrives in some of the harshest conditions on Earth high in arctic mountains from Scandinavia to Siberia. It also helps people thrive despite physical challenges, such as fatigue and many illnesses.

For centuries, Rhodiola enjoyed a folk reputation in Russia as a whole-body strengthener. After World War ll, Russian researchers investigated its potential for enhancing the performance of Russian soldiers and Olympic athletes. The researchers, N.V. Lazarev, Ph.D., and Israel I. Brekhman, Ph.D., were the same scientists who coined the term adaptogen to describe plants such as ginseng that strengthen the body and provide a large number of other health benefits. They were also the ones who discovered the adaptogenic benefits of eleuthero {Siberian ginseng} and introduced that herb to herbal medicine.

The Soviet military kept Rhodiola secret, however, During the Cold War, they were convinced that the herb could give Russian soldiers and Olympic athletes a competitive edge. Soviet soldier Zahir Ramazanov drank Rhodiola tea while fighting in Afghanistan in 1979. He found that it enhanced his endurance, quickened his hiking, and helped him recover faster from a variety of illnesses.


In the early 1990’s, Ramazanov moved to New York and began importing Rhodiola and translating then-newly declassified Russian research about its many adaptogenic benefits. Eventually, the herb came to the attention of Richard Brown, M.D., a Columbia University psychiatrist. At the time, his wife, Patricia Gerbarg, M.D., was debilitated by a case of Lyme disease that had gone undiagnosed for years. Standard therapies weren’t helping. She tried Rhodiola. Ten days later, she felt better. After a few months, she felt cured. Since the mid-1990’s, Ramazanov, Brown, and Gerbarg have been instrumental in popularizing Rhodiola.

Healing History:

For a plant kept secret for so long, Rhodiola has a long history in herbal medicine. Since ancient times, folk healers in Scandinavia and Russia have used it to treat a broad range of conditions. Dioscorides, the Greek physician who traveled with Roman legions, mentioned it in his classic book De Materia Medica {written in 77 A.D.}

In traditional Tibetan medicine, it has been revered for centuries. Elsewhere in Asia, it was used to treat colds and flu. The Vikings used the herb to increase their strength and endurance. In the early 19th century, French physicians prescribed Rhodiola as a “brain tonic.” From 1725 well into the 1960’s, Rhodiola was touted in medical journals in Sweden, Norway, Russia, France, Germany, and Iceland. But at the time, American researchers had little interest in medicinal herbs, and Rhodiola remained largely unknown in the United States until the mid-1990’s.

rhodiola plantTherapeutic Uses:

Stamina. In animal studies, treatment with Rhodiola improves physical endurance substantially. Belgian researchers gave competitive cyclists either a placebo or 200 milligrams of Rhodiola. An hour later, the herb group showed significantly greater stamina and aerobic capacity.

In another study, Russian scientists gave 161 military cadets either a placebo or Rhodiola. The herb produced “a pronounced anti-fatigue effect.”

Stress. Chinese researchers measured standard biomarkers of stress in laboratory animals and then gave some of the animals Rhodiola while subjecting all of them to very loud noise. Untreated animals showed clear signs of emotional stress. The Rhodiola group showed significantly less stress.

Cognitive Ability. In maze studies, Rhodiola improves animal’s learning speed and memory.

In hospitals, medical mistakes are most likely to occur late at night when physicians are fatigued and drowsy. Armenian researchers gave 56 medical residents on overnight duty either a placebo or Rhodiola and shortly after, gave them a battery of mental acuity tests. The herb group fared significantly better. A similar Russian experiment tested Rhodiola in students preparing for exams. Those who took the herb showed significantly less mental fatigue.

Heart Disease and Stroke. High blood pressure is a key risk factor for heart attack and the leading risk factor for stroke. A Chinese study shows that Rhodiola lowers blood pressure.

Heart rhythm disturbances {arrhythmia} are potentially serious. A Russian study shows that Rhodiola produces “a pronounced anti-arrhythmia effect.”

Depression. Scandinavian researchers gave 89 people with depression either a placebo or 340 milligrams of Rhodiola daily. After 6 weeks, standard tests of mood and depression showed that the herb group was significantly more improved.

Insomnia. The depression study mentioned also showed that Rhodiola improved user’s sleep quality.

Liver Protection. Korean researchers treated laboratory animals with a chemical that injures the liver. During this treatment, some animals were also given Rhodiola. The untreated animals experienced serious liver damage, but the animals are given Rhodiola suffered significantly less liver damage.

Cancer Prevention and Treatment. Russian studies show that Rhodiola reduces the risk of cancer-causing DNA mutations. The herb also helps treat cancer. Russian researchers gave it to people with bladder cancer, a disease that typically recurs. Compared with people with bladder cancer who didn’t take the herb, those who took Rhodiola had significantly less frequent recurrences.

Intriguing Possibilities:

Pilot research suggests that Rhodiola may help normalize irregular menstrual periods.

rhodiola-rosea-teaRx Recommendations:

Standard Rhodiola dosage is 5 to 10 drops of tincture two or three times a day, taken 15 to 30 minutes before eating. Or you can take 200 to 450 milligrams daily of extract. Or follow package directions.

The Safety Factor:

Caffeine-like jitters are possible. People with bipolar disorder should not use Rhodiola.

Do not give Rhodiola to children under 2. In older children, adjust the recommended dose based on the child’s weight. For example, give a 50-pound child one-third of the dose a 150-pound adult would take.

If you’re over 65, start with a low dose, and increase only if necessary.

Inform health care professionals of the herbs you use. Problematic herb-drug interactions are possible.

Rhodiola may cause allergic reactions or other unexpected side effects. If any develop, reduce your dose or stop taking it.

If symptoms get worse or persist longer than 2 weeks, consult a health care professional promptly.

Growing Information:

Except for Alaska, Rhodiola is not grown in the United States. Those interested in purchasing Rhodiola products may contact the Alberta {Canada} Rhodiola Rosea Growers Organization at www.arrgo.ca.

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