Found atop heavenly mountains and in weather well below freezing, Rhodiola rosea reigns king as one of the toughest plants Mother Nature has created. Known more commonly as roseroot, golden root, or arctic root, this plant is able to flourish in some of the toughest environments found on Earth. The plant favors to grow in a high altitude, low temperature environment, such as the frozen peaks of the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine or the arctic cold of the north pole. High altitude environments are notorious for low oxygen and low carbon dioxide levels, the very nourishment of plants. High altitudes also means high exposure to ionizing radiation from the sun, which can critically damage the genetic code of any organism. Furthermore, freezing temperatures often damage the metabolic activity of most life. How then, does Rhodiola rosea manage to thrive in these harsh environments? The answer is simple, yet enormously complex.
Not all plants are created equal.
Rhodiola rosea is in a very select class of herbs known commonly as adaptogens. To this day, there are only a handful of plants from across the world that fit the definition, of the hundreds of thousands of plant species documented. In order for a plant to be a true adaptogen, as defined by Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, a Russian scientist who practically pioneered the study of these plants, an herb must be:
- Non-toxic to the user in any substantial dose
- Work to achieve balance within the body, and
- Resist multiple stressors, such as physical/oxidative stress, chemical stress, and biological stress.
These stress reduction properties in Rhodiola rosea are most likely the result of the herb adjusting to its own harsh native environment. For many centuries, the herb has been cultivated and praised as a superior herb in ancient Aryuvedric medicine for boosting energy, and increasing the resistance to stress in all forms for those who ingest the root. Though it was considered magical, modern science has begun to discover the powerful compounds and their time-tested effects on human physiology.
At the forefront of research into Rhodiola rosea were the Russians, who were some of the first to look for an edge in competition through using science and nature. The arctic root was at the forefront of their research, along with a few other adaptogens. The roots were extracted, and put into tablet form as supplements. The energizing and anti-fatigue effects were obvious. They noticed an increase in mental acuity, a loss in recovery time after harsh physical stress, a lack of fatigue and a reduction in altitude sickness through their research. Many of these studies were kept behind closed doors, however. They were meant to enhance exclusively Russian athletes, no one else. Today, these claims have been proven to be true with double blind placebo controlled studies, the gold standard of research, with fascinatingly impressive results.
With the discovery of anabolic steroids and other synthetic bodily hormones, the Russians drifted away from nature and sports, opting for much harsher supplements with more dramatic effects – and side effects. However, with the Cold War following World War 2, which lead to the Space Race, they resumed testing these herbs to supplement cosmonauts facing the most brutal environment: Space. The herb was mixed with other adaptogens, and kept the cosmonauts levelheaded, energized, and reduced mental stress while facing the final frontier.
Despite much effort, no one compound has been attributed to Rhodiola rosea’s astounding abilities. In fact over 140 different compounds have been isolated, as phenols, rosins, rosavins,terpenoids, flavonoids, alkaloids, etc., many of which are unique to specifically the species Rhodiola rosea. These compounds have been shown to be antidepressants, to boost the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system to produce a calm, focused mind, to increase the levels of neurotransmitters within the brain and muscles such as acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin, and to return the body to homeostasis, when frequent stress has torn it apart.
Rhodiola rosea is not magical. It is not a miracle – though it certainly sounds like one. It is simply nature’s response to biological stress. If this all sounds too good to be true, I entirely agreed with you. That’s exactly what I believed. However, through my research and my own personal experience, I implore you to try it yourself, and to see what this incredible root can do for you.