Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.
Other Common Name:
Cu jing hong jin tiang, yagaan mugez, tsanser, golden root, arctic root , rose-boot
Where is it found?
R. rosea grows in the mountains of Central Asia, North America, and Europe.
Parts of the plant used:
The root and rhizomes (underground stems).
How is it used?
The medicinal raw material (rhizome with roots) is employed in traditional European folk medicine, principally in Scandinavia and the Russian Federation (Radomska-Leśniewska et al., 2015). The tender shoots and leaves are eaten in China. The plant is considered emollient and vulnerary (Quattrocchi, 2012). Rhodiola is considered astringent and bitter, but with a cool potency by Mongolian traditional medicine (WHO, 2013). Various Rhodiola supplements are available commercially and the alcohol-based tinctures can be diluted in water before ingestion or directly applied under the tongue with a dropper.
What is it used for?
Rhodiola roots and rhizomes are taken to improve memory, reduce stress (adaptogenic action), against cancer, and to stimulate the central nervous system (Li, 2009). Additionally, it is taken to improve body strength, for the treatment of inflammation of the lung and fever, as well as a mouthwash for bad breath (WHO, 2013).
Yokoyama et al. (2015) reviewed research on the molecular mechanisms of action of certain prescription medications and plant natural metabolites (including metformin, Rhodiola, and resveratrol, among others), as well as their effects, based on epidemiological evidence, tumor model experimental data, and early clinical study results. The authors mention that evidence from scientific research supports the theory that rate of aging may, to some extent, be controlled by certain nutrient sensing pathways, such as insulin/IGF-1-signaling, mTOR, AMPK, and sirtuins, for example. These pathways are present in various species, including humans. Additionally, these bio-chemical pathways are also commonly related to carcinogenesis as well as cancer metabolism. Certain pharmaceutical as well as natural compounds (including those contained in Rhodiola, for example) can target these nutrient-sensing pathways and frequently possess both anti-aging as well as anti-cancer activities.
Many other species are still being examined by researchers. These include Rhodiola crenulata – a sacred plant of Tibetan monks; Himalayan Rhodiola imbricata; as well as originated in China and Tibet Rhodiola Kirilowii that is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a cure for altitude sickness (commonly used by mountain climbers, aviators and astronauts). One of the least researched species is Rhodiola quadrifida, which is used in Mongolian traditional medicine. The roots and rhizomes of Rhodiola kirilowii and Rhodiola rosea, which were being imported from Siberia and Tibet were highly valued in ancient China and used by imperial medics.
Radomska-Leśniewska et al. (2015) mention the antioxidant, adaptogenic, anti-stress, anti-microbial, immune-modulating and angiomodulating properties of Rhodiola rosea. For this reason, a study was undertaken with various plants regarding their potential for decreasing oxidative stress and interfering with angiogenesis (the development of new blood vessels in tumors). The researchers mentioned that various species of the genus Rhodiola have powerful antioxidant activities and exhibit adaptogenic action (augment resistance to various types of stress). These species also possess anti-arrhythmic, anticancer, and cardio-protective properties, especially due to their antioxidant and free radical quenching abilities. Of various substances studied for their antioxidant and anti-angiogenic capabilties, Rhodiola was one of two that showed both antioxidant as well as angio-regulatory activities, thereby decreasing high angiogenesis of cancer cells.
Mao et al (2015) undertook a Phase II randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial with 57 participants, to assess both the relative safety as well as the efficacy of Rhodiola compared to a prescription medication (sertraline) for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. The results of the study showed that Rhodiola had lower antidepressant effects compared to sertraline, but the plant was better tolerated and, more importantly, showed significantly fewer adverse events compared to the drug. The authors of the study concluded that although Rhoidola was not as effective as the prescription medication, it could have a more favorable risk to benefit ratio for patients suffering from mild to moderate depression.
With regard to the female reproductive system, Gerbarg and Brown (2015), proposed that Rhodiola should be investigated as a potential selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) to prevent, delay or decrease various menopause-related health conditions, including cognitive, psychological, cardiovascular, and osteoporotic.
Safety / Precautions
- A European study found that certain herbal supplements purportedly containing Rhodiola were adulterated with various other substances. For this reason, it is very important to be aware of the quality control that some manufacturers use in commercially available herbal products (Booker et al., 2015).
- The safety of Rhodiola during pregnancy and lactation has not been established.
Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!
Booker A, Jalil B, Frommenwiler D, Reich E, Zhai L, Kulic Z, Heinrich M.
The authenticity and quality of Rhodiola rosea products. Phytomedicine. 2015 Oct 31. pii: S0944-7113(15)00318-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2015.10.006.
Gerbarg PL, Brown RP. Pause menopause with Rhodiola rosea, a natural selective estrogen receptor modulator. Phytomedicine. 2015 Dec 12. pii: S0944-7113(15)00368-2. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2015.11.013.
Li T. Chinese and Related North American Herbs 2nd ed.
CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL; 2009; pp. 286-287.
Mao JJ, Xie SX, Zee J, Soeller I, Li QS, Rockwell K, Amsterdam JD. Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. Phytomedicine. 2015; 22(3):394-9. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2015.01.010.
Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants, Vol. 5.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; pp. 33-34.
Radomska-Leśniewska DM, Skopiński P, Bałan BJ, Białoszewska A, Jóźwiak J, Rokicki D, Skopińska-Różewska E, Borecka A, Hevelke A. Angiomodulatory properties of Rhodiola spp. and other natural antioxidants. Cent Eur J Immunol. 2015;40(2):249-62. doi: 10.5114/ceji.2015.52839.
World Health Organization (WHO). Medicinal Plants in Mongolia.
Geneva: WHO Press; 2013; pp. 169-172.
Yokoyama NN, Denmon A, Uchio EM, Jordan M, Mercola D, Zi X. When Anti-Aging Studies Meet Cancer Chemoprevention: Can Anti-Aging Agent Kill Two Birds with One Blow?
Curr Pharmacol Rep. 2015; 1(6):420-433.