Herbal Spotlight: Rhodiola Rosea for Stress-Relief
By Paz Etcheverry, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor, Kaplan University School of Health Sciences

Move over St. John’s wort and Kava kava—there is another herb in town.

Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea) is one of the most promising plant medicines in the treatment of depression1. While R. rosea has been intensively studied in Russia and Scandinavia for more than 40 years, it was not until the last decade that the plant started to gain popularity in Western Europe and here in the United States2. R. rosea is an adaptogen, meaning that it helps the body and brain cells “adapt to” stress, trauma, anxiety, exhaustion and fatigue3. The herb stimulates the nervous system, decreases depression, enhances work performance4, eliminates fatigue, possesses antioxidant properties5, and has cardiopulmonary protective characteristics4.

History 101

The use of R. rosea as a medicinal plant can be traced back to 77 A.D. when Greek physician Dioscorides wrote about the herb in his medical text, “De Materia Medica”. From 77 A.D. to the mid-1900s, R. rosea was prized as a medicinal herb throughout almost all parts of Europe and Asia6. Vikings consumed the herb to increase both endurance and stamina during their long journeys and Chinese Emperors would commission expeditions to remote parts of the Siberian Mountains to bring back the prized herb. In 1755, R. rosea was included in the first Swedish pharmacopoeia7. In Russia, the herb was used to survive the long, harsh Siberian winters, given to soldiers on the battlefield, to soviet athletes, and to cosmonauts to help them adapt to stress. In Siberia, a bouquet of R. rosea is still given to newlyweds to ensure a rich and fruitful marriage7 and—according to Russian folklore—individuals who drink R. rosea tea will live for more than 100 years8.

So What Is This Miracle Plant?

R. rosea (also known as Golden Root, Roseroot, and Arctic Root) is a perennial herbaceous plant that inhabits mountainous regions throughout Europe, Asia, and east coastal regions of North America. It produces yellow blossoms that smell like roses, thus the Latin name rosea8. The rhizomes (the stems of the plant that grow underground) contain various compounds including organic acids, flavonoids, tannins, salidrosides, and rosavins9. Salidroside and rosavin include compounds like rosin, rosavin, and rosarin and might be responsible for the anxiolytic and antidepressant effects of R. rosea7. In addition to R. rosea, over 200 different species of Rhodiola have been identified and at least 20 are used in traditional medical systems in Asia, including R. alterna, R. brevipetiolata, R. crenulata, R. kirilowii, R. quadrifida, R. sachalinensis, and R. sacra10.

How Does It Work?

The anti-stress property of R. rosea is not exactly understood, however, it might be attributed to an inhibition in the synthesis of cortisol (the stress hormone). R. rosea might also stimulate the effects of neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin on the central nervous system11. Furthermore, R. rosea may inhibit the enzymes that degrade these neurotransmitters and might facilitate transport of these compounds into and within the brain12.

How Should You Take It?

The herb appears to be best absorbed on an empty stomach, thirty minutes before meals. Because it can interfere with sleep, R. rosea should be taken early in the day2. Appropriate doses are 200 to 600 milligrams per day of a R. rosea extract standardized to contain 2 to 3 percent rosavins and 0.8 to 1 percent salidroside13. It is important to pay close attention to the source of R. rosea as some  R. rosea formulas (such as Tibetan Rhodiola or Chinese Rhodiola) lack rosavins. Only R. rosea of Russian origin (West and North Siberia) has the highest pharmacological activity and contains all the key active components13.

Is It Safe?

If you are considering purchasing this product, you will be glad to know that R. rosea appears to have an excellent safety profile. Side effects are uncommon and mild, and can include allergic reaction, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, and unpleasant sensations, especially at high doses (1.5 to 2 grams per day standardized for 2% rosavins2). There are no interactions between R. rosea and antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRRIs) like Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft  or serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Effexor, Cymbalta, Pristiq, Meridia.. In fact, the concomitant use of R. rosea and these antidepressants has been reported to have favorable effects in terms of both antidepressant efficacy and reduction of side effects2. Evidence for the safety and appropriateness of R. rosea supplementation during pregnancy and lactation is currently unavailable, thus it is not recommended for pregnant women or those who are breastfeeding. R. rosea has not been studied in bipolar depression, and should be used with caution in patients with bipolar spectrum disorders2.


1.Sarris J. (2007). Herbal Medicines in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Systematic Review. Phytother Res. 21(8):703-16.
2) Iovieno N, Dalton ED, Fava M, Mischoulon D. (2011). Second-tier Natural Antidepressants: Review and Critique. J Affect Disord. 130(3):343-57.
3) Edwards D, Heufelder A, Zimmermann A. (2012). Therapeutic Effects and Safety of Rhodiola rosea Extract WS® 1375 in Subjects With Life-Stress Symptoms—Results of an Open-Label Study. Phytother Res. Accessed March 2012,http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxyhost.library.tmc.edu/doi/10.1002/ptr.3712/pdf
4) Hohtola A. (2010). Bioactive Compounds From Northern Plants. Adv Exp Med Biol. 698:99-109.
5) Palumbo DR, Occhiuto F, Spadaro F, Circosta C. (2011). Rhodiola rosea extract protects human cortical neurons against glutamate and hydrogen peroxide-induced cell death through reduction in the accumulation of intracellular calcium. Phytother Res. Accessed March 2012, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxyhost.library.tmc.edu/doi/10.1002/ptr.3662/pdf
6) Powersupplements.com, Rhodiola rosea. Accessed March 2012, http://www.powersupplements.com/rhodiola/rhodiola.html
7) Brown RP, Gerbarg PL, Ramozanov Z. (2002). Rhodiola rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview. HerbalGram56: 40-52. Accessed March 2012: http://www.drhoffman.com/downloads/Rhodiolarosea.pdf
8) Cass H. (2004). Basic Health Publications User’s Guide to Herbal Remedies. Learn About the Most Popular Herbs for Preventing Disease and Staying Healthy. Accessed March 2012, Click Here
9) Cifani C, Micioni Di B MV, Vitale G, Ruggieri V, Ciccocioppo R, Massi M. (2010). Effect of Salidroside, Active Principle of Rhodiola rosea Extract on Binge Eating. Physiol Behav. 101(5):555-62.
10) Kelly GS. (2001). Rhodiola rosea: A Possible Plant Adaptogen. Altern Med Rev. 6(3):293-302.
11) Khanum F, Bawa AS, Singh B. (2005). Rhodiola rosea: A Versatile Adaptogen. Compr. Rev Food Sci Food Safety 4: 55-62.
12) Stancheva SL, Mosharrof A. (1987). Effect of the Extract of Rhodiola rosea L. on the Content of the Brain Biogenic Monamines. Med Physiol. 40:85-87
13) Hyatt J. (n.d.) Rhodiola Rosea (Russian Rhodiola, Golden root) Anti-Aging Medicine of 21st Century. Accessed March 2012, ht tp://www.anti-aging-guide.com/RhodiolaRosea.html

Paz Etcheverry, Ph.D.

Paz Etcheverry is an adjunct professor at Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences.  Paz received her Bachelor of Science in Food Science at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and her Master of Science in Food Science and Nutrition at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. She then pursued a PhD in Food Technology with minors in nutrition and biochemistry at Cornell University. Currently, she is a research instructor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and a member of the American Society for Nutrition. 

Kaplan Higher Education Corporation is a division of Kaplan, Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company.

another brian hill design