One of the most increasingly popular herbs sold these drays is rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea of the Crassulaceae family). Long valued as a supreme tonic for strengthening vitality, immunity and increased vigor, rhodiola grows in the cold extremes of northern Europe, America and Russia and the root is primarily used for its adaptogenic properties. An adaptogen is an herb that not only helps the body to adapt to stress and reduce fatigue, it also strengthens immune and nervous system functioning and improves wellbeing.
This amazing plant grows at altitudes of up to 18,000 feet and one way to think about the power of this plant is to think of what it has to withstand in terms of temperature and climate. The strength that this plant develops from managing those extremes transfers into the power of its root to heal.
Also known as golden root, or rose root, Rhodiola was first written about by Discorides in the age of the Roman empire. This famous physician described it in his materia medica of the time (circa 77 AD). It has a long tradition of being used by a number of peoples, but has been especially popular in Sweden, Iceland, Russia, Greece and France. By 1775 it was part of the Swedish pharmacopeia. The famous botanist Linnaeus gave the plant its latin name and named it rose due to the rose like fragrance of its root.
In modern times, rhodiola began to be researched in the 40′s by the Russians but scientific studies were kept classified until after the cold war. After 1991, much of this information became available to the wider public and increasing research, mainly by Scandanavian countries, show its efficacy and has led to Rhodiola becoming a highly sought after tonic.
Rhodiola for Mental Health
Rhodiola has many global health benefits, including antiviral, anti-tumoral, to improve immune functioning, reduce high blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, reduce the risk of heart disease, counteract heart arrhythmias; and as a powerful antioxidant, it is a valuable herb for slowing the aging process.
In terms of mental health, it has been shown to be effective at increasing energy levels, improving mood and wellbeing, reducing anxiety and improving depression. Rhodiola is an unusual plant in that it has both stimulating and sedative qualities. It has been discovered that at small doses, the herb could reduce fatigue, improve concentration and alertness; but at larger doses rhodiola actually has sedative qualities. In general, rhodiola has been shown to have a distinct ability to improve memory, cognitive and learning functions.
So if you are experiencing anxiety, or depression, should you take this herb?
My general take is that this herb is a fairly potent adaptogen yet it tends to be safe to use for most people. There have been numerous reports of people feeling overstimulated by this herb. Because of this I would not recommend this herb to anyone who has a tendency towards extreme anxiety, insomnia or manic states (diagnosed with Bipolar disorder or ADHD). Rhodiola can have paradoxical effects of being both stimulating and sedating and much of it seems to depend on personal biochemistry and dosage. Some find remarked sedative and calming effects from the herb while others feel quite activated. For those who tend towards anxiety, it may be worth trying in moderate doses experimentally and then dropped if it proves to be not helpful.
For those with a tendency towards depression with a great deal of lethargy, this is often a very helpful herb. This is especially the case if there is concurrent poor immunity with lots of colds and sickness, fibromyalgic pain, cloudy and fogged thinking and chronic exhaustion going on.
I would avoid taking this herb with SSRIs and any stimulants such as adderall or ritalin due to the potential for excessive stimulation. I have seen some folks say that they can take lower doses of their antidepressants when taking this herb but again that is simply anecdotal and I would err on the side of caution and against the potential for spiking severe anxiety/mania. I would also tend to avoid taking this herb with any benzodiazapenes due to the potential for excess sedation.
When coming off psychiatric drugs I would generally suggest against taking this herb as it is often fairly activating and those coming off tend to already be experiencing quite a bit of anxiety.
How to take it:
It has been said that one will live to a hundred years old if one drinks rhodiola tea. Perhaps folks in Scandanavia do drink it regularly as a tea but I have yet to hear of too many folks doing that who are interested in herbs. Why? I would say it is a very acquired taste as a tea. It is quite astringent with a sharp and somewhat bitter and almost lemony taste. Your mouth will pucker up. It really doesn’t taste…yummy. I often think that an astringent taste helps tone up organ tissue and strengthen internal digestive and eliminative function- so in that regard the actual drinking of the herb can start the process of improved tonification. And as some of you may already know, I highly promote the drinking of herbal teas for its kinesthetic, sensory value. I also believe that we tend to absorb more of the medicinal constituents from an herb when drinking it instead of taking it in capsule form. But….in this case I will make an exception. I would suggest taking this in capsule or tincture form.
I do encourage you to try it at least once in tea form just to know what this herb is like. Because it tends to grow in high Northern regions, most of us don’t get to have a direct face to face relationship with this plant. That means the only way we can really get to know it is by tasting it in tea or tincture form. So if you want to make strong allies with this plant, one of the only ways to do so is to buy it looseleaf as a tea or taste it as a tincture.
Okay- if you take it as a tea- try taking one to two teaspoons of the herb to one cup of water. Bring water to boil and decoct for 20 minutes- then decant and drink. One to two cups a day. That’s about 2-4 grams a cup, or no more than 8 grams a day as a tea. That’s about a quarter ounce of herb per day.
You can buy 4 ounces of rhodiola root for 14.25$ from Mt. Rose Herbs here. That would last 2-4 weeks if taken daily.
You can also take 1-2 droppers full of tincture twice a day.
You can get one ounce of that for $9.25 from Mt. Rose Herbs here. That would last one to two weeks.
You can also buy capsules from the Herb Pharm for 13.25$ for 60 capsules. (340 mg)
They recommend taking 1 capsule twice a day so that’s a thirty day supply.
Rhodiola is a wonderful herb to take for many people experiencing depression, fatigue, cognitive fog, regular sickness and a lack of alertness. It can be tested for those with anxiety but can prove too stimulating for many people who are prone to heightened states.
My general take with all the adaptogens is that they should never be used to mask lifestyle issues. That means, you can’t just party till 4 every night and eat hostess ho hos for breakfast, then expect that this or any herb is going to magically make things better. Diet and lifestyle changes must come first, but research points that rhodiola can significantly help in the process of healing from depression.
Resources and links:
You can also find me at the Facebook group Herbs for Mental Health.