- Rhodiola rosea is a plant that grows in cold climates and showcases proven properties that are beneficial to the human body.
- It exhibits energising properties (it decreases fatigue and provides an extra energy boost), and also calming properties (it can help reduce stress levels).
- We dedicate this month’s post to this plant whose roots are used as a dietary supplement.
Rhodiola is the tip of the spear of adaptogenic plants. It was the first to awaken scientific curiosity regarding the capability of these plants to help the human body adapt to adverse external situations. The uniqueness of this group of medicinal herbs lies in the fact that they don't interact with specific organs but rather with the body as a whole. Hence their importance: they improve the overall physical condition of a given individual. Let's have a look at the origins of Rhodiola, the adaptogenic plant par excellence, and let's see how it can help improve our health.
Rhodiola rosea: origin, morphology and cultivation
Rhodiola rosea is a plant that originates from the cold climate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. It grows wild in mountainous areas in some parts of Russia. It is a short plant, of no more than 30 cm in height, that flowers in the summer. It can withstand sub zero temperatures and doesn't have any special substrate requirements. This means that it's really easy to grow: you hardly need any previous knowledge to make it flower, and when it does, it becomes a really ornamental plant. It loses its leaves in the winter, but flowers again in the summer, producing yellow flowers in the case of male plants, and purple flowers in the case of females.
Adaptogenic plants: plants that regulate the human body in its entirety
Adaptogenic plants help us adapt to the environment; hence their name, which is derived from the Latin word adaptare. These herbs don't produce any effects when they are ingested, but have a specific impact on each individual according to their particular needs. For instance, caffeine always increases blood pressure, regardless of who ingests it. On the contrary, an adaptogenic plant will only increase blood pressure when it is faced with an individual that suffers from low pressure, and will decrease it when it circulates through bodily organs with high pressure. This is the most important feature of these plants: they are capable of regulating our vital organs. And not only this: besides this regulating role, they can also influence all organs at the same time.
Adaptogens were studied in Russia during the Second World War and the Cold War with the aim of finding a way to strengthen the Russian population.
The first to do this and discover the properties of these plants was the Russian scientist Nikolai Lazarev. This pharmacologist made his discovery in 1940 whilst commissioned by the Soviet Union. The former USSR government prompted him to find a medicine that would keep the citizens strong, in preparation for the Second World War. But his discoveries weren't only appropriate for times of war: he also wanted to find a substance capable of keeping the Russian population strong and healthy during the Cold War against the Western nations.
Mr Lazarev started his research by studying the plants used in traditional Chinese medicine. This is how he discovered that these herbs could trigger effects in the whole human body and could regulate the different organs when they were under certain threats. Asian people had been studying and using these plants in their healing treatments for thousands of years, and regarded them as superior substances. Other adaptogenic plants include rosemary, chamomile, ginger, ginseng, eleutherococcus (also known as Siberian ginseng), and turmeric. All of them help strengthen the human body in one way or another, ultimately promoting overall health.
Main common characteristics of adaptogenic plants
These are the main properties of adaptogenic herbs that cannot be found in other types of plants:
- They improve resistance against biological, chemical and physical threats.
- They regulate the human body.
- They are non-toxic.
Rhodiola's therapeutic properties
The Rhodiola plant develops its adaptogens in its roots, and it is this part that must be consumed to obtain all of its benefits. Its main adaptogens are rosavin (from the phenylpropanoid family), and salidroside (phenylethylene derivative). The combination of these two components contributes to the following:
- It strengthens the immune system: Rhodiola helps to regulate the body so it can defend itself against external threats by keeping defences strong.
- It reduces stress and fatigue: several clinical studies have proven that the right dosage of Rhodiola root helps regulate vital functions to fight against outside threats that can cause fatigue, and can also help alleviate anxiety symptoms.
- It fights depression and improves mood: according to this study, Rhodiola inhibits monoamine oxidase, which is the specific substance that is inhibited by most anti-depressants.