Rhodiola: the Golden Root

Posted by Emily van Oosterom on

Rhodiola rosea, sometimes referred to as the ‘Golden Root’ or ‘Roseroot’, is a potent adaptogen with a long history of traditional use in various cultures. Utilised for its ability to enhance mental and physical performance under stress, Rhodiola offers several benefits that can help us navigate the pressures of modern life.

Historical and Traditional Uses

Native to the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia, Rhodiola rosea has been used as medicine for centuries. The Vikings reportedly used it for endurance and strength, while the ancient Greeks appreciated its health-enhancing properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, it's known as "hong jing tian" and is used to replenish Qi, the vital life energy.

The people of Siberia have a long history of using Rhodiola to combat fatigue and enhance resilience to harsh winters. They believed so much in its power that they would gift it to newlyweds to ensure fertility and the birth of healthy children.

Current Uses

Today, Rhodiola rosea is celebrated for its adaptogenic properties, particularly its ability to enhance mental performance during periods of stress. Some of the most commonly celebrated benefits include:

  1. Stress Relief: Rhodiola can help the body adapt to emotional, physical, and environmental stress, promoting a sense of calm and balance.
  2. Cognitive Function: Studies suggest that Rhodiola can help improve concentration, memory, and mental performance, particularly during periods of stress or fatigue.
  3. Physical Performance: Rhodiola is often used by athletes for its potential to enhance physical performance and endurance.

Chemical Constituents and Actions

The therapeutic properties of Rhodiola rosea are attributed to a variety of bioactive compounds including rosavins, salidrosides, flavonoids, and phenolic acids. These compounds are believed to work synergistically to exert adaptogenic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects.

Starting with the adaptogenic properties, Rhodiola can help the body adapt to and resist various stressors, both physical and emotional. This is believed to be due to the modulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and sympathetic nervous system, both of which are central to the body's stress response. The compounds in Rhodiola can inhibit the activation of this system, which in turn can lower cortisol levels and other stress-related hormones.

The rosavins and salidrosides, unique to Rhodiola, appear to play a significant role in this adaptogenic activity. They influence key brain chemicals—neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are associated with mood, sleep, memory, learning, and reward response, while norepinephrine is related to focus and attention. By modulating the balance and activity of these neurotransmitters, Rhodiola can help promote mental clarity, reduce mental fatigue, and improve mood.

Rhodiola's antioxidant properties stem from its flavonoids and phenolic acids, which are known for their ability to neutralise harmful free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells, contributing to aging and disease. By scavenging these free radicals, Rhodiola's antioxidant compounds can help protect the body's cells, proteins, and DNA from oxidative damage.

In terms of its anti-inflammatory effects, Rhodiola can inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, similar to how it works in Ashwagandha (see previous blog post). This could potentially help manage chronic inflammation, which is linked to various health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders.

Lastly, Rhodiola's neuroprotective effects may be due to its ability to increase the expression of neurotrophic factors, which are proteins that promote the survival and growth of neurons, the nerve cells in the brain. This may help to protect the brain from damage and aging, and support overall cognitive function.

In summary, Rhodiola rosea's diverse array of bioactive compounds work in harmony to support the body's resilience against stress, provide antioxidant protection, mitigate inflammation, and support brain health. However, while these mechanisms are supported by research, more comprehensive studies are needed to fully understand these interactions and effects.

Precautions and Contraindications

Rhodiola rosea is generally considered safe for most people. However, it can cause side effects in some individuals, such as dry mouth, dizziness, or restlessness.

Rhodiola may also interact with certain medications, including antidepressants, blood thinners, and anti-diabetic drugs. Pregnant and breastfeeding women and individuals with bipolar disorder should avoid Rhodiola.


  1. Ishaque, S., Shamseer, L., Bukutu, C., & Vohra, S. (2012). Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 12, 70.
  2. Anghelescu, I. G., Edwards, D., Seifritz, E., & Kasper, S. (2018). Stress management and the role of Rhodiola rosea: a review. International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 22(4), 242-252.
  3. Amsterdam, J. D., & Panossian, A. G. (2016). Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of anxiety and stress-related disorders. Phytomedicine, 23(7), 75-777.
  4. Darbinyan, V., Kteyan, A., Panossian, A., Gabrielian, E., Wikman, G., & Wagner, H. (2000). 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, 7(5), 365-371.
  5. Hung, S. K., Perry, R., & Ernst, E. (2011). The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine, 18(4), 235-244.


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