Rhodiola: The Golden Root for Stress, Memory & Mood

Rhodiola Rosea is a fragrant root with a long tradition of use in Russian folk medicine, getting it’s name Zolotoy Koren (Golden root) among the people of Siberia from its use as a golden remedy for cold climate, stressful life and physical endurance. This hardy high-altitude plant is also a native to Central Asia, Tibet and Scandinavia where it has been used as a vitality tonic for ages. Fascinatingly, the essential oil composition of the root differs depending on where it grows, with Russian grown rhodiola being high in rosavins, and those grown in China and Bulgaria being high in geraniol. In Siberia, rhodiola has long been given to newlyweds to boost fertility, and the Vikings were known to use this root for endurance and physical strength. (1) Within the past few decades rhodiola has gained a reputation as a key adaptogen, or the class of herbs used for decreasing stress response, balancing stress hormones and improving physical endurance—and is often used in modern times for fatigue, athletic performance enhancing, improving focus and even relieving depressed mood. Let us now dig down and discover what makes this root so golden, through an understanding of its specific traditional uses and current research. Uses of Rhodiola:

Relieving Fatigue & Stress

Rhodiola has long been used as a remedy for those that are just burnt out from the demands of life, and people that are exhausted from chronic stress. It is thought to do this by increasing energy production and improving physical endurance—making this root popular for athletes or anyone engaging in demanding physical exercise. Out of all the adaptogens, rhodiola is one of the fastest acting with some research indicating that within 30 minutes of use physical endurance may significantly improve. Adaptogens work by helping to balance the HPA-axis, or the neuroendocrine (nervous-hormonal) system in our bodies, that is paramount in responding to and adapting to stress, whether that be physical stresses such as exercise or mental stresses (2). For this reason, rhodiola can be particularly helpful for those with chronic fatigue that derives from stress and as a potential pre-workout for those seeking to improve endurance, work capacity and recovery.

Restoring Nervous System & Harmonizing Mind

Rhodiola also has a restorative effect on the nervous system and according to some research may prevent stress-induced damage to the heart. Other studies have shown that rhodiola can improve learning & memory in students, and long/short term memory in rat models—indicating that it may have some nootropic effects, or cognitive enhancing qualities. Rhodiola is also a well-known remedy for depression, situational anxiety and improving general wellbeing—with some reports showing that it not only decreases symptoms of depression but even reduced side effects of other mental health drugs*. It is believed due to its ability to modulate monoamines (ex. Serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine) that rhodiola exerts its anti-depressive/cognitive enhancing effects. (2)

*One should always consult with a physician, preferably versed in natural medicine, before taking any new herb or especially taking alongside with pharmaceuticals—so this information is educational for your knowledge.

Supports Hormones and Reproductive System

Rhodiola, as mentioned in the tale earlier of it being given to newlyweds, also has some potential for being a reproductive restorative for both men and women. This root is thought to have this benefit from its ability to increase both testosterone & estrogen, making its traditional use as a natural fertility aid plausible. Rhodiola is indicated for low hormones, loss of sexual desire, impotence and reproductive issues such as imbalanced menstrual cycles—which makes sense, as stress is one of the most common factors in these issues. (3)


Dosage & Preparation:

Rhodiola is best used in a decoction (root boiled for 10 minutes or more) or a tincture form. Smaller doses are thought to be more restorative while larger doses can have a mentally calming or stimulating effect depending mental state at the time. *One should always consult with a physician, preferably versed in natural medicine, before taking any new herb or especially taking alongside with pharmaceuticals—so this information is educational for your knowledge.

Decoction: 3 grams of ground herb/serving. You can do this by boiling the root in water for 10-20 minutes (or longer depending on desired strength) and taking note of how much root went into the mixture and how much liquid remained at the end. For example, if you use 30 grams of rhodiola and used 100 ml of water, then 10ml of that fluid would be 3 grams. This information is for those trying to be very scientific, the folk method of doing it by eye and hand measurements is much easier.

Tincture: 2-4 droppers of a rhodiola tincture (liquid extract) is about 1 ml of an active dose.

Personal Experiences:

Rhodiola is one of my favorite pre-workout herbs or for when I’m feeling overwhelmed with stress, and I have noticed that what is said about its quick action is pretty remarkably true. I make herbal medicines using rhodiola, mixed with ashwagandha and eleuthero root (Siberian ginseng) and use them on a daily basis to help support my adrenals, deal with stress and prior to runs to boost my endurance and willpower. What I’ve noticed is that within about 30 min to an hour of taking this mixture I will feel a boost in energy, focus and I seem to be better able to act in the face of stress. Rhodiola is very astringent and has a rose-like taste, drinking a bit of the tincture will give that feeling that a really strong tea does on the tongue. I remember when I was making a batch of rhodiola tincture how I took it quite late (past midnight) and in a pretty large dose (because I was taste testing it) and found myself an hour later with the strong urge to do pushups—which I of course obliged. Rhodiola is a key ingredient in any stress relieving or adrenal supporting mixture and is one of the key ingredients in the organic herbal tincture I craft called herculean strength. I love adding it to my coffee in the morning to balance out the jitters and give a clearer energy (while of course protecting my squishy adrenal glands from that so delicious harm that may come from coffee).

Thanks for checking out this article! Much love and good luck in your natural healing journey.

-Bogdan Makartchuk

Naturopathic Medical Student in final year of clinical studies

Founder of Kentauros Therapeutics

Host of Herbal Hour Podcast

Herbalist, Dream Therapist and Avid Jungian

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References

1) Ishaque, S., Shamseer, L., Bukutu, C. et al. Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med 12, 70 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-12-70

2) Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner. 2009. Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth. Wise Acres LLC.

3) Holmes, Peter. The Energetics of Western Herbs Vol.1, 4th Revised Edition 2007. Snow Lotus Press.