*This is an article from the Summer 2023 issue of Contentment Magazine.

By Stephanie Maxine Ross, PHD, MHD, HT, CNC, FAIS  

Current research continues to reinforce the indelible connection between stress and overall health. “Stress” is defined as a perceived or actual disturbance in the balance of the mind/body, brain, and spirit complex. It can occur with or without conscious feelings of anxiety, stress, or anger. Stress can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term, e.g., >3 months). Stress can range from short-term daily hassles to long-term unsettling conditions that can compromise an individual’s health and well-being. Chronic stress has been shown to be associated with
an increased incidence of numerous health conditions, including anxiety, depression, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders, and chronic pain. 

Clinical studies have confirmed that Rhodiola rosea is an effective psychostimulant, general strengthener, and an anti-stress agent. These medicinal effects have been referenced in numerous studies addressing stress-related depression and anxiety, fatigue, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease, physical strength and endurance, impotence, high-altitude sickness, and nervous system disorders. As a dietary supplement, numerous preparations of Rhodiola are used worldwide. This article provides a review of the common uses of Rhodiola rosea.

Phytomedicine Profile  

Rhodiola rosea L. (Fam: Crassulaceae) is commonly known as Rhodiola, Roseroot, Arctic Root, or Golden Root. The yellow-flowered herbaceous perennial grows naturally at high altitudes in dry sandy soil on sea cliffs and in the crevices of mountain rocks of Arctic regions of Europe, Asia (primarily Siberia), and in the eastern coastal regions of North America.1 Roseroot grows to a height of approximately 30 in (70 cm) with unbranched stems that are surrounded by alternately arranged, fleshy leaves. Small, yellow flowers form an inflorescence at the stem apex, emitting the characteristic floral scent of roses, which imparts its name.  

Traditional medicinal uses  

Rhodiola, or Golden Root as it was known in ancient times, has a long history of medicinal use that dates back more than 2000 years. The Greek physician Dioscorides first recorded the medicinal applications of Rodiariza in 77 AD in his classic medical text De Materia Medica, the first known drug reference of the Western world.2-4 According to historical accounts, the Vikings used Golden Root as a medicine for enhancing physical strength and endurance. Golden Root preparations were used extensively in traditional Tibetan medicine since 300 AD for treating lung disorders, particularly those attributed to lung-heat imbalances. During the 18th century, Carolus Linnaeus,5 the Swedish Botanist who is recognized as the “Father of Taxonomy,” renamed the medicinal plant Rhodiola rosea for the rose-like aroma of the flowers and freshly cut rootstock. Linnaeus described Rhodiola root as an astringent for the treatment of leukorrhea and as a tonic for addressing hysteria and headache. In 1755, the medicinal properties of Rhodiola rosea were included in the first Swedish pharmacopoeia.6 In the early 19th century, preparations of Rhodiola rosea were used in France as a “brain tonic,” while in Germany, researchers ascribed the plant’s medicinal properties for headaches, pain relief, hemorrhoids, as a stimulant, and for its anti-inflammatory actions. In Middle Asia, an infusion (tea) of Rhodiola rosea was used as an effective treatment for colds and flu. Throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, Rhodiola rosea was used traditionally as a tonic to increase mental and physical performance, strength, and endurance.  

Current medicinal applications  

Rhodiola rosea is a multipurpose medicinal plant with adaptogenic properties that has the ability to increase the body’s nonspecific resistance and normalizing functions to different stressors, including those of an emotional, mental, and physical origin. Rhodiola is one of the most popular adaptogens used in official Russian medicine and has been published extensively. It was first recommended in 1969 by the Pharmacological Committee of the Ministry of Health of the USSR for medicinal use as a stimulant agent for asthenia, in cases of neuroses, neurotic disorders and psychopathies, borderline nervous-mental diseases, and in healthy individuals to increase attention span, memory, work productivity and to relieve fatigue. In addition, extracts of Rhodiola rosea are indicated for the correction of neurological side effects associated with psychopharmacological therapy.7 

Today, scientific research and clinical studies largely conducted in Russia and Scandinavia have confirmed that Rhodiola is an effective psychostimulant, general strengthener, and antistress agent.2 It has been used for addressing stress-related depression and anxiety, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, infection, impotence, high altitude sickness, and numerous gastrointestinal ailments and nervous system disorders.8 


The phytochemistry, pharmacology, and medicinal properties of Rhodiola rosea are species dependent. Although more than 50 Rhodiola species have been identified, Rhodiola rosea has been the predominant focus of clinical studies that support its medicinal properties, with extensive toxicological studies that have determined its safety. The chemical composition of Rhodiola rosea roots and rhizomes consist of approximately 140 isolated compounds, including essential oils, fats, waxes, glycosides, sterols, organic acids, and phenolics, including proteins and tannins. Rhodiola rosea extracts that are used in most human clinical studies include the entire spectrum of chemical constituents and are standardized to a minimum of 3.0% rosavins and 0.8% to 1.0% salidrosides (3:1) that serve as marker compounds. 

