For centuries, Rhodiola rosea has been used in the traditional medicine of Russia, Scandinavia, and other countries. As far back as the 1700’s, the therapeutic benefits of Rhodiola rosea was mentioned in the scientific literature of Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Russia, and Iceland. Since 1960, more than 200 pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies have been published. Despite all those studies demonstrating Rhodiola rosea’s health benefits, it remains largely unknown in America.
In traditional folk medicine, Rhodiola rosea was used to increase physical endurance, longevity, resistance to high altitude sickness, and to treat fatigue, depression, anemia, impotence, gastrointestinal ailments, infections, and nervous system disorders. In mountain villages of Siberia, a bouquet of Rhodiola rosea roots is still given to couples prior to marriage to enhance fertility and assure the birth of healthy children. In Middle Asia, Rhodiola rosea tea was used to treat colds and flu. Mongolian doctors prescribed it for tuberculosis and cancer. Siberians secretly transported the herb down ancient trails to the Caucasian Mountains where it was traded for Georgian wines, fruits, garlic, and honey. Chinese emperors sent expeditions to Siberia to bring back the "golden root" for medicinal preparations. In 1755, Rhodiola rosea was mentioned in the Swedish Pharmacopoeia. Vikings used the herb to enhance their physical strength and endurance. German researchers described the benefits of Rhodiola rosea for pain, headache, scurvy, hemorrhoids, as a stimulant, and as an anti-inflammatory.
In the 1960’s, Russian scientists determined that extracts of the Rhodiola rosea root were found to contain powerful adaptogens. Research revealed that it protected animals and humans from mental and physical stress, toxins, and cold. This led to a broad range of investigations as to its potential benefits in other diseases, especially to enhance physical and mental performance, and to the discovery of a group of phenylpropanoids that are specific to Rhodiola rosea.
More recently, the Pharmacological and Pharmacopoeia Committee of the Soviet Ministry of Health recommended medicinal use of Rhodiola rosea and in 1975 officially approved its use as a medicine and tonic. Russian medical and pharmacological texts describe its use as a stimulant for fatigue, for somatic and infectious illnesses, in psychiatric and neurological conditions, and in healthy individuals to relieve fatigue and to increase attention span, memory, and work productivity. In Sweden, Rhodiola rosea was recognized as an Herbal Medicinal Product in 1985 and has been described as an antifatigue agent in the Textbook of Phytomedicine for Pharmacists. In the textbook of pharmacology for dispenser training in Sweden, Rhodiola rosea is mentioned as a plant with a stimulant action. Also, the Pharmaceutical Book (Lakemedelsboken 97/98) mentions Rhodiola rosea as one of the most commonly used psychostimulants in the group of officially registered herbal medicinal products. In Denmark, Rhodiola rosea is registered as a medical product in the category of botanical drugs. Formulations containing Rhodiola rosea have been approved as a natural stress aid and are extensively used in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries.
The traditional use of Rhodiola rosea as a tonic in Siberian and Russian medicine stimulated extensive research leading to identification of Rhodiola rosea as an adaptogen, a remarkable substance that nonspecifically increases the resistance of an organism and does not disturb normal biological parameters. Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants: They help balance, restore and protect the body. An adaptogen has no specific mechanism of action. It helps the body respond to any influence or stressor, normalizing one’s physiological functions.
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