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Rhodiola Rosea - The Big Picture

In this article we will start at the top and describe exactly what Rhodiola is, where it comes from and why people are so excited about Rhodiola. If you already know the basics about Rhodiola you may want to skip this article and move on to our next article - Rhodiola Rosea Secrets Revealed

What is Rhodiola Rosea?

Rhodiola Rosea is a plant that grows in frigid temperatures and high rocky altitudes. Rhodiola Rosea can be found growing above 10,000 feet in the Altai mountains of Siberia. The plant can grow from 12-30 inches and has yellow flowers and is often called the Golden Root, Siberian Root, Roseroot or Arctic Root.

While Rhodiola Rosea has a striking yellow flower, it is the root of the Rhodiola Rosea that is prized for its health benefits. The root when cut gives off the aroma of a rose - and this is why it is called Rhodiola ROSEA.

Rhodiola Rosea (R. Rosea) belongs to the Crassulaceae plant family. It is important to note that there are over 200 species of the Rhodiola plant, but only the Rhodiola Rosea species has been shown to have significant health benefits.

What is the history of use of Rhodiola Rosea?

In the interest of keeping you awake, we will keep our history lesson short...

Rhodiola Rosea use as a medicinal plant can be traced back to 77 A.D. - when Greek Physician Dioscorides documented Rhodiola Rosea (called rodia riza back then) in his medical text - De Materia Medica. The Vikings used Rhodiola Rosea to increase endurance and stamina during their journeys. The Chinese Emperors would commission expeditions to remote parts of the Siberian Mountains to bring back the prized Golden Root - rhodiola rosea. In 1725 the herb was given its current name - Rhodiola Rosea by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus.

From 77 A.D. to the mid 1900's Rhodiola Rosea was prized as a medicinal herb throughout almost all parts of Europe and Asia. Rhodiola Rosea grew primarily in Siberia and it was so valued that it was illegal to trade it outside of Russian borders. Russians used Rhodiola Rosea to survive the harsh Siberian winters.

While there was tremendous anecdotal evidence, there was limited research on how Rhodiola Rosea worked. That all changed when the Soviet Union began extensive and top secret research into herbs after World War II.

War, Adaptogens, Rhodiola and the Soviets? What is the connection?

Yes, this looks like a question from Jeopardy. Let us explain...

After World War II the Soviets launched a country wide program to make Russians more competitive in the military, athletics and sciences. One aspect of this program was the investigation of herbal remedies that claimed to increase mental capacity, energy, endurance and stamina. In 1947 a Soviet Scientist named Dr. Lazarev coined the term Adaptogen.

Adaptogen herbs must conform to these 3 standards:

  1. Must be nontoxic and cause very few, if any, side effects
  2. Produce nonspecific resistance in the body to all types of stressors (physical, chemical and biological)
  3. Produce a normalizing influence on the body.
What do those three standards really mean? An adaptogen herb will be nontoxic and cause few if any side effects. An adaptogen herb must help build resistance to all areas of stress that may effect our body. For example, if an herb helped with physical exhaustion, but did nothing to protect against viruses (biological stressor) it would NOT BE AN ADAPTOGEN. Finally, an adaptogen herb will be able to normalize the body and place the body in proper balance. The key with an adaptogen is being able to adapt to what the body needs and balancing the body. A herb that could increase energy if your body is fatigued and also decrease energy if your body is over stimulated, would be an example of an adaptogen herb.

Do adaptogens herbs really exist?

We understand that from a Western medical perspective adaptogens sound too good to be true. An herb that adapts and helps our body with whatever it needs, and does no harm... how could this be? Western medicine is based on using one drug to treat one specific problem, and then use another drug for another problem. Adaptogen herbs take a completely different approach and treat any problems we have as all connected to a balance issue in our body. Return balance to the body and you correct all the problems.

How did the Soviets identify adaptogens?

Simply by dropping rats into a bucket of water! Okay, there was a little more to it than that..

Dr. Lazarev, Dr. Brekhman and a team of more than 1,200 Soviet scientist, biologist and physicians began examining all the herbs for possible adaptogen effects. One of the most useful tests to see if an herb can help an animal adapt to stress is called the Swim Test.

A rat when placed in water will swim for 10-15 minutes and then only move in small amounts to stay a float. The Soviet team gave rats possible adaptogen herbs and tested to see if they would swim longer. Herbs that could increase the swim time were then subject to rigorous tests to see if they could help the body adapt to all types of stresses. How did Rhodiola Rosea do on the swim test? Rhodiola Rosea increased the rats swim time by 35-59%!

In total the Russian team investigated over 4,000 plants and conducted more than 1,000 clinical studies and experiments on adaptogens. Remember, the stated goal of the Soviets at the time was to find ways to increase the performance of Russian athletes, military, political officers and scientists. This research was considered of vital importance to the strength of the Soviet Union. Finally in 1968 Dr Brekhman published the results of all their studies - only 4 herbs were considered true adaptogens. Of course, Rhodiola Rosea was one of them -

How do we now know about all this top secret Russian research on Rhodiola?

We have two events to thank for our knowledge on Rhodiola Rosea - the fall of the Soviet Union and the actions of a Soviet Soldier named Dr. Zakir Ramazanov in the Afghanistan War.

To learn about how Rhodiola Rosea made it to the USA, please read our next article - Rhodiola Rosea Secrets Revealed


Rhodiola Rosea is a plant that grows in cold, high altitude climates like Siberia. The Rhodiola Rosea root has been prized for medicinal purposes since 77 A.D. After World War II Russia started a country wide scientific program to find ways to increase the performance of its military, athletes, performers, politicians and scientists. Rhodiola Rosea was identified as an adaptogen - something that is not harmful, can balance the body and help reduce all stresses that the body may face.

For years the Soviet research on Rhodiola was classified. To learn how the Soviet Rhodiola research was discovered in the US, let's continue on to our next article...

Rhodiola Rosea Secrets Revealed

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