Rhodiola is a relatively new herb and supplement in the American market, however it has a long history of use in Russia and Europe. In my personal and professional practice it has proven itself over the years as an outstanding adaptogen and it’s one of the few herbs that I carry as single herb rather than a combination. Let’s take a look at this fascinating herb.

Rhodiola rosea is member of the Crassulaceae family along with sedum and stonecrop.  Also know as Roseroot and Golden Root, the rhizome has an outer golden skin and lovely inner pink flesh.  It thrives in cold regions on rocky mountain slopes from 11,000-16,000 feet and is found throughout the world from the Arctic, Central Asia and the Rocky Mountains to the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Carpathian Mountains, Ireland and Iceland. Why do I mention this? We recognize that like begets like when it comes to the energetics of foods and herbs. This tenacious, hardy little plant will transmit its characteristics over to you. 

Traditionally, rhodiola has been used in Russian and European for thousands of years as a tonic, to strengthen athletes or to relieve common bronchial symptoms. Since the early 1960’s more than 180 pharmacological, phytochemical and clinical studies have been published on rhodiola, with rhodiola rosea is the variety most that has been most studied. It has been certified safe for both animal and human use.  Most of the studies look at rhodiola’s properties as an adaptogen, a broad and beautiful category of herbs that includes ginseng and maca. Adaptogens help us adapt – they help the body regulate and tonify by harmonizing and building the respiratory, cardiovascular and endocrine system. Generally they are not used in times of acute illness – like when you are fighting a cold – rather they are used in times of health to continue to maintain health and strengthen.

Rhodiola as an adaptogen

Adaptogens help maintain the body’s homeo-dynamic balance, helping us maintain a state of health.  They assist us in adapting to change due to stress or weather and increase our resistance to disease. Adaptogens generally have little to no toxicity or side effects at normal dosages.  

Rhodiola Rosea also regulates leukocyte (white blood cell) count, blood glucose, and promotes protein hydrolysis; it enhances the functions of the thyroid gland, adrenals, and ovaries. Recent studies indicate that rhodiola helps increase tolerance to hypoxia, microwave irradiation, strychnine poisoning and other toxins. 

Rhodiola protects the brain by inhibiting the enzymatic decline of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, due to excessive stress hormone release. Studies indicate that the herb can enhance transport of serotonin’s precursors into the brain increasing overall brain serotonin levels by up to 30%.  Combined with Hippophae, rhodiola is currently being used in the treatment of altitude sickness.

The active constituents of rhodiola include: flavonoids (quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol), condensed flavonoids (polyphenols, mainly gallic acid and epigallocatechin), cyanoglycosides (histamine response inhibitors), and rosea, which is deemed the main active ingredient by nearly all authorities.

Asian medicine (Chinese medicine) energetics of rhodiola

Called ‘hongjingtian’ by the Chinese, (hong = red, jingtian = view of heaven, referring to its growth in high altitudes and the small cluster blossoms that look toward heaven.) 红景天.  China lists nearly seventy varieties of rhodiola with recent research conducted on over 20 of these varieties. 

Energetics and functions

Rhodiola cools heat, detoxifies and vitalizes Blood circulation, tonifies the Qi.  It enters the Lungs, Kidneys, Spleen, Heart and Heart Envelope.

Toxicity and side effects

None noted to date, yet most current research is aimed at rhodiola’s adaptogenic properties rather than treatment of lung issues.


• Available in capsule or tablets.  

• Look for a standardized formula with a 3:1 ratio of rosavins to salidroside. Do not use artificially synthesized forms as not all active components of Rhodiola have been identified and artificially produced forms would be lacking in unidentified components.

• Standard dose: 100 mg 2 times a day

• High doses are over 1,000 mg a day—yet no toxicity levels have been sited

• May be increase to 200 mg three times day if needed.

• Recent Swedish clinical trials for depression in 18-70 year olds sited effective results with dosages of 340-680 mg per day with no side effects demonstrated at these doses. 


• Rhodiola is best avoided in anxious, hyper states and should be taken early in the day as it may interfere with sleep. Reduce or stop if you become excited or jittery.

Check with your Asian medicine practitioner or herbalist to see if rhodiola may be a match for you.

Be well,



• Plants for a Future online: http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Rhodiola+rosea

• NCBI  PUB/MED: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18536978

• Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains: Harrington. H. D.. University of New Mexico 

•Tibetan Herbal Medicine: Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon

• Inner Traditions Medicine online:http://www.itmonline.org/arts/tibherbs.htm