Some plants just sing. From the forest or meadow, where ever they grow, I can hear them calling to me. However, it is rare that a plant that I have never met in person exerts this mysterious pull on me. It is not as common that the pages of a textbook sing where it is described, where the dried herb sings from its jar on the shelf of an herb shop. This is precisely the case with Rhodiola. While I have taken the herb myself, and dispensed it to many of my clients and customers, I have yet to observe it growing free.
Here is how I imagine our meeting: I am high in a mountain range. Siberia? Tibet? The Olympic Mountains? (Rhodiola grows circumboreally, this fantasy could be taking place at any of these locations). A chill grips me, but I press on. Wind whips my hair around a fashionable fur cap that I am wearing. (Mongolia?) God, I’m cold. I’m beginning to feel a bit flimsy up on this mountain alone, my muscles are fatigued from the days of hiking. As time wears on, my mind reels with anxiety from the mental challenge of enduring the elements. I rest on a rocky outcrop, where I succumb to a feeling of utter hopelessness, and despair. I can’t go on. (Despite the thermos of delicious hot Yak soup that I am carrying.)
In a typical fashion, I decide to just give up at this point. I move to the protected side of the rocky outcrop to lie down and probably die. As I curl up pathetically against the frigid stone, I notice a light from somewhere near the ground. Not an artificial light, but the subtle bioluminescence that emerges from the deepest source of living things. A golden glow is emanating from the flowers of a tall, sturdy looking plant. A robust succulent- a stonecrop? In one of the coldest regions on earth, at elevations above 10,000 feet, there stands a flower. I recognize it at once. Rhodiola rosea. Rhody rose. Thus fortified by our meeting, I make it down the mountain with my new friend. The End.
This deliberately phrased anecdote attempts to illustrate the metaphoric and literal challenges that Rhodiola can help you through. People of the high altitude regions of Siberia, China and Tibet have all used Rhodiola to help their bodies adapt to the punishing climate (something I think this plant can relate to) and promote physical endurance and mental harmony. Of all of the adaptogens, Rhodiola is best for reigniting the spirit when it is at its lowest ebb. When describing this herb to people, I always use the word “bright”. As in it brightens depressive states, lifts the veil that keeps you from really seeing and participating in life. Lightens your burdens. Washes your windows.
The science behind this, though a bit more limited in its choice of descriptive phrasing, is still there. Rhodiola appears to have a monoamine modulating ability, which influences seratonin and dopamine levels (and is the rationale behind a whole class of antidepressant drugs, the MAO inhibitors).
In the case of Rhody rose, I find this less compelling than the cold hard empirical data that I have been amassing. For anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue- everyone totally loves Rhodiola. This is a what you might call a shamanic spirit plant. It calls you back to yourself.
Other handy skills? Rhodiola nourishes and strengthens the adrenals, thyroid, nervous and immune systems. It is reported to improve fertility and sexual performance (and inclination) in both sexes. In fact, one of it’s primary uses is to improve athletic performance, so I guess you can use that how ever you like. (wink).
The flavor is sort of astringent, and floral. The name stems from both the rose color of the root and also its rose-like smell (due to the presence of Geraniol a fragrant volatile compound famously found in roses). Yes, Rhodiola goes down easy. The combination of color, fragrance, flavor and medicinal affect, with the archetypal story of blooming despite staggering environmental hardships makes it a contender for Best Plant Ever. Can you hear its sweet song?