Herb Profile: Rhodiola
You might be wondering, based on the Latin name, if rhodiola is related to our widely romanticized rose. Directly, no, but think of rhodiola like the rose’s estranged second cousin. Although both are vastly different in appearance and are members of different botanical families, rhodiola and rose actually share quite a few properties. For example, they share a similar fragrance (hence the name R. rosea) (Holmes, 1987). And, they both serve as reproductive restoratives, nervous system stabilizers, and mood enhancers. 🙌
What sets rose's bizarre-looking second cousin apart then (other than its quirky looks)? Rhodiola is a fabulous stimulating adaptogen that supports natural physical endurance and stamina while boosting brain power.
The Long Run Of Life
Whoever made up the analogy that life is like a race definitely added a LOT of stress to the lives of modern humans. 🙄 As soon as you feel winded, the pressure to keep going, perform, and push yourself kicks in because you are competing in a race, right?
Although life may feel like a race, in theory, rhodiola is here to teach us differently. Rhodiola is a powerful adaptogen that helps shift our mentality and physical embodiment away from a race and toward a long solo run for vitality and pure enjoyment.
Yes, you still have to run in this analogy, but rhodiola helps take the edge off! When we experience adrenal fatigue, burnout, and other energy-exhaustive symptoms, the idea of continuing your lifelong run might sound intimidating (if not impossible!) This is where herbs like rhodiola come in to offer us endurance and stamina in a sustainable way.
In fact, rhodiola has been used in both traditional folk medicine and modern herbal practice to enhance physical stamina for athletes, increase physical labor, and ease altitude adjustment (De Bock, et al., 2004; Brown, et al., 2002; Parisi, et al., 2010). If you’re nestled in the mountains like we are here in Colorado, rhodiola is a good herbal ally to have on hand (especially for when the folks from sea-level come to visit!)
But how does rhodiola act differently than other endurance-boosting stimulants out there? Why can’t we just slam an energy drink and be on our way? The stimulants you will typically find hanging out at your local convenience store might prop up your energy and endurance levels at first, but that will be followed with a fatal period we like to call the “crash and burn” where your endurance and energy levels dip FAR below what they would normally be. With rhodiola, your energy and endurance levels will rise at first and then gradually lower to a level that still remains above average (Brown, et al., 2002). This is a classic characteristic of adaptogens, and one of many reasons that we are ALL about them!
While repeated use of “normal gas-station-type” stimulants diminishes brain catecholamines (the main neurotransmitters that control core nervous system functions) and our overall conditioned reflexes, repeated use of rhodiola has essentially the opposite effect. Rhodiola has been shown to potentially increase energy metabolism in the brain and is also a premier neuroendocrine restorative (Holmes, 1989; Brown, et al., 2002). So not only does rhodiola help you maintain a healthy pace in your life run, it also helps to keep you vital, sane and sharp as a tack. Adaptogens: 1, Stress: 0.
Mind Your Mood
Can you imagine how much more pleasant your lifelong run would be if your mood was boosted at the same time? Not only can rhodiola support our physical endurance and stamina, but it can also help boost our mood! Rhodiola increases the special neurotransmitter largely connected with our mood: serotonin (Yance, 2013; Brown, et al., 2002).
Like many other adaptogens, rhodiola has emerged as a top-tier neuroendocrine-immune restorative herb for both acute and chronic stress disorders (Holmes, 1989). In other words, rhodiola can help restore function and balance to your brain, hormonal system and immune system, while also enhancing your nervous system.
Remember in our eleuthero herb profile when we talked about its neuroendocrine regulating properties? Rhodiola is all about restoring function to these vital systems. It offers support for chronic endocrine imbalances related to the thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, ovaries and thymus (Holmes, 1989).
Although it’s a well-known custom to give the ladies in your life a bouquet of roses to show your love, in the mountain villages of Russia, a bouquet of Siberian rhodiola roots is given instead! This quirky bouquet is traditionally given before couples get married to enhance fertility (Yance, 2013).
Although this tradition might not seem as beautiful as a bouquet of roses, the Russian mountain folk were on to something. Rhodiola tonifies reproductive Qi, modulates both estrogen and testosterone and can enhance our sexuality (Holmes, 1989; Yance, 2013). So whether the mountain people knew it or not, they were actually giving the newlyweds a full fertility package in one bouquet!
For the ladies: when our estrogen and testosterone levels (yes, we have testosterone) are out of whack, symptoms like PMS, irregular cycles, lack of bleeding (amenorrhea), painful menses (dysmenorrhea) and menopausal syndrome can crop up. Plus, infertility can be an issue. So beyond the trendiness of “balancing your hormones,” there are quite a few important reasons to use herbs like rhodiola to get the hormonal system back on track.
