Also called Roseroot, Goldenroot, or Arctic Root, it is a perennial sedum with a thick rhizome, succulent leaves, and yellow, fragrant flowers. It grows in sandy or rocky, slightly acidic soil at high altitudes in the sub-arctic areas of Europe, Asia, Eastern Siberia, Canada, Greenland, and Scandinavia. At maturity, it reaches a height of 12 to 30 inches. There are a few dozen Rhodiola species, but Rhodiola Rosea is unique with regards to its chemical composition and medicinal value. In the wild state, it can take up to 25 years to mature, but when cultivated it only takes 4-5 years before it becomes commercially useful. The plant is well known and heavily used in Russia and Scandinavia. The highest quality plants come from the Altai Mountains in Siberia, where it is harvested primarily from wild growth.
It can be cultivated at lower altitudes (but still at high latitudes) and there are Rhodiola farms in Scandinavia, Russia, and Canada. Here in Alaska, we are developing the best cultivation practices with research support from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the University of California Irvine.
Rhodiola Rosea (Sedum Rosea) - The Plant
Rhodiola Rosea has been used in China and Tibet as early as 2697 BC. Described by the Greek physician Dioscorides 2000 years ago, it was named after the rose-like odor of the freshly cut root. The Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus documented its use as a medicinal in the 1700s. It has been used in Sweden and Russia for centuries and most of the research has been published there. Its less potent sister species (R. integrifolia) has been used for medicinal purposes by the Alaskan Athabascan, Yupik, and Inupiat peoples for centuries.
After WWII, the Russians began searching for a botanical product that would boost Soviet competiveness in their athletes and in military troops. After searching through hundreds of options, they settled on Rhodiola Rosea. In 1969, the Russian Ministry of Health began recommending it for its physical and mental performance enhancement effects. In the 1980s the Russian Academy of Sciences discovered the 4 major active chemicals and called them adaptogens. Moscows Institute for Space Medicine also began using it in their cosmonauts in the 1990s. Currently is it heavily used by many Russians and other northern peoples for these and other beneficial effects. More recently it has been used in modern psychiatry for its anti-depressant effects.
- This is a list of its most commonly believed beneficial effects, primarily from its ADAPTOGEN properties:
- enhanced physical endurance and performance
- decreases effects of stress on the body
- counters high altitude sickness
- restorative female and male reproductive functions
It should be noted that there is no known toxicity.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Rhodiola rosea root good for?
R. rosea root has been used for thousands of years by northern people to improve mental focus and enhance physical stamina. Initially used primarily by athletes and warriors, it has also been found to have adaptogenic effects. Its unique chemicals, primarily Rosavins and Salidroside, are believed to help the body adapt to stress by improving immune function, relieving adrenal gland fatigue, and supporting carbohydrate metabolism.
How and how much should I take?
The dose is different for different people – some people feel well with a small amount, like one dropperful, others need more. Unless you have used Rhodiola before, please start out at a low dose as some people are sensitive to the stimulating effects.
Start with one dropperful in the morning for a couple days. You can advance it to 2-3 dropperfuls, even add an early afternoon dose if you need an energy boost. Because the taste of the tincture can be intense, most people will dilute it in a small amount of water, or add it to a beverage such as coffee or tea. It is best taken on an empty stomach for about 20 minutes before eating, as food will slow down the absorption.
Please note: When you squeeze the pipette it fills up only half-way – that is a dropperful. This is 0.5 mL For comparison, three mL are the equivalent of one 100mg standardized capsule (3% rosavins).
Some people take Rhodiola only as long as they think they need while dealing with a particular health issue. Others take it regularly for extended times, or with breaks in between. It’s a personal choice.
What are side effects?
Rhodiola is a stimulant so it can increase anxiety or jitteriness in people who are particularly sensitive to stimulating chemicals. That is why we recommend to start out with a low dose. If a person feels anxious, they should simply discontinue taking it and the effect should wear off in a couple hours. Many people also notice more vivid dreams for the first few nights after starting Rhodiola, as it does cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulates brain centers resulting in dreaming.
Why is the tincture made with alcohol?
The ingredients that impart the color and flavor to R. rosea are quite soluble in water. That is why Rhodiola tea has such a rich reddish color and rose-like fragrance, along with the bitter, somewhat tannin taste. The chemicals that provide the health benefits, primarily rosavins and saldroside, are better dissolved in an organic solvent such as ethanol (i.e. alcohol). Therefore, to extract as much of the entire spectrum of chemicals out of the root, it is best to use water / ethanol. We have experimented with various concentrations and found that 75% alcohol / 25% water seems to be the best in pulling out the important ingredients while also keeping enough of the color and flavor intact.
Can I take it with antidepressants medication?
Yes, R. rosea can be given in combination with antidepressant medications. They usually work synergistically to improve energy, mood, and cognitive functions. No formal studies of such combinations have been done. However, many psychiatrists have used R. rosea with many SSRIs and SNRIs with no reported adverse effects. However, it should not be used with MOA inhibitors or antipsychotic medications. Furthermore, people with bipolar disorder should avoid Rhodiola as it can increase agitation during manic phases.
