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What Is Rhodiola?

Live Long and Prosper With This Supercool Superfood

Everyone wants to live longer and . . . uh . . . prosper more — at least, if they listen to Starfleet Officer Spock, they do. Well, good news! Here's an adaptogen to put in your toolkit: rhodiola rosea. In addition to proving valuable as a remedy for fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, rhodiola has recently garnered attention for its potential ability to extend life and promote alert wakefulness as well as mental calm. So what do we think about rhodiola? We think we want to know more, and we're betting you do too.

What Is It?

Rhodiola, a high-altitude herb in the Crassulaceae family, has been used in northern latitudes for centuries. It is a prime component in the Chinese medicine toolkit and has a storied history in Viking culture as a means of fighting fatigue, staying alert and calm, and prolonging the ability to engage in physical activity. Today, it has earned a reputation as a friend of athletes, helping them work out longer without breaking down. It is also an adaptogen, a class of compounds that help the body respond to physical and psychological stressors.

What Does It Do?

Early evidence indicates a wide variety of benefits related to the adaptogenic properties of rhodiola. These include the facts that it:

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  • Reduces fatigue-related cognitive function
  • Reduces symptoms of stress
  • Helps modulate the "burnout" effect that results from stress or prolonged physical activity
  • May protect the nerves against toxins
  • Increases serotonin
  • Reduces cortisol

For a while, there was talk that rhodiola might work as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor and could thereby play an antidepressant role instead of the now-disfavored class of pharmaceuticals, but it now appears as though it's not very effective as such.

What's the Nutritional Breakdown?

As an herb, rhodiola is taken in capsule or powder form and therefore carries no calories with it. However, it does contain a variety of micronutrients, including flavonoids, which are said to protect against cancer, and polyphenols, which protect against a huge variety of other conditions.

What Does It Taste Like?

Rhodiola is bitter with a slight sweetness.

How Do I Eat It?

Rhodiola's slightly bitter sweet flavor makes it ideal for tea. Combine five grams of chopped root with one cup of boiling water and allow to steep for four hours, then strain and serve. Many people find this brew a little too intense to handle, so you can also take it in capsule form. Others use the powder to flavor their soups.

Are There Any Negative Side Effects?

Some people may notice rhodiola side effects such as heightened anxiety, irritability, insomnia, agitation, and increased blood pressure. If you are sensitive to caffeine, it's probably best to avoid it.

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