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What is Rhodiola Rosea? The Anti-Fatigue Herb from the Arctic

Rhodiola Rosea (also known as the arctic root, golden root, rose root, king’s crown) is a perennial flowering plant that grows in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. It’s a very interesting plant with a long history of use in traditional medicine, in both Chinese and Scandinavian traditions, where it has been used for centuries as a means to support a healthy body and to reduce fatigue.[1]

Rhodiola is considered to be one of the world’s most effective adaptogen supplements – meaning that it helps the body to cope with stress and adapt to changes in the environment. It can also be used to support a healthy mood and to boost physical energy levels. In this article, we explore the question that so many people are asking: ‘What is Rhodiola Rosea?’.

rhodiola rosea plant close up

A Brief History of Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola Rosea is a fascinating perennial, flowering plant that grows exclusively in the high latitudes of the world – in northern China, the Arctic regions, and in cold northern Europe and America. The first record of human use of this plant is dated back to 77 A.D. A well-known Greek botanist, Dioscorides, wrote about it in his famous book De Materia Medica. This is often considered one of the best books on the history of Greek and Roman medicine.[2]


rhodiola-rosea-extract Click on the image to purchase Rhodiola Rosea Extract

It was first called Rodia riza and was later renamed to Rhodiola Rosea by the famous Swiss taxonomist, Carolus Linnaeus, in the 18th century. He described it as being useful for ‘headaches and hernias’. Interestingly, it is now considered one of the most valuable crops in Alaska.[3] Throughout its history, this incredible plant has been used in traditional medicine in Russia, China, and Scandinavia. Its primary use was to ward off fatigue and help the body to cope with the stress of living in such cold climates. This is why it got its name is the “Golden Root”.[4]


Interestingly, people in Russia have been using Rhodiola Rosea extracts extensively for decades. The government has prescribed its used for soldiers, to increase stamina, and it has also been used for Russian Olympic athletes to improve physical performance since it is not on the list of banned substances. Nowadays, many Rhodiola-based compounds are sold in Russia and throughout Asia to improve physical and mental stamina.[5]


In the rest of the world, Rhodiola Rosea extract is sold online and in health stores as a dietary supplement. It has undergone a number of clinical studies to examine its effects in humans. It is best-known for its effective ability to ward off fatigue and boost physical energy but is also used as a supplement for mood and as a health-promoting supplement because of its powerful antioxidant effects.[6]


What is Rhodiola Rosea? How it works in the body.

When taken as a supplement, the active components in Rhodiola extract have a number of important effects in the body. The key biochemical mechanisms behind these benefits are still being studied. However, research has shown several key benefits when using this supplement. These include:

  1. Prevents Physical Fatigue

Since researchers heard about the potential benefits of this amazing plant for reducing fatigue, decades ago, many clinical studies have been conducted on it to find out more about its potential. In a recent study, 56 healthy young doctors were given Rhodiola extract tablets and evaluated on their performance during night shift duty. The results showed a statistically significant reduction in fatigue over the two-week study.[7]


  1. Reduces Stress

Rhodiola has long been known for its ability to reduce stress, and this was one of its most important benefits when it was used centuries ago in traditional Chinese medicine. In a recent study, over 1300 participants were given Rhodiola supplements at a serving size of 400 mg, for four weeks. At the completion of the study, the results pointed to: “clinically relevant improvements with regard to stress symptoms, disability, functional impairment and overall therapeutic effect.” In fact, positive benefits were seen after just 3 days! [8]


  1. Boosts Cognitive Performance

Finally, people around the world are using this natural plant extract supplement for its ability to support healthy cognition and memory. In 2011, a review of the literature published on this subject indicated that there was sufficient evidence to make the claim that this supplement may have beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance, and mood. However, the authors suggested that more research should be conducted to further verify these benefits.[9]

rhodiola for cognition Many people use Rhodiola for studying and energy


What is an ‘Adaptogen’?