The “Zing” Factor
We often get asked what herbs in the Rasa formula are really giving us an energy boost that’s akin to coffee. In addition to eleuthero and codonopsis, rhodiola is another prime stimulating adaptogen which really gives us the “zing” factor. We think that even the rhodiola flowers themselves look quite “zingy” and extra-energized...but we are herb-dweebs, so take us with a grain of salt. 🤓
As an adaptogen, rhodiola naturally helps restore our body’s ability to respond to stress and returns our stress levels to a happy and balanced place. Rhodiola is such a fabulous adaptogen, in fact, that research has deemed it truly “kingly” in nature (Yance, 2013).
But where does the “zing” factor come in? Rhodiola increases our memory and learning capacity and essentially gives our brain power a super-boost (Yance, 2013; Holmes, 1989). As I’m sure many of you are already aware, physical fatigue usually isn't only physical; there is typically mental fatigue as well. Rhodiola helps get your zing back, not only in your ability to physically perform, but also to mentally perform. This is why we think a cup of Rasa can help you say goodbye to those afternoon “brain farts.” 💨
Rhodiola Is Not For Everyone…
Although rhodiola can substantially increase endurance for many people, that is not the case for everyone. As a stimulating adaptogen, it is advised not to take rhodiola during a period of acute illness. In addition, rhodiola is also contraindicated for people prone to “excited states” to prevent overstimulation (Brown, 2002).
Large doses of rhodiola can adversely react with medications for bipolar disorder, causing too much stimulation to the point of inducing mania (but you would need to drink a TON of Rasa to have that effect!) Rhodiola can also potentially interact with cardioactive or caffeine-rich herbs and MAOI antidepressants, including herbs with a depression-regulating focus (such as St. John’s Wort). Be sure to consult with your healthcare provider if you are dealing with bipolar disorder or are on any other medications.
But again, because Rasa is a balanced formula with many adaptogens, and takes advantage of synergistic combinations of adaptogens...you are unlikely to experience untoward effects on a moderate dosage of 1-3 cups of Rasa a day.
It is possible to overdo it with rhodiola. Possible side effects of taking too much rhodiola could include insomnia, altered mental states, excessive dryness, anxiety, palpitations and the potential of triggering panic attacks or PTSD episodes. If taken within the recommended dosing range and balanced with other herbs in a formula like Rasa, these side effects can be avoided.
Because of its incredible benefits, rhodiola is becoming increasingly popular, and concerns about its long-term sustainability are on the rise (as are prices!) Our resident herbalist Ben LeVine, who also manages our supply chain, is watching this closely, and just completed a trip to China where he visited the natural preserves where our rhodiola is organically wildcrafted, Changbai Mountain.
The Chinese government is strictly regulating how much rhodiola can be harvested across the country, and only a certain amount can be taken from this pristine nature preserve on an annual basis. We are grateful to have a close relationship with our rhodiola supplier to ensure that we have a stable, sustainable, and cost-effective supply of this magical herb! This is where having direct relationships with our producers is of such incredible value—a value we are grateful to be able to pass down to our customers to ensure you can enjoy rhodiola's benefits in good conscience.
A Rosy Ending
If you’re looking to take on the long life run, rhodiola is your herbal ally. With properties ranging from physical and mental endurance boosts to being a reproductive restorative and lifting our moods, this stimulating adaptogen clearly has a lot to offer. The benefits don’t stop there though. Rhodiola can also assist in weight reduction, improve immunity, balance the nervous and endocrine systems, protect and restore cardiac function, and even offer chemoprotective support (Yance, 2013; Brown, et al, 2002; Holmes, 1989). This herb profile has an ending that is as rosy as the start! (Sorry, we are complete dweebs. Forgive us.)
About the Author
Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)
Brown, R.P., Gerbarg, P.L., & Ramazanov, Z. (2002). Rhodiola rosea: A phytomedicinal overview. HerbalGram, 56, 40-52. Retreived from: http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue56/article2333.html?ts=1525322112&signature=a52a43e5b91b1285f9c0b94c2b4714e3.
De Bock, K., Eijnde, B.O., Ramaekers, M., & Hespel, P. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14(3), 298-307.
Holmes, P. (1989). The energetics of western herbs. Cotati, CA: Snow Lotus Press.
Parisi, A., et al. (2010). Effects of chronic Rhodiola rosea supplementation on sport performance and antioxidant capacity in trained male: preliminary results. The Journal of Sport Medicine and Physical Fitness, 50(1), 57-63.
Yance, D. (2013). Adaptogens in medical herbalism: Elite herbs and natural compounds for mastering stress, aging, and chronic disease. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.