Phytochemical analysis of Rhodiola rosea root has determined several different groups of chemical compounds. The dried root contains 0.05% essential oil with the main chemical class of monoterpene hydrocarbons (rosiridol, rosaridin) and geraniol as the most abundant volatiles detected in the essential oils. Rosaridin was shown to inhibit monoamine oxidase A and B in vitro, suggesting its potential beneficial effect in depression and senile dementia.7-9 Geraniol was identified as the organic substance responsible for the rose-like aroma produced by Rhodiola rosea flowers and rootstock when cut. Phenylpropanoids (rosavin, rosin, and rosarin, collectively known as rosanins) are chemical actives specific to the Rhodiola rosea species.10 Phenylethanol derivatives (salidroside, also known as rhodioloside) are the constituents with known therapeutic activity. Biologically active compounds include phenolic glycosides (gallic acids, chlorogenic and hydroxycinnamic) with antifatigue, antidepressive, cognitive enhancing, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, and hepatoprotective properties.7,9 Proanthocyanidins (flavonoids) constitute a large percentage of Rhodiola extracts and were noted for their bioactivities including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antimutation, and antiaging effects, and improving liver function.11

Rhodiola rosea (golden root, rose root, roseroot)

Phytopharmacology Adaptogenic Effects  

The traditional use of Rhodiola rosea in Russia, as a phytomedicine for increasing mental and physical performance, strength, and endurance, stimulated extensive pharmacological research, which led to its classification as an adaptogen. 

The soviet pharmacologists Brekhman and Dardymov coined the term “adaptogen,” which is defined, “as a substance that is innocuous and causes minimal disturbance of the normal physiological functions of an organism; has nonspecific actions (it increases resistance to a wide range of environmental, mental or physical stressors); and may possess a normalizing action in the body irrespective of a disease state (eg, if the body parameter is low, the adaptogen will bring it up towards normal, if the parameter is high, the adaptogen will bring it down to normal).”6,12 Translated in terms of their biochemical actions as metabolic regulators, the wide range of medical benefits and physiological actions of adaptogens may be explained by their effects on the immune, hormonal, central nervous system, cardiovascular, muscular regulatory systems, and so forth. Research phytopharmacologists believe that adaptogens reduce damage from stressors by mediating the organism’s defense system, more specifically the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and the efferent sympathoadrenal system.13 

Intensive research that includes several hundred studies on Rhodiola rosea has provided evidence for its pharmacological effects and a more comprehensive understanding of its mechanism of action. These pharmacological effects are summarized as follows:14 

  • Adaptogenic and stress-protective effects 
  • Chronic pain effect  
  • Antifatigue effect  
  • Stimulating effect on the central nervous system, including effects on cognitive function (attention, memory, and learning)  
  • Cardioprotective effects  
  • Antioxidant effect  
  • Endocrine activity normalizing  
  • Antidepressive and anxiolytic effects  
  • Life span increasing effect  

Relative to the medicinal applications of Rhodiola rosea for the treatment of stress-induced fatigue, its mechanism of action can be understood through its associated pharmacological effects on fatigue, mental performance, and resulting decrease in cortisol response to stress, which will be detailed in the research review.  


Rhodiola rosea has demonstrated improvement in cognitive functions in fatigue, chronic pain and stressful conditions. Rhodiola rosea exerts its beneficial health effects on stress-induced disorders through modulation of cortisol, the most important stress marker. The modulation of cortisol levels is considered to be a primary mechanism of action of phytoadaptogens and is consistent with the results of clinical studies. In conclusion, Rhodiola rosea as a phytoadaptogen has the ability to increase attention and endurance in situations of decreased performance resulting from fatigue and reduces stress-induced impairments and disorders related to the physiology of the neuroendocrine and immune systems.

