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Many people know about Siberian ginseng, sold in North America as "eleuthero," and its remarkable power for preventing infections. Not as many people know about two more herbs from Russia that give users extra energy to deal with winter cold.

In the very center of Asia, where Russia, Kazhakstan, China, and Mongolia meet, is Russia's Altay Republic, a majestic territory of rushing rivers, towering mountains, and tranquil lakes. In the southern reaches of Siberia, the Altay Republic is also home to two of the most popular herbs in Russia and all of Central Asia, Rhaponticum carthamoides, also known as rhapoticum or maral root, and Rhodiola rosea, which is known by a variety of names, including rhodiola, rose root, golden root, Arctic root, Aaron's rod, and king's crown. Rhaponticum is a member of the sunflower family, while rhodiola is a member of the stonecrop family, a group of plants that have succulent, cactus-like leaves but grow in cold and dry climates.

Rhodiola and rhaponticum tend to grow in the same places. They are both adaptogens. As herbal medicines, they fight stress, increase stamina, and help their users achieve physical strength. They are also very popular in "love tonics" for both men and women all over central Asia and western China.

Rhodiola For A Competitive Edge

There are nearly 600 peer-reviewed scientific studies of rhodiola in the scientific literature. Most of the recent research into the benefits of rhodiola has focused on its benefits for competitive athletes. Most but not all of this research has been conducted in Russia, but even American coaches and sports scientists have become aware of the usefulness of rhodiola for competitive athletes. 
 
A group of scientists at Appalachian State University in North Carolina in the USA along with a researcher at the Las Palmas sports research lab in Spain tested rhodiola as a way to keep marathon runners healthier after competition. They gave six female and eighteen male marathon runners 600 mg of rhodiola a day for 30 days before their runs, and continued the treatment for seven days after the race. They also gave a placebo to a similar number of runners. 
 
Usually, after a race, runners become almost immediately susceptible to viral infections, such as colds, flu, and skin infections. When marathon runners took rhodiola, their white blood cells developed a capacity to shut down the ability of viruses to replicate. Rhodiola didn't kill viruses, but it could stimulate the immune system in ways that kept viruses harmless. During long-distance runs, the body burns huge amounts of sugar, which produce tremendous numbers of free radicals of oxygen. These free radicals make it easier for viruses to multiply. 
 
When athletes use rhodiola, however, these free radicals are still produced, but they don't "turn on" viruses so they in turn cause disease.
 

Helpful When Oxygen Is In Short Supply

Rhodiola supplementation seems to be helpful in preventing various kinds of illnesses caused by oxygen deprivation:
  • Chinese scientists have found that rhodiola prevents damage to the hearts of lab animals that have severe sleep apnea.
  • Scientists at the Gatorade Sports Research Institute in Illinois in the USA have found that rhodiola seems to help the brain compensate for lack of oxygen during athletic events. Athletes are sharper during their games when they take rhodiola.
  • Another team of Chinese scientists has found that rhodiola compounds counteract dangerous chemicals made by breast cancer tumors when they are deprived of oxygen.
In addition to these benefits, rhodiola can perk up your sex life.
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Ahmed M, Henson DA, Sanderson MC, Nieman DC, Zubeldia JM, Shanely RA. Rhodiola rosea Exerts Antiviral Activity in Athletes Following a Competitive Marathon Race. Front Nutr. 2015 Jul 31.2:24. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2015.00024. eCollection 2015. PMID: 26284250.
  • Qi YJ, Cui S, Lu DX, Yang YZ, Luo Y, Ma L, Ma Y, Wuren T, Chang R, Qi L, Ben BJ, Han J, Ge RL. Effects of the aqueous extract of a Tibetan herb, Rhodiola algida var. tangutica on proliferation and HIF-1α, HIF-2α expression in MCF-7 cells under hypoxic condition in vitro. Cancer Cell Int. 2015 Aug 15
  • 15:81. doi: 10.1186/s12935-015-0225-x. eCollection 2015. PMID: 26279639
  • Photo courtesy of icrontic: www.flickr.com/photos/icrontic/4784186115/
  • Photo courtesy of suzettesuzette: www.flickr.com/photos/suzettesuzette/4615709577/