Everything You Wanted To Know About Rhodiola rosea

What is Rhodiola rosea?

You may have heard of Rhodiola rosea (Golden Root or Arctic Root), a northern medicinal plant that has been used for thousands of years to help improve mental focus and physical stamina. Its roots contain potent adaptogens and antioxidants; it has stimulating effects and is believed to help counteract the harmful effects of stress. 

Rhodiola rosea has become quite popular among herbal medicine practitioners in recent years, but the supply has been limited because it comes primarily from wild harvest in the mountains of Siberia and northern China.  As demand is growing, this is not sustainable as the species is being threatened to extinction from overharvesting.  On top of that, our worsening relations with Russia and China will likely further restrict access to this wonderful medicinal plant.


What are adaptogens, and how are they used for health?

During the 1940’s, Soviet scientists were researching many medicinal plants and described a category of botanical compounds that provide a generalized protective effect. They called them “adaptogens” because they help the body adapt to stress and provide an overall resilience against harmful conditions. In physiologic terms, adaptogens act on metabolic regulation as stress response modifiers to help protect the body from environmental / emotional challenges. They often have a two-level dose-effect response: at low dose they act as a mild stress-mimetic (stimulant); at higher doses, they activate adaptive stress-response pathways so as to get the body ready to counteract severe stress. One more important feature - to be considered an adaptogen, it also must be non-toxic. 

There are several adaptogenic plants used in modern herbal medicine; two of the most popular today are Ginseng and Ashwagandha. These plants are in plentiful supply and therefore found in many popular supplements today.  However, Rhodiola rosea is much more precious in that it is primarily harvested in wild mountain regions of Siberia and China. It has unique chemicals, called rosavins, found in no other plants. Because its supply is more limited, it is not as well known to the general public, although well respected by athletes, naturopaths, and mental health practitioners.


Has Rhodiola rosea been used a long time?

Described in Jason and the Argonauts as a magic potion created to make him invincible, Golden Root was well known in traditional folklore from the Vikings to the Roman Empire, and all the way to central Asia and China. Originally used primarily by athletes and warriors for its stimulating effects, the Soviets considered it a military secret and used it in their soldiers, cosmonauts, and KGB agents. It’s been used by practitioners around the world ever since.


Is there research to support health claims?

There is a lot of historical evidence regarding how Rhodiola rosea has been used traditionally.  There are also many modern studies validating its health benefits. Having said that, formal clinical research on botanical products is not easy. This is very different from testing pharmaceutical medications, which involve pure drugs in known dosages.  Plants and their extracts are complicated and their chemicals vary depending on origin, environmental conditions, processing methods, and extraction techniques.  This makes for difficult and often inconclusive clinical studies of the health effects of botanical preparations. Additionally, research on adaptogens is particularly challenging, in that they can – by definition – have different effects in different people.

However, the consensus of many studies is that Rhodiola rosea root can improve mental function, especially during times of stress (such as when taking exams), improve endurance in athletes (does not make you stronger or faster, but may provide more stamina), and may have anti-aging effects (at least in fruit flies). It has been very helpful to many people suffering from depression or anxiety, and may help low-libido states.  There is no known toxicity.


Where can I find ethically sourced Rhodiola rosea products?

Here at Alaska Rhodiola, we work directly with Alaskan farmers to bring you the most pure and fresh cultivated Rhodiola rosea on the planet. Each product you purchase from us can be traced back to an individual Alaskan farmer.  This is not Russian or Chinese rhodiola of questionable quality and purity. Alaska Grown, US made! 

We’ll talk about Alaska Rhodiola farmers in our next post, so make sure to check back!




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