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Rhodiola Rosea: The Amazing Chinese Adaptogen

Rhodiola Rosea

As an herbalist of the Chinese medical tradition, Rhodiola is one of my favorite herbs. Known as hong jing tian in Chinese, it came from an arsenal of Tibetan medicine and is most famous for its use in patients suffering from altitude sickness.

In Chinese medicine, Rhodiola is known as a cold and sweet herb which are temperature and flavor indicators we use in Chinese medicine to describe herbal properties. It’s good for digestion, boosts the “qi” and can help those with fatigue and lack of strength. It’s an all around great herb in Chinese medicine, and in a more western view, Rhodiola has become KING.

Rhodiola Rosea The Adaptogen

As a practitioner and lover of herbs, I’m OBSESSED with adaptogens. Adaptogens are miracles of the herbal world, able to help anyone with anything. They literally ADAPT to your specific needs, hence the term adaptogen.

What does adaptogen mean?

An herb must fit a certain criteria to be considered an adaptogen.

1) completely safe and non-toxic

2) It must increase resistance to stressful influences and situations (long-term stress or short term stress)

3) It must restore balance to the system regardless of the direction of the illness (If you are suffering from an excess condition or a deficient condition, the herb will adapt to your needs). Very exciting and very mysterious. The herbs can read your body!

They not only increase the resistance to the adverse effects of long-term stress, but they are also immune-stimulating and increase a general sense of well-being.

If you have an auto-immune disorder, don’t be scared by the ‘immune stimulating’ aspect. The very nature of these herbs are their ability to ADAPT (I’ll say this hundreds of times), so you don’t have to worry about them worsening a condition.

Let’s Thank The Russians

rhodiola adaptogen

While the Chinese have been using adaptogens for thousands of years, for the very same reasons we use them today, it was the Russians that went forth and studied these beautiful herbs, and studied them with gusto.

The Russians were the first to study these fascinating herbs and it was taken so seriously, by the 1960’s the study of adaptogenic herbs became a field of biomedical research accumulating over 1.500 pharmacological and clinical studies by the 1980’s.

rhodiola adaptogen

The list of adaptogenic herbs is growing, but so far there are around one dozen of these herbal gems, many of which are from the Chinese. Let me tell you, the ancient Chinese were super human geniuses who were able to observe and predict systems of the body thousands of years before modern research and laboratories. They were the real deal.

Well established adaptogens include; Chinese/Korean ginseng, Astragalus, Siberian Ginseng, Withania, Ashwagandha, Eleuthero, Licorice. Now, you can’t just run to the store and buy any old licorice or ginseng, they have to be of good quality.

If you haven’t heard, many of the current herbal/supplement companies don’t really care what’s in your supplement!  And you have to be sure if they are using the best parts of the plants.

rhodiola rosea

It truly matters if you use the root vs stem vs leaf vs flower. They all have differing medicinal properties.

Unique Rhodiola

While all adaptogens work in similar ways, they all diverge a little in their actions—they are unique little flowers after all.  Rhodiola is an amazing herb with an amazing history. Used in ancient Greece, the Greek physician Dioscorides documented the medical applications of the plant, called rodia riza, in his materia medica.

The Vikings even used this special plant to aid in physical strength and endurance, and of course the Chinese LOVED rhodiola! Chinese emperors sent expeditions to Siberia in order to bring back this “golden root” for medicinal preparations. This plant has been a superior herb for cold and flu, endurance, depression and more.

Current Research


Research is catching up with this amazing medicinal and here are some of the findings.


In animal studies, Rhodiola has been found to enhance the transport of serotonin precursors, tryptophan, and 5-HTP into the brain. Thus, being able to reduce depression and boost one’s mental state. Especially useful in places like Russia or countries where winter deprives a person of adequate sunlight.

In 2015 a group of researchers conducted a proof of concept trial to investigate the efficacy and safety of Rhodiola rosea for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. They compared Rhodiola to the pharmaceutical Zoloft and found that Rhodiola could produce similar therapeutic benefit to Zoloft with less (no) side effects.

Bring out the Rhodiola!


Like with ALL adaptogens, Rhodiola helps the body adapt to stressors.


Rhodiola has been shown to significantly improve anxiety symptoms. In a preliminary study, supplementation with Rhodiola significantly improved measures of anxiety in people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. The amount was 170 mg of a standardized extract taken twice a day for ten weeks.

Athletic Performance:

In a double-blind trial, healthy volunteers who received an extract of the herb Rhodiola Rosea one hour before an endurance exercise test saw significantly increased endurance, as measured by the time it took to become exhausted.

Mental Health:

In a double-blind study, supplementing with an extract of Rhodiola for two weeks significantly improved mental fatigue in a group of physicians during night duty!

Anticancer effect:

There are many reports documenting the possible anticancer effects of Rhodiola. In 2004, research found that certain preparations of Rhodiola was capable of inhibiting the growth of cancerous tumors, and has been documented in stimulating the immune system. In 2011, another study found the potential of salidroside (a bioactive compound in Rhodiola) to inhibit the growth of bladder cancer.

Brain Fog:

 Can’t concentrate, feel like there is a cloud hovering over your brain? Rhodiola to the rescue. Rhodiola is known to have a stimulating effect and can simultaneously reduce stress while increasing stimulation. Impressive.

You can look at more of the research here, as it would take all day to summarize it for this post.

 rhodiola rosea

Okay, so now is where the fun begins. How do you grow your very own Rhodiola plant?

  1. Buy Your Rhodiola Rosea Seeds Here
  2. Store the seeds in your refrigerator for up to six weeks to help speed up the germination
  3. Fill a seed tray with potting soil and moisten the soil with water.
  4. Sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Tamp the seeds down and cover lightly with soil. Don’t bury the seeds deeply, this will prevent their germination.
  5. Make sure to keep your soil moist, don’t let the stuff dry out! Buy a mister and mist the soil with a spray bottle to avoid dislodging the seeds.
  6. Place the seed-starting tray in a greenhouse, or just in a location that is sheltered from strong wind and sun. It will take about 2 to 4 weeks at 50 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate the seeds.
  7. Separate the seedlings into individual containers when true leaves, the second set of leaves form. Handle carefully so as not to disturb the roots.
  8. Expose the seedlings to more direct sunlight when the stalks begin to form—this happens around one or two months after germination
  9. Find an ideal transplant site for the seedlings in your garden. An ideal site will have clay, sandy or loamy soil. Your soil should drain well and the area should have FULL sun! Rhodiolas don’t like shade.
  10. If planting outside, plant after your last frost date.


Adaptogens are fun and amazing herbs. Have you heard of adaptogens? If so, what’s your favorite?


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After finishing her masters degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Michelle wanted to share her love of plants and all things medicinal. With her knowledge of Chinese herbs and household plants, she decided to create a site sharing her love of indoor plants.

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