One of the best things about Rhodiola is that it works as a powerful ‘adaptogen’. But, what is an adaptogen? Adaptogens are substances that help the body better adapt to changes in the environment and cope with stress. Adaptogens also tend to have anti-fatigue benefits which increase the capacity for cognitive work and reduce mental and physical exhaustion.[10]

close up of rhodiola flowersThe word ‘adaptogen’ was first used by the Russian toxicologist Nikolay Lazarev in 1957, with reference to substances that increased the ‘state of non-specific resistance’. Later researchers coined new definitions of adaptogens, including this famous one:


Adaptogenic substances are stated to have the capacity to normalize body functions and strengthen systems compromised by stress. They are reported to have a protective effect on health against a wide variety of environmental assaults and emotional conditions.”[11]


According to a recent study on these fascinating types of plants, the characteristics of reductions in mental and physical fatigue and a slight stimulating effect are common to all adaptogens. However, every adaptogen also has its own unique benefits in addition to the core adaptogenic benefits. This is what makes these type of plants so interesting to researchers. The top five plants listed as adaptogens include:

  • Rhodiola Rosea
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus (also known as Siberian Ginseng)
  • Schisandra chinensis (also known as the ‘five-flavour berry’)
  • Ginseng
  • Withania somnifera (also known as Ashwagandha or Indian Ginseng)[12]


Warnings when Using Rhodiola Rosea

rhodiola-plants-with-flowersRhodiola is considered to be a very safe dietary supplement. As an adaptogen, it helps your body to cope with environmental stress such as cold weather and helps to prevent physical and mental fatigue. According to most studies, only very mild side effects are experienced in some people – like slight dizziness and headaches, at large servings.[13]

If you have any underlying medical conditions, it is recommended that you first consult with a doctor before using this supplement. Rhodiola affects chemicals your body in a way that could have adverse effects on people who suffer from low blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, or diabetes. There is also insufficient information about the safety of this supplement for pregnant and nursing women.[14]

What is Rhodiola Rosea? Conclusion.

So, what is Rhodiola Rosea extract? This exciting plant supplement grows in cold climates in the northern hemisphere and has a long history of use in traditional medicine. It was first used for its ability to help the body adapt to cold weather, and has since become known as one of the most important adaptogenic plants available today.

Rhodiola Rosea supplements can help to reduce physical and mental fatigue and to support healthy cognitive performance. This supplement can also be used to reduce feelings of stress, and to support a healthy body through its effective antioxidant effects. It is not recommended to use this supplement if you are on medication or have any underlying medical conditions, as it may interact with certain medications.



[1]Rhodiola rosea”, Examine.com, available online from https://examine.com/supplements/rhodiola-rosea/ [Accessed June 7, 2018] [2] Khanum F, AS Bawa, Singh B. “Rhodiola rosea: A Versatile Adaptogen.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. Volume4, Issue3 July 2005 Pages 55-62 [3]The Soviet Military Secret That Could Become Alaska’s Most Valuable Crop” By Sarah Laskow, Slate Maganzine online, May 2015, available from http://www.slate.com/blogs/atlas_obscura/2015/05/21/rhodiola_rosea_is_a_soviet_plant_taking_hold_in_alaska.html [4] Khanna K, Mishra KP, Ganju L, Singh SB. “Golden root: A wholesome treat of immunity.” Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Mar;87:496-502. [5]Before Steroids, Russians Secretly Studied Herbs.” By Kristina Johnson, National Geographic online, August 2016, available from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/people-and-culture/food/the-plate/2016/08/long-before-doping-scandals--russians-were-studying-performance-/ [6] Anilakumar Pooja KR,  Khunam F, Bawa AS. “Phytoconstituents and antioxidant potency of Rhodiola rosea – A versatile adaptogenJournal of Food Biochemistry 30(2):203 – 214. April 2006 [7] Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, Gabrielian E, Wikman G, Wagner H. “Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue--a double blind cross-over study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty.” Phytomedicine. 2000 Oct;7(5):365-71.

[8] Edwards D, Heufelder A, Zimmermann A. “Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract WS® 1375 in subjects with life-stress symptoms--results of an open-label study.” Phytother Res. 2012 Aug;26(8):1220-5. [9] Hung SK, Perry R, Ernst E. “The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials.” Phytomedicine. 2011 Feb 15;18(4):235-44. [10] Panossian A, Wikman G. “Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity.” Pharmaceuticals. 2010;3(1):188-224. [11]REFLECTION PAPER ON THE ADAPTOGENIC CONCEPT.” COMMITTEE ON HERBAL MEDICINAL PRODUCTS (HMPC). European Medicines Agency. London, 5 July 2007. [12] “Panossian, Alexander & H, Wagener. (2011). “Adaptogens. A Review of their History, Biological Activity, and Clinical Benefits.” Herbal Gram. 90. [13] Ishaque S, Shamseer L, Bukutu C, Vohra S. “Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review.” BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012;12:70. [14]Rhodiola”. WebMD.com, available online from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-883/rhodiola