“Our bodies are our gardens—our wills are our gardeners”
One of the most powerful healing plants in the world originates in the dry, hostile environment of Siberia. For eons it was prized as a source of strength for Viking warriors, Russian cosmonauts having to endure the demands of space travel, and Olympic athletes. A beautiful perennial plant with pink, red or yellow flowers, it is called “Arctic Root” or “Golden Root.” Its proper name is Rhodiola rosea. If you don’t already make use of this incredible gift from nature, you don’t know what you’re missing.
QUEEN OF ADAPTOGENS
Rhodiola is the most versatile adaptogenic plant in the world. An adaptogen is a plant or herb which acts in non-specific ways to improve health and increase resistance to stress, without upsetting the body’s biological functions. Numerous studies carried out in France, Norway, Germany, Sweden and Russia confirm what has been known for centuries by shamans and wise woman healers: Rhodiola brings endless blessings to anybody using it. Here are just a few of its benefits.
restores normal menstrual cycle in women
prevents and clears fatigue
improves athletic prowess
supports heart strength
promotes improved wellbeing
protects muscles when exercising
increases the metabolism of fats
increases work capacity
reduces stress and damage from stress
supports thyroid function
improves sexual function in men
Whew! I could go on and on. The scientific research into this beautiful plant is voluminous and inspiring. I first learned of Rhodiola many years ago when Professor of Medical Science, Israel Brekhman—the much celebrated Russian research scientist in organic medicine and biologically active substances in Vladivostok—visited Britain. Brekhman’s career focused on the genetics of plants and herbs, and on improving health and wellbeing. It was he who first coined the word adaptogen.
One of the wonderful things about Rhodiola is that it has a very low level of toxicity and very few side effects. (Since safety issues are as yet not available for pregnancy and lactation, however, it should be avoided in these circumstances.) There are many ways in which Rhodiola—which now grows in Greenland, Iceland, Canada and Alaska—as well as its native Siberia, can be used. One of the most surprising is this: If you can get hold of the plant itself (unfortunately in some countries, Rhodiola plants are not available because of agricultural import regulations), it will thrive in your garden. You can cook its shoots and leaves which are edible, prepare its roots as you would any starchy vegetable, serve its leaves raw in a mixed salad, and even serve its shoots prepared as you do asparagus. More about Rhodiola in a moment. Meanwhile, there are some important things you need to know about using herbs of any kind.
Plants hold powerful medicine for men and women. To state such an obvious truth seems absurd, since every culture in the world from the beginning of human history has turned to herbs, trees, and other plants as medicine. Yet in our post-industrial world, we find ourselves in the absurd position of having to rediscover our medicinal and health-promoting heritage—not only by unearthing long neglected local practices, often passed on verbally from woman to woman, but also by investigating herbal traditions from other parts of the world: Tibet, China, India, Japan and Native America. The benefits of making nature’s medicinal plants a part of your day-to-day life becomes obvious when you realize that the origins of most drugs lie in plants.
Using plants and herbs for strength and healing offers many advantages. First, their powers for enhancing wellbeing go far beyond their ability to alleviate symptoms. For centuries, women healers preferred to use the whole of most plants. They had no belief in the practice now propounded by today’s mainstream medicine which chooses to use isolated ingredients and make them into patented drugs.
In every medicinal plant, there are two kinds of compounds, each of which has an important part to play in treatment. The first are the active ingredients—these are what capture the imagination of chemists and drug producers to make the biochemically twisted molecules that Big Pharma turns into patented drugs. The second are the compounds and substances which drug manufacturers ignore altogether—even seek to eliminate—but which good herbalists insist play a vital supportive role in the healing a particular herb can bring to the body. These compounds work synergistically with the active ingredients, making them more easily accessible to the body or dampening the effect of what are often very potent plant chemicals—helping to protect the body from side-effects. Some even help protect from overdose by causing nausea if the body's safe level of tolerance is passed. It is the synergy of these primary active ingredients and their secondary helpers that makes herbs work so well. There are many different substances and compounds in plants and herbs which offer health-supporting abilities. The volatile oils for instance, the tannins, phenylpropanoids (like those in Rhodiola), alkaloids, bitters, glycosides, and flavonoids.
