ROSEROOT! NOT THE ROSE YOU THINK
The Essential Herbal Magazine Jan/Feb ‘10
We’re all familiar with roses that love sunny, warm weather. But have you heard of Rhodiola rosea, also known as roseroot, Arctic root, and golden root as it is often referred to in ancient legends. Not related to the common rose, the freshly cut root has a similar rose-like fragrance, thus the name roseroot. Unlike the rose, it is extremely resistant to cold. Rhodiola rosea is sometimes called Arctic root because it grows primarily at high altitudes in the arctic regions of Europe and Asia.
Preparations from the plant’s root have long been used as a tonic to increase physical endurance, mental performance, longevity, and strength throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. Chinese emperors ordered expeditions to Siberia for the purpose of obtaining the plant for medicinal benefits. In Siberia and Middle Asia it was used for colds, flu’s, and to prevent sickness during the harsh winters. Mongolian doctors prescribed the highly prized herb for cancer and tuberculosis. Various medicinal uses for Rhodiola rosea appeared in the scientific literature of Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Germany, and the Soviet Union between 1725 and l960. The beginning of modern scientific investigation into Rhodiola rosea and its use began in the 1960s. By 1968 Russian pharmacologists classified Rhodiola rosea as an adaptogen, an herb that increases the body’s ability to adapt to stress with few side effects. The Russian Ministry of Health recognized Rhodiola rosea extract in 1975 as a medicine and tonic for increased attention span, improving memory, to combat fatigue, and a number of neurological conditions. Ten years later, Sweden approved the herb as an agent to fight fatigue and as a stimulant.
In the west, Rhodiola rosea is still not well known. It has not made significant inroads in the North American natural products market. This may be due to the fact that most of the research comes from Russia and Scandinavia. Nearly 200 studies have been published mainly in Slavic and Scandinavian languages since 1960, rarely translated into English.
Research has shown the following health-promoting applications of Rhodiola rosea:
- Stimulating effect on the central nervous system in small or medium doses.
- Sedative effects in larger doses.
- Builds physical endurance, and curtails recovery time after exercise.
- Improves function of thyroid without causing hyperthyroidism.
- Better functioning of thymus gland and protection from the involution that occurs with aging.
- Anti-depressive activity in persons with mild to moderate depression.
- Appears to increase learning, thinking, and memory.
- Improves physical fitness, mental fatigue under stressful conditions, coordination, and general well being.
- Increases intellectual capacity by improving perception and processing of information.
- Reduces stress-induced cardiac damage.
- As an antioxidant may protect the nervous system from oxidative damage by free radicals.
Rhodiola rosea is generally taken as a root extract in pill form or as a tea. Standardized root extracts are available as capsules or tablets that provide precise dosages of rosavins and salidrosides, the main active components in Rhodiola rosea. The recommended daily dose is approximately 75-150 mg taken twice daily containing 3% rosavins and 1% salidrosides. As a tea, drink 1-2 cups a day. The supplement is best absorbed half an hour prior to breakfast or lunch on an empty stomach. If taken later in the day, it can interfere with sleep or cause vivid dreams, especially during the first few weeks.
There are many species of Rhodiola. Only Rhodiola rosea has been the predominant subject of animal, human, and phytochemical studies, and is certified safe for humans. Avoid products that do not clearly state Rhodiola rosea in the ingredient listing on the product’s label.
Most individuals will find that Rhodiola rosea will benefit their mental clarity, mood, and energy level. Persons suffering from anxiety may find themselves becoming overly jittery or agitated when first using the herb. In this case, a smaller dose with gradual increase is suggested. Avoid use if suffering from bipolar disorder. Rhodiola rosea has an activating antidepressant effect in persons who are susceptible to becoming manic when given stimulants or antidepressants. Consult your healthcare provider before using if pregnant, nursing or taking medication.
Joe Smulevitz is a Chartered Herbalist, a Master Herbalist, a nutritional researcher and author of numerous health articles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org