Potential Contraindications and Drug Interactions 

Rhodiola rosea has been shown to have very few side effects. In some individuals who tend to be anxious, they may experience increased levels of activation or agitation necessitating a decrease in dosage. Since Rhodiola rosea is characterized by having an activating antidepressant effect, it is contraindicated in patients with bipolar disorder because it has the potential to induce mania in those individuals. 

To date, Rhodiola rosea has not shown any adverse interactions with prescription drugs or with other phytomedicines. However, theoretically, Rhodiola rosea has the potential to enhance the action of stimulating medications and, therefore, should not be used concomitantly with these medications. Until further studies are performed, Rhodiola rosea should not be used during pregnancy or lactation. 


  1. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. http://www.aboutibs.org/site/what-is-ibs/intro-to-ibs/stress-psychological-factors. Accessed July 1, 2023.  
  2. Olsson EG, von Scheele B, Panossian AG. A randomized, double- blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardized ex- tract SHR-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009; 75:105-112.  
  3. Saratikov AS, Krasnov EA. Rhodiola rosea (Golden Root). Tomsk, Russia: Tomsk University Publishing House; 2004:22-41.  
  4. MellCD. Dyes,tannins, perfumes, and medicines from Rhodiolarosea. Textile Colorist. 1938;60(715):483-484.  
  5. Linnaeus C. Materia Medica. Liber I. De Plantis. Stockholm, Sweden: Lars Salvius; 1749:168.  
  6. Brown RP, Gerbarg PL, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea, a phytomedicinal overview. Herbal Gram. 2002; 56:40-52.  
  7. Panossian A, Wikman G, Sarris J. Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy. Phytomedicine. 2010; 17:881-493.  
  8. Morgan M, Bone K. Rhodiola rosea-Rhodiola. MediHerb Pty. Ltd. 2005; 47:1-4.  
  9. van Diermen D, Marston A, Bravo J, Reist M, Carrupt PA, Hostettmann K. Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009; 122:397-401.  
  10. Dubichev AG, Kurkin BA, Zapesochnaya GG, Vornotzov ED. Study of Rhodiola rosea root chemical composition using HPLC. Cemico- Parmaceutical J. 1991; 2:188-193.  
  11. Yousef GG, Grace MH, Cheng DM, Belolipov IV, Raskin I, Lila MA. Comparative phytochemical characterization of three Rhodiola species. Phytochemistry. 2006; 67:2380-2391.  
  12. Brekhman II, Dardymov IV. New substances of plant origin which increase non-specific resistance. Ann Rev Pharmacol. 1968;9: 419-430.  
  13. Panossian A, Wikman G, Wagner H. Plant adaptogens. III. Earlier and more recent aspects and concepts on their mode of action. Phy- tomedicine. 1999;6(4):287-300.  
  14. Panossian A, Wagner H. Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytother Res. 2006; 19:819-838. 


Dr. Stephanie Ross is an internationally recognized leader in Integrative Health. She served as clinical professor and the founding Director of the Department of Complementary and Integrative Health at Drexel University, College of Nursing and Health Professions, a pioneering program that partnered with the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. Prior to Drexel, she initiated the first course in phytomedicine at Temple University School of Medicine, where she taught medical students. In addition to her scholarly achievements, Dr. Ross is a skilled and dedicated Integrative Health Practitioner, who guides her patients in achieving optimal health and wellness, with emphasis on integrative stress solutions. Dr. Ross has garnered numerous awards, is listed in Who’s Who in Health Sciences, and is a Fellow of the American Institute of Stress where she serves on the Executive Advisory Board and as Editor of Contentment, their peer-reviewed international publication. 

Ross is extensively published with more than 97 articles featured in international peer-reviewed journals that are cited in the National Institute of Health’s Library of Medicine (PubMed). Dr. Ross serves as the Associate Editor for the peer-reviewed international Holistic Nursing Practice journal. She is a sought after consultant on Workplace Stress and a keynote speaker at Corporations and Healthcare Systems. 

Dr. Ross offers telehealth and on-site consultations. She works primarily with patients who are referred by healthcare providers, providing a supportive interprofessional healthcare team approach to maximize health and well-being.  

Office hours by appointment. Tel. 215-341-5846 


Contentment Magazine

The dictionary defines “content” as being in a state of peaceful happiness.  The AIS magazine is called Contentment because we want all of our guests and members to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each them.  Stress is unavoidable, and comes in many shapes and sizes that makes being in a state of peaceful happiness seem like a very lofty goal.  But happiness is easy to find once you are able to find ways to manage your stress and keep a healthy perspective when going though difficult times in life.  You will always have stress, but stress does not always have you!

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