WAYS AND MEANS
You can take herbs in many different ways—as infusions, decoctions, syrups, tinctures, suppositories, capsules, and in baths, ointments or creams. You can grow your own herbs or buy them in bulk dried. Using the dried plant is by far the cheapest way to use herbs, since you can buy a large amount at a time very cheaply and make up your own infusions, decoctions, suppositories and ointments, as well as tinctures. You can even buy empty gelatin capsules and fill them with dried herb yourself. However, it is often easiest if you are a complete beginner to rely on good quality ready-made herbal products from a good supplier—whole herbs, herbs in capsules, herbal extracts and tinctures. Tinctures are made by using water and or alcohol to draw out a plant's chemical constituents and preserve them. They are taken in a little water. These are best either bought ready-made from a reputable supplier, or left until you have mastered the use of herbs in other ways, as each herb demands a specific ratio of water and alcohol to plant material.
MEET THE SOUL OF A PLANT
It is worth remembering that, just as people have different personalities, so do plants. Once you get to know the actions of various herbs—and the best way of doing this is to use them or to watch them work on other people—you begin to develop a feel for the character or soul of each plant. Eventually you develop a skill that enables you to call on the right plant or plants when you need their help. But it is important to remember that plants, such as Rhodiola, are slower acting than drugs, so you need to be patient. It is necessary to use most herbs for a few weeks before you come to experience its full benefits. That being said, I sometimes find a plant can will bring almost immediate relief too. One big advantage of using herbs is that many herbs, when taken steadily over a period of time, will do the job for which they were being taken so well that you no longer need to use them. Another important thing to remember when using herbs is that some work well in combination.
Whatever herbs you are using, they need to be fresh, clean and either well-crafted or grown organically. Some herbs on the market today have been grown in countries where pesticides and herbicides are sprayed heavily. Others are not fresh or have been irradiated or are contaminated with chemicals. Often suppliers themselves are not even aware of how the dried plants have been handled.
BACK TO RHODIOLA
The active constituents of Rhodiola root are many. This is one of the reasons that this plant acts so powerfully in so many ways to benefit your health. The most important ingredients it contains include Rosin, Rosavin, Salidroside, and Tyrosol.
Although Rhodiola can be prescribed by an herbalist as a tincture or extract, for many reasons, this plant is usually best taken in capsules. In no small part, this is because its taste in tincture form is far too intense for most people. For those of you who, like me, love to know the minutiae: A typical dose in tablet or capsule form for long-term administration is 360-600mg per day when standardized for 2.6 Rosavin, 180-300mg when standardized for 2% Rosavin, or 100-170 when standardized for 2.6 Rosavin. Some products list the Rosavin in milligrams, such as 6mg of Rosavin per 120 mg of Rhodiola root, or 12 mg of Rosavin per 240mg of Rhodiola root. These formulations are an even more robust 5% Rosavin content. Even so, such products provide a large margin of safety.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Always read labels carefully. (This is one of the reasons I order almost all of my nutritional products—including capsules of Rhodiola—from iHerb, where they provide both clear in-depth ingredient information as practically no other company does, and they ship DHL incredibly fast worldwide.)
Always check out where any herb such as Rhodiola has been sourced. Make sure the raw materials it contains are the most active and desirable ingredients. Use products only from a first-rate manufacturer who relies on high-quality processes and extraction methods. Reject nutritional supplements of any kind that contain flow agents like magnesium stearate, which is made from stearic acid. It can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb nutrients via the digestive system.
Thanks to Rhodiola rosea’s stunning versatility, it is able to nurture the nervous system, cardiovascular system, hormonal system, immune system and musculoskeletal system all at the same time. It’s little wonder, given its wide spectrum of therapeutic benefits, that in this time of physical, emotional and financial pressures, demands and work loads, growing exposure to environmental stressors and increasing costs of health care, this unique inexpensive herb with its excellent safety profile is gradually becoming better known. Most people see an improvement in energy levels, mood, mental clarity, memory, stamina and endurance within 2 to 6 weeks of using it. I for one wouldn’t be without Rhodiola in my family herb cupboard. Personally I take it twice daily as does my son Aaron.
You want to choose the very best Rhodiola you can buy. I’ve investigated a good dozen readily-available products, so 2 of my personal recommendations below:
Gaia Herbs, Rhodiola Rosea
This is a wonderful product in no small part because of the way Gaia encapsulate it as a liquid which is rapidly absorbed. Each capsule contains the equivalent of 2,000mg of the dry herb. I keep mine in the fridge once the bottle is open.
Order Gaia Herbs, Rhodiola Rosea from iherb
Eclectic Institute, Rhodiola
Another excellent Rhodiola 100% fresh freeze dried.
Order Eclectic Institute, Rhodiola from iherb