Rhodiola rosea, hereafter referred to simply as rhodiola, is an remarkable herb hailing from the mountains and found native to Eurasia (specifically the Caucasus Mountains , a mountain range found between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea), Russia (specifically found in the Altai mountains and known there are golden root) and even native to Maine and Vermont in the United States.
So it’s not too surprising that rhodiola would turn up in ancient Greece, just on the other side of Turkey from the Caucasus mountains. The Greek physician, Diascorides, lauded the uses of rhodiola in his book about plant medicine. Vikings were known to use the plant so they could enhance their strength and endurance. Even to this day, people in Siberia recommend the plant to help a person live longer, and they give it to newlywed couples to enhance fertility and vitality.
Rhodiola is one of my favorite adaptogens for helping increase energy, lift mood and enhance concentration, attention and focus. A recent study comparing rhodiola to a common antidepressant medication found that rhodiola reduced depression very similarly to the pharmaceutical antidepressant, however there far fewer side effects with rhodiola. Two common side effects from antidepressants are sexual dysfunctions (like being unable to reach orgasm) and agitation (even enough agitation that the result is insomnia). Rhodiola actually enhances sexual response and improves sleep, so the side effects of rhodiola are actually likely to help a person rather than hurt a person.
Adaptogens can help people survive tough physical stressors, including extremes of temperature, toxic chemical exposure, cancer and high endurance demands. They reduce stress’s demand on the body, improve longevity and enhance the immune system response. And they are incredibly safe.
The adaptogen rhodiola is appealing in part because there is quite a lot more research using rhodiola so we know more about it scientifically than we know about some of the other adaptogens. We know that rhodiola can:
- delay cellular aging
- prevent free radical damage to cell membranes
- reduce insulin resistance
- counteract excessive fat storage
- reduce inflammation (as measured by c-reactive protein levels)
- reduce fatigue
- help normalize heart rate
- enhance mental performance (concentration, attention)
- improve physical endurance and performance
- improve sexual functioning
- ease menopausal symptoms
- help protect the liver and help the liver perform its job (detoxification)
In short, what’s not to like? And one of the best things is that I can use rhodiola nearly every single day of the year and have no worries that I’m using it to excess or that it will stop “working” for me. I have also seen a number of people benefit from its anti-depressant and anti-anxiety effects. Rhodiola is truly one of my first “go-to” herbs.
In future posts, we’ll take a look at some of the more specific areas in which rhodiola is a star, including mental functioning, physical performance, stress, mood, fatigue, immune support and more.
-Dr. Alison Caldwell-Andrews is an expert contributor to the AdaptoGenie blog. Dr. Caldwell-Andrews received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Kentucky and completed a post-doc in Mind-Body Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. As a faculty member at Yale, she served as Director of Research for the Yale Perioperative Research Group, conducting clinical research and publishing 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals.