The herb Rhodiola rosea has been quietly making itself known in the USA market and in other countries around the globe. One of the group of herbs referred to as "adaptogens," Rhodiola has been used for a thousand years or more in countries like Russia and Sweden, where the use goes back to Viking days. It is said that Rhodiola was such a valuable medicine and tonic in Scandinavia that the Viking king Harald prohibited the taking of more than a small piece of root from each plant; this must have been the first-ever attempt at ethical wildcrafting (a practice that is still in effect today).
Rhodiola rosea is one of those plants that is difficult to market, particularly in the States where herbs are sold for one purpose. Saw Palmetto is sold for its effect on the prostate, St. Johns Wort is sold for its effect on depression, Ginseng as an "energizer," etc. Customers in the North American market assume that they buy an herb for a specific purpose, and the idea of a plant that has so many benefits is just a bit unusual. In this case, the plant is a tonic. Daily ingestion of Rhodiola over time has a huge effect on many aspects of a healthy body. I've taken it for six or seven years now, daily, and I haven't had a cold or flu in that entire time.
As an adaptogen, Rhodiola helps to normalize the body's processes. This includes what many consider to be one of the strongest brain effects available from a plant. "Mental energy" is the way it is often described . . . Rhodiola ingestion tends to go first and foremost to the brain, improving mental clarity -- providing a boost in energy that can be life-changing for many of those who try it for the first time.
Dr. Andrew Weil, writing in his March 28, 2008 Weekly Wellness Bulletin describes Rhodiola as a plant that "should be more widely known." He goes on to describe specific clinical trials of this plant which have been reported on this site on earlier occasion (use the search function above and type in Rhodiola). Well-known herbalist and "medicine hunter" Chris Kilham refers in a Life Extension Magazine article (December, '07) to Rhodiola as "the single most beneficial medicinal plant in the world."
It is clinical trials, however, which separate Rhodiola from most of the other herbs on the market that also promise increased health benefits such as energy, mental clarity and an improved outlook on life. In this case, Rhodiola shines, because these double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are considered to be top-of-class. Weil's latest review discusses the Nordic study that shows Rhodiola's huge benefit to those with depression. By offering a significant mood uplift, this herb is actually shown to have the clinical effect that is generally seen from drugs with their huge side effect problems. Or, as in the case of other herbs such as St. Johns Wort, issues with drug interaction that are just not present with Rhodiola.
As Rhodiola rosea begins to climb the ladder of top-selling herbs in the USA, it is my hope that it will bring other natural remedies along with it. Many people are trying Rhodiola as their first herbal supplement, specifically because so many doctors are now starting to recommend it to their patients, This may open the eyes of people who have not had previous experience with the healing power of plants.