Rose root, its history

Rose root, a plant with a future, has a less known but fascinating past. What do the old herbal books say about this Rhodiola rosea. Although Rhodiola has remained unknown in the West for a long time, it has had a legendary history in folk medicine in Russia, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Asia, among others. For example, we know that the ancient Greeks used Rhodiola rosea in 77 AD, the Greek physician Dioscorides documented the medical uses of the plant, which he then called Rodia riza, in his classic medical text De Materia Medica.

But how did Rhodiola rosea travel more than 3,000 km from the Caucasus Mountains, where it grew wild, to ancient Greece? The search for the answer to this question takes us back more than 3,000 years, to the 13th century BC. The time when trading expeditions crossed the Aegean Sea, the Gate of Hell (Dardanelles), the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Black Sea to a country called Colchis, now the Republic of Georgia.

One of the most famous myths of the time is the voyage of Dason and his famous crew, the Argonauts, including Hercules and Orpheus. Like most myths, the story of Dason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece contains fact and fantasy. Could Rhodiola rosea have made the incredible journey to Greece from her native land?

Vikings, Siberia and the rose root

It wasn’t just the Greeks who appreciated Rhodiola rosea. The Vikings also depended on the herb to improve their physical strength and endurance, while the Chinese emperors sent expeditions to Siberia to use “the golden root” for medicinal preparations. The people of Central Asia considered the tea made from Rhodiola rosea to be the most effective treatment for colds and flu. Mongolian doctors prescribed it against tuberculosis and cancer.
To this day, it is still said in Siberia that people who drink rose root tea will live to be over 100. The herb is still given to newlyweds to ensure fertility and the birth of healthy children. For centuries, the details of where and how to harvest the wild carrot were a closely guarded secret among the members of certain Siberian families, who transported the Rhodiola along ancient paths in the Altai Mountains and the Caucasus and exchanged it for Georgian wine, fruit, garlic and honey.

Dodoens, Nijlandt and Munting about rose root

Dodoens in his Cruyde Boeck of 1554 knew the rose root but had apparently not yet heard of its stimulating effect, but he does describe the scent of the root: Rose root with oil from Roosen relieves the pain and weeping of the head/forehead and in sleep of the head ceases. That root is thick with a lot of attached veins and if it is broken or rubbed, it probably smells like a rose/ since it empties the rose root.
Petrus Nijlandt refers to Galen and Aeginera ‘ who consider themselves warm in the second degree and consuming powers’. , Fuchsius writes that it is warm and dry in the second degree. Munting also only describes the analgesic effect in his Accurate Description of Earth Crops in 1696.

Linnaeus and later

In 1725, Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus gave the herb its modern name, Rhodiola rosea, and recommended it as a treatment for hernia, hysteria, headaches and vaginal discharge. Fifty years later, it earned a place in the first Swedish pharmacopoeia.

Between 1725 and 1960, various medicinal uses of Rhodiola rosea appeared in the scientific literature of Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, the Soviet Union and Iceland. In 1931, Dr. L. Utkin conducted the first scientific studies with the plant, although I can find no direct evidence of this. He showed, among other things, that the plant increases sexual potency in addition to improving endurance. Since 1960, more than 180 pharmacological, phytochemical, and clinical studies have been published. In 1961, Krylov, a Russian botanist and taxonomist of the Russian Academy of Sciences, led an expedition to the taiga in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia, where he located the “golden root” and identified it as Rhodiola rosea.

In Russia, the rhodiola research was considered a military secret. They used it to boost their troops in Afghanistan and their Olympic athletes. Cosmonaut Valery Polyakov took rose root to survive his fourteen-month space flight in ’94-’95.

In the meantime, many more scientific studies have been conducted. Extracts from the Rhodiola rosea root appear to have an adaptogenic effect, which means that it protects people and animals against mental and physical stress.

More recent research

    • Darbinyan V, Kteyan A, Panossian A, et al. Rhodiola rosea in stress induced fatigue – a double blind crossover study of a standardized extract SHR-5 with a repeated low-dose regimen on the mental performance of healthy physicians during night duty . Phytomedicine 2000;7:365-371.
    • Spasov AA, Wikman GK, Mandrikov VB, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and adaptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen. Phytomedicine 2000;7:85-89.
    • Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Jun;14(3):298-307. Acute Rhodiola rosea intake can improve endurance exercise performance. De Bock K, Eijnde BO, Ramaekers M, Hespel P.
    • [Effect of rhodiola on serum troponin 1, cardiac integral backscatter and left ventricle ejective fraction of patients who received epirubicin-contained chemotherapy]. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2010 Dec;30(12):1250-2 Authors: Shen WS, Gao CH, Zhang H To investigate the myocardial protective effect of Rhodiola on patients who received epidoxorubicin (EPI) treatment.

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