Rhodiola, a “secret defense” plant

Rhodiola, a “secret defense” plant against depression

While depression has become the scourge of recent decades (it is even called “the evil of the century”), conventional medicine is offering more and more treatments to counter its symptoms. Unfortunately, antidepressants often have unpleasant side effects.

However, nature is the primary source of medicines, and certain plants have not only proven properties, but surprising stories. Like rhodiola, an effective remedy against depression, which was, for decades, considered a Soviet state secret.

Rhodiola, legendary “golden root”

The genus Rhodiola, which belongs to the Crassulaceae family, includes 96 species of perennial plants, characterized by their succulent leaves or stems1. Rhodiola rosea grows mainly in cold regions of the globe, such as the Arctic, the mountains of Central Asia (mainly Siberia) and the high altitudes of North America2.

A 5-75 cm plant with yellow flowers, rhodiola has mainly interested different civilizations for its rhizome, an underground stem with a rose aroma, which produces herbaceous shoots and roots2. It seems that the Vikings already consumed this rhizome, as a divine gift giving them their vitality and courage3. The first emperors of China sent expeditions to Siberia to bring back the precious plant, necessary for the preparation of an energy drink4.

Traditionally used in France, Germany and Iceland, rhodiola root received its nobility by appearing in the work Materia Medica, among the plants described by Carl von Linné, famous Swedish naturalist of the 18th century3.

A secret project: the adaptogenic plant

The history of the use of rhodiola took an incredible turn in the 20th century.

In 1947, the Cold War began, an ideological and political conflict between the Western bloc represented by the United States and the Eastern bloc led by the USSR. The climate of political rivalry extended to all areas, including the arms race, the conquest of space, as well as sport, industry and science.

Thus, the Soviet government asked a Russian toxicologist, Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, to focus his botanical research towards improving the performance of its soldiers. With his student, Dr. Israel Brekhman, they discovered specific properties of certain plants, which they called “adaptogens”5. These act on the body, without causing any side effects, before, during and after a period of physical or psychological stress. Thus, they help to prevent, overcome and treat the harmful consequences of intense, prolonged or even old stress6.

We distinguish adaptogenic plants which act on the metabolism of the stress hormone, cortisol (such as ginseng and ashwagandha), from those having an activity on the metabolism of catecholamines with neurotransmitter roles (such as eleuthero and rhodiola)6.

The studies of Lazarev and Brekhman were particularly conclusive for Rhodiola rosea. Its effectiveness was jealously guarded by the Soviet government: only their athletes, cosmonauts and soldiers could consume it. It was only after the fall of the communist regime in 1991 that the Western scientific community was able to access this “secret defense” plant5.

Rhodiola to treat depression

Why is this plant so effective? Its adaptogenic properties help regulate stress, the main cause of anxiety.

Rhodiola contains active compounds, rosavins (rosavin, rosarin and rosin), which act in synergy with salidroside (or rhodioloside), for powerful antioxidant effects. Different studies have demonstrated that rhodiola extract regulates different parameters reducing the consequences of stress, such as mental and physical fatigue7-10. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has also approved this medicinal use11.

The antidepressant effect of rhodiola is possible thanks to the inhibition of two enzymes which degrade certain neurotransmitters. Indeed, it improves the availability of serotonin, which regulates appetite and libido, and adrenaline, which responds to a sudden need for energy12.

A study carried out on 128 adults suffering from depression and neurasthenia demonstrated a clear improvement in the general condition of 64% of participants5. Other clinical trials have proven its positive action on sleep, psychomotor and cognitive functions, without patients experiencing the side effects specific to conventional antidepressants5.

Our Rhodiola, an extract titrated in rosavins

Root powders offered on the food supplement market do not guarantee their active ingredient content. This is why for optimal action, it is recommended to consume standardized extracts of Rhodiola rosea containing at least 3% rosavin6.

Anastore offers a titration greater than 5% of rosavins, guaranteeing its effectiveness.


  1. https://www.topplant.fr/rhodiola-plante/

  2. Rohloff J (2002) Volatiles from rhizomes of Rhodiola rosea L. Phytochemistry 59: 655-661.

  3. Shikov et al. (2014) Medicinal plants of the Russian Pharmacopoeia; their history and applications. J Ethnopharmacol 154: 481–536.

  4. Consulta, L., & Festival, C. C. La rhodiola, el adaptógeno natural antiestrés.

  5. Brown, R. P., & Gerbarg, P. L. (2005). The rhodiola revolution: Transform your health with the herbal breakthrough of the 21st Century. Rodale.

  6. Chemouny, B. (2012). Soigner le stress par l’homéopathie et la phytothérapie. Odile Jacob.

  7. Hung et al. (2011) The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: A systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine 18: 235-244.

  8. Spasov et al. (2000) 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 7 (2): 85-89.

  9. Shevtsov et al. (2003) A randomized trial of two different doses of a SHR-5 Rhodiola rosea extract versus placebo and control of capacity for mental work. Phytomedicine 10: 95-105.

  10. Olsson et al. (2009) A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardized extract SHR-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Medica 75: 105-112.

  11. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) Community herbal monograph on Rhodiola rosea L., rhizoma et radix. EMA/HMPC/232091/2011.

  12. Van Diermen et al. (2009) Monoamine oxidase inhibition by Rhodiola rosea L. roots. J Ethnopharmacol 122(2): 397–401.


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