Rhodiola is a small, shrubby plant that tends to grow in the cold mountainous regions of Asia, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and the Arctic circle. Although at least 200 hundred different varieties have been discovered to date, the one researchers recommend for medicinal purposes is called Rhodiola rosea. It may also be called Golden Root, Siberian Root or Rose Root in different herbal catalogs.
This species is considered an adaptogen, which means it works primarily as an endurance booster. Many Westerners are much more familiar with another adaptogen called Siberian ginseng. Legend has it that the Vikings routinely consumed Rhodiola rosea to boost their strength while on long campaigns. Eastern Europeans and Scandinavians also benefited from its fatigue-fighting properties. In some parts of the world, a bride was presented with a bouquet of rhodiola to symbolize the arrival of new vitality and prosperity.
Most research on Rhodiola rosea has been done by Russian and Scandinavian scientists, although American and Canadian nutritionists have begun their own studies in recent years. One leading theory is that it directly affects the level of chemicals in the brain responsible for intellectual endurance and mood. Ginseng, on the other hand, tends to affect only the adrenal glands. In this sense, ginseng would be like taking caffeine tablets before a final exam and Rhodiola roseawould be like taking an anti-depressant. Once the serotonin levels are raised, most other mental and physical processes also improve.
Rhodiola rosea is often recommended for conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and depression. The active ingredient is a substance called rosavin, which seems to dramatically improve the physical endurance levels of mice in laboratory studies. Nutritionists suggest that any commercial supplements product should contain at least 2% standardized rosavin to be effective. This information can usually be found on the label.
Because Rhodiola rosea can dramatically impact the body's overall energy level, experts suggest starting out with a minimal dosage and ramping up over several days. For most stressful circumstances, a typical dosage would be around 150 to 200 milligrams up to three times a day. Anything over 1,000 milligrams a day might prove problematic. The supplement should only be taken for short periods, with planned breaks to allow the body to recover. Research on this plant in the West is still in the early stages, so long-term effects remain unknown.