Rhodiola Rosea Revelations

Rhodiola Rosea In Traditional Medicine

This guide is part 2 of our reformat and re-release of Rhodiola Rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview. We hope you find it useful in understanding the origins of this adaptogen’s use and in helping you weigh the potential benefits of rhodiola against the possible side effects of rhodiola.

Note that if you are researching this adaptogen internationally, you may sometimes see it spelled without the ‘h’, as in rodiola rosea, but we’re talking about the same thing.

Rhodiola Rosea In Traditional Medicine

Traditional folk medicine used Rhodiola rosea to increase physical endurance, work productivity, longevity, resistance to high altitude sickness, and to treat fatigue, depression, anemia, impotence, gastrointestinal ailments, infections, and nervous system disorders. In mountain villages of Siberia, a bouquet of roots is still given to couples prior to marriage to enhance fertility and assure the birth of healthy children.2 In Middle Asia, R. rosea tea was the most effective treatment for cold and flu during severe Asian winters. Mongolian doctors prescribed it for tuberculosis and cancer.13 For centuries, only family members knew where to harvest the wild “golden roots” and the methods of extraction.2 Siberians secretly transported the herb down ancient trails to the Caucasian Mountains where it was traded for Georgian wines, fruits, garlic, and honey. Chinese emperors sent expeditions to Siberia to bring back the “golden root” for medicinal preparations.

Rhodiola Rosea With Root
Rhodiola Rosea With Root

Linnaeus wrote of R. rosea as an astringent and for the treatment of hernia, leucorrhoea (vaginal discharge), hysteria, and headache.4,7 In 1755 R. rosea was included in the first Swedish Pharmacopoeia. Vikings used the herb to enhance their physical strength and endurance.14 German researchers described the benefits of R. rosea for pain, headache, scurvy, hemorrhoids, as a stimulant, and as an anti-inflammatory.15,16

In 1961, G.V. Krylov, a Russian botanist and taxonomist in the Department of Botany at the Novosibirsk Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, led an expedition to the cedar taiga in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia where he located and identified the “golden root” as Rhodiola rosea.17 Extracts of the R. rosea root were found to contain powerful adaptogens. Research revealed that it protected animals and humans from mental and physical stress, toxins, and cold.2,17 The quest for new medicines to treat diseases such as cancer and radiation sickness, and to enhance physical and mental performance, led to the discovery of a group of phenylpropanoids that are specific to R. rosea (see the Phytochemistry section further into the article or review Rhodiola Rosea Pharmacology, Phytochemistry and Standardization).

Picture Credit: Rhodiola rosea with root, Baxter, William. British phaenogamous botany. Oxford, published by the author, sold by J. H. Parker, 1834-1843, vol. 5, plate 391. Courtesy of The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

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