What does it take for a fleshy green plant to thrive in the harsh upper northern regions of our world? Certainly a great deal of vital fortitude, and the ability to withstand and enjoy an extremely cold and unforgiving climate. Also called ‘Roseroot’ and ‘Arctic Root’, Rhodiola rosea is one of few plants that enjoys such conditions.
It grows wild in Russia and the northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. Rhodiola and its slight variance of species (R. integrifolia, R. rosea, R. riza, etc, depending on location) have been used for centuries as a medicine and even a food. The root is typically taken as a tea or extracted via alcohol into a tincture. The above ground parts are eaten much like salad greens although the entire plant can be consumed. Historically speaking, its emergence from the ground in early spring was a welcome sight, and a sign that winter hunger would soon be abated. Its roots have an agreeable rose-scented aroma. Perhaps the most important feature of this humble little plant’s ‘claim to fame’ is its adaptogenic properties.
What is an Adaptogen?
The term ‘adaptogen’ was coincidentally coined by the Russians. They studied Rhodiola and other plants and substances that they considered to have the 'adaptogenic' trait all through the 20th century, trying to find botanical advantages for their soldiers (and even athletes) all through the Cold War era. Any natural physical substance that could give Russian solider a leg up on everyone else was accepted and widely studied.
Adaptogenic herbs are defined as herbs that:
-boost energy and sense of well being in a direct way
-have a stabilizing and soothing effect on the adrenal glands
-act as an overall “systems tonic” to one or more organs
-reduce recovery time after exercise and surgery
-reduce stress response physically, mentally, and emotionally
-deepen quality of sleep and rest
-stabilize body systems: neural, endocrine, immune, reproductive, etc.
-are generally classified as untoxic (and therefore incredibly safe in a multitude of varying doses)
Rhodiola is indeed a very powerful adaptogen, and it has also been utilized as: a nervous system stimulant, an antidepressant, a fatigue reducer, as well as a remedy for high-altitude sickness—all healing qualities a person might especially require in any dreary high altitude or high latitude area.
Historical Use and Trade
Rhodiola has been used for millennia by the peoples living in the colder altitudes of the north to help combat the physical (and even mental) effects of the cold.
The first written reference of its use appeared in 77AD in Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica although it had been used medicinally and as a food source for millennia prior.
It has been used extensively in Norway for centuries. The Norse considered it to be astringent and used it to treat wounds, swollen extremities, and lung problems.
The Vikings consumed rhodiola to give them maximum strength and endurance for heavy labor, and also before going into battle.
According to J. J. Schofield in Discovering Wild Plants, the North American Indians in the Alaska and the northwest region of the U.S. and Canada fermented the plant before eating it.
In ancient China, where the ruling elite were obsessed with longevity and life extension, many emperors sent trade expeditions to Siberia in exchange for this valuable root. They considered it a “gift of the spirits.” Its name in Traditional Chinese Medicine is hóng jǐng tiān.
In Russia, rhodiola was used as a hair wash and a vulnerary (wound healing agent). The Komi people of the Ural mountains stored their rhodiola roots in specially crafted birch bark boxes. They used the root to treat weariness and nervous diseases, and it was also considered to be an overall general use tonic for a wide range of maladies. Hunters in the Russian region were especially fond of the root. Hunting the frigid boreal forests of the far north could come at a high price to one’s vigor and stamina, but rhodiola root was used with great success to combat the physical stress of hunting for months on end in the cold.
Even today, many traditional peoples of the northern Eurasian region still use rhodiola extensively. In Siberia, it is considered to be an aphrodisiac and is used to prolong life. It is traditionally given as a gift to newly weds to symbolically wish the couple a long and fruitful life together. It is rumored that Siberians keep their personal Rhodiola crops a secret, so as to avoid theft and also generate the ability to sell part of their harvest for profit.
Most of the modern research conducted on Rhodiola rosea has been done in Russia, Denmark, Scandinavia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, and Sweden. Due to language barriers, much of the research surrounding this plant still remains tucked away in research papers written in languages other than English. Perhaps for this reason, rhodiola did not become well known in America until the 1960s. Today, it is incredibly popular and has begun to be cultivated due to excessively high demand. Russia listed rhodiola on their Red List in 1980, a sort of equivalent of the American endangered species list.
Although modern research is not in unison (as it rarely ever is), rhodiola is typically classified as an adaptogen and is generally thought to be helpful for altitude sickness, recovery of physical exertion, fatigue, various neurological conditions, increased mental efficiency, regulating stress response, boosting mood, increasing one’s resilience to the cold, anxiety, cognitive disfunction and decline, physical fitness, memory enhancement, weight reduction, immune system stimulation, stomach aches, sexual dysfunctions, cardiac problems, and mood support, with the list of claimed and discovered uses growing longer each year.
Rhodiola rosea 1st Edition Edited By Alain Cuerrier, Kwesi Ampong-Nyarko CRC Press
Schofield. J. J. Discovering Wild Plants - Alaska, W. Canada and the Northwest.