Can it help with amenorrhea or menopausal symptoms?
R. rosea root has Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulation (SERM) effects. It can therefore increase fertility in women with primary or secondary amenorrhea. It may also help alleviate symptoms associated with menopause.
Does it affect birth control?
It is possible that R. rosea could reduce the effectiveness of oral birth control pills. This has not been formally studied. However, women on oral birth control pills who want to take R. rosea should consider using an additional method of birth control.
Does it help with diabetes?
Studies in laboratory mice at the University of California Irvine have shown that Rhodiola rosea might be beneficial for treating type 2 diabetes by acting through changes in the gut microbiome. It seems to increase gut barrier integrity and decrease translocation of inflammatory molecules into the blood circulation.
Does it help with weight loss?
R. rosea has the potential to improve the ability to burn fats after exercise, but of course the benefits would depend on getting regular exercise. Since Rhodiola does help improve mental energy, it likely helps motivation for physical exercise.
I have anxiety. Will Rhodiola make it worse?
For most people with anxiety disorders, R Rosea can help reduce symptoms especially if taken as a low dose. However, people who are unusually sensitive to the stimulating effects may actually feel more anxious. Fortunately, this effect wears off quickly within a couple hours, once it is discontinued.
I take thyroid medications. Can I take Rhodiola?
People with low thyroid levels can benefit from using R rosea as it could make the existing thyroid hormones more effective. It would not exacerbate hypothyroidism. If taking thyroid supplementation, it is important to regularly monitor thyroid blood levels, whether using Rhodiola or any other supplement.
I have an autoimmune disease. Can I take Rhodiola?
R. rosea is often used to improve immune function. There is no evidence to suggest that it makes autoimmune processes worse, but he effects of R. rosea on immune disorders have not been formally studied. It probably is safe to use if the autoimmune disorder is stable, and not during the time it is in its acute phase.
I am being treated for cancer. Will Rhodiola help? What about estrogen-sensitive cancers?
Most oncologists tell their patients not to take any herbs during cancer treatment as there is no good research regarding how herbs work during cancer therapy. Based on this lack of knowledge, we cannot recommend it.
Regarding estrogen sensitive cancers, there is no evidence that R. rosea would interfere with treatment for hormone sensitive cancers, but again, there is no data to demonstrate that it would be safe.
I have hyperthyroidism. Can Rhodiola make it worse?
Theoretically, in cases of hyperthyroidism, R. rosea might exacerbate symptoms. However, many practitioners use it safely in patients with hyperthyroidism. As with people taking thyroid supplements, one should start with low doses and monitor symptoms as well as thyroid blood levels to make sure conditions remain stable. Always discuss this with your treating provider.
I have PCOS. Is it safe to take Rhodiola?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a condition where the ovaries produce too much male hormone (androgen). Theoretically, Rhodiola may raise androgen levels because of its SERM effects, so it’s important to discuss with your provider and periodically check androgen blood levels to be make sure they don’t rise. Once it is clear that the androgen levels are not changing, monitoring can occur less often.
Does Rhodiola help with ADD / ADHD?
While there have been no conclusive studies demonstrating that R. rosea improves attention in people who have ADD or ADHD, many testimonials indicate that it can be very effective. One reason for the lack of such clinical studies is that it is very hard to create well controlled, double blind studies using herbal supplements because there are no standardizations of botanical preparations. However, high quality R. rosea preparations are often used by students studying for and taking examinations.
Why are there so few clinical studies using R. rosea?
In contrast to pure medications made from a single chemical that can be standardized, preparations made from plant materials consist of complex combinations of many different chemicals. These can vary from batch to batch depending on where and how the plant was grown, harvested, and prepared for human use. In the world of herbal medicine and dietary supplements, it is important to rely on trusted, reputable sources, but this still does not guarantee consistency even within the same producer. Many studies are first done in animal or cellular models to lead to development of concepts that may be later tested in humans.
Is Rhodiola safe to give to children?
While it is probably true that indigenous northern people probably used Rhodiola rosea root in children, it has not been tested for safety in children. Therefore, we cannot recommend its use in children at this time.
Is Rhodiola safe to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
It is likely that northern people used Rhodiola as a traditional medicine during pregnancy and even breastfeeding, but again, it has not been tested for safety in these conditions. Therefore, we cannot recommend its use during pregnancy or breastfeeding until more research is done to determine its safety.
Does Rhodiola rosea have anti-aging effects?
Research at UC Irvine has shown that fruit flies treated with R. rosea extract live 25% longer than untreated flies. More importantly, they are healthy and behave like younger fruit flies in both activity and reproductive capability. Humans share a significant amount of DNA with fruit flies, so this indicates that there may be similar positive effects in people. Of course, more research is needed to better answer this question in mammals, much of which is being done at UC Irvine.