In the post script of our book "Ages of the Giants: A Cultural History of the Tall Ones in Prehistoric America", we exposed some lesser known facts about Margaret Sanger, the infamous founder of Planned Parenthood. The following is an excerpt from the book:
"Margaret Sanger is mostly known for founding Planned Parenthood in 1942 (which emerged from out of her American Birth Control League, established in 1921) and promoting the concept of “birth control” in the United States. Sanger was actually a highly effective voice of eugenics and an official member of the American Eugenics Society (under the name Mrs. Noah Slee). In her many speeches, Sanger repeatedly referenced eugenicists such as Charles Davenport, Francis Galton, and Madison Grant. She advocated the technocratic, highly managed society originally envisioned by Georges Vacher De Lapouge that was fervently promoted in America by Madison Grant. Sanger’s philosophy was that birth control and eugenics had the same end: to eliminate the unfit and undesirable among humanity, which she referred to as “weeds”. (10)
Sanger had received her education in eugenics from Havelock Ellis, who according to some was also her lover and the individual who heightened her interest in the occult. An ardent practitioner of Theosophy, on January 8th, 1936, Margaret Sanger gave a speech about the value of birth control at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, India. In her speech, she advocated the sterilization of the “feebleminded”, epileptics, and those with inheritable diseases, and announced, “I believe this whole movement belongs to those who are helping the spiritual evolution of the race.” (23)
Ancient Americans developed advanced copper working before the rest of the world.
As documented in Ages of the Giants, prehistoric people in America were fabricating sophisticated spear points and other useful objects from copper by 6,000 B.C.
Three thousand years later Western European finally got around to making simple copper beads.
With this early start at metallurgy, it is no surprise that by Hopewell times (200 B.C.), the Indians were creating truly fantastic copper effigies, head plates, and geometric designs.
Among the most remarkable artifacts of the mound builders are the copper effigy antler headdresses. The most famous of these objects have been found at sites of the Hopewell Culture in Southern Ohio. Warren K. Moorehead documented the discovery of two copper antler headdresses in Mound 25 of the Hopewell Mound Group in Ross County.
One of these was discovered with the remarkable Burial 248:
The skeleton, which was badly decayed, was 5 feet, 11 inches long. Associated with it were some very remarkable objects. At the right shoulder lay a large platform pipe and a beautiful agate spear-head. A copper plate lay on the breast, and another on the abdomen, while a third lay under the hips…Cut, sawed and split bears’ teeth covered the chest and abdomen, and several spool-shaped ornaments and buttons of copper were found among the ribs. The body had apparently been dressed in a cloth garment, extending from the neck to the knees, upon which had been sewn several thousand beads, some of pearl and others of shell. Upon the skirt of the garment had been sewn some of the largest and most beautiful pearl beads found in any of the mounds, together with bears’ teeth, etc. The head had been decorated with a remarkable head-dress of wood and copper…The mass of copper in the centre was originally in the form of a semi-circle reaching from the lower jaw to the crown of the head…The antler-shaped ornaments were made of wood encased in sheets of copper, one-sixteenth of an inch thick. They originally had four prongs of nearly equal length. (Warren K. Moorehead, The Hopewell Mound Group of Ohio, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, 1922.), p. 107
The newspapers of the 19th and early 20th centuries sometimes misreported these discoveries as “skeletons with horns”, and these faulty accounts have been routinely reprinted in recent years, causing some to believe that literal horned giants were found in some of the mounds. Although there were no horned giants, the antler headdresses are fascinating objects, and their true meaning and purpose will be explored in the upcoming sequel to Ages of the Giants.
For detailed photograph of Mound 25 artifacts, click here.
A Battle between the Thunderbirds and the Great Water Serpents as witnessed by the Lakota Sioux:
“Some of these ancient people still dwell in the clouds. They have large curved beaks, resembling bison humps, their voices are loud, they do not open their eyes wide except when they make lightning, and they have wings. They can kill various mysterious beings, as well as human beings. Their ancient foes were the giant rattlesnakes, and the Un-kche-ghi-la, or water monsters, whose bones are now found in the bluffs of Nebraska and Dakota. Long ago, the Tetons encamped by a deep lake, whose shore was inclosed by very high cliffs. They noticed that at night, even when there was no breeze, the water in the middle of the lake was constantly roaring. When one gazed in that direction he saw a huge eye as bright as the sun, which caused him to vomit something resembling black earth moistened with water, and death soon followed. That very night the Thunderers came, and the crashing sounds were so terrible that many people fainted. The next morning the shore was covered with the bodies of all kinds of fish, some of which were larger than men, and there were also some huge serpents. The water monster which the Thunderers fought resembled a rattle snake, but he had short legs and rusty-yellow fur.”
--J. Owen Dorsey, “Teton Folk-Lore Notes”, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 2 No. 5, 1889, pp. 133-139.
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