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De Materia Medica remedies book

Roseroot, an ancient remedy for fatigue and disease, gets new respect


Ancient Greeks, Vikings, Caucasians, prehistoric Siberians and Mongolians, and ancient Chinese emperors were all taken with the medicinal properties of the wild herb Rhodiola rosea (golden root or roseroot). Many centuries after it was introduced to Siberia, people there still say those who drink roseroot tea will live to be 100. Now new research has shown that this ancient medicinal herb may also be effective in treating depression.

Since 1960, more than 180 studies have been done to gauge the efficacy of roseroot in promoting health. Now medical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have done the “first randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, comparison trial of oral R. rosea extract versus conventional antidepressant therapy of mild to moderate” depression.  This latest research, along with previous studies, found that the ancients were right to be enamored with roseroot: It works not just in reducing some symptoms of depression, but it also gave “significant reductions in fatigue, depression, and performance ratings” in two groups tested in another study.

In ancient times, Siberians found the root so valuable they would trade it for wine, fruit and honey, according to

Rhodiola rosea or roseroot herb is an ancient remedy that has been studied in the 20th and 21st centuries for alleviating depression and reducing fatigue.

Rhodiola rosea or roseroot herb is an ancient remedy that has been studied in the 20 th and 21 st centuries for alleviating depression and reducing fatigue. (Σ64 photo/Wikimedia Commons)

“In Siberia to this day, it is said that people who drink Rhodiola rosea tea will live to be more than 100,” the MDidea article states. “The herb still is given to newlyweds to assure fertility and the birth of healthy children. For centuries the details of how and where to harvest the wild root were a closely guarded secret among members of certain Siberian families, who would transport Rhodiola rosea down ancient trails in the Altai and Caucasus mountains and trade it for Georgian wine, fruit, and honey.”

MORE says roseroot is known in Asia and Eastern Europe to be efficacious in easing fatigue and enhancing work performance, alleviating depression, stimulating the nervous system and preventing high-altitude illness.

Dioscorides, an ancient Greek doctor, mentions roseroot in his book De Materia Medica, or On Medical Material.

A drawing of an insect with roseroot from John Curtis’ 19th century book ‘British Entomology’

A drawing of an insect with roseroot from John Curtis’ 19 th century book ‘British Entomology’ (Wikimedia Commons)

Rhodiola has a legendary history dating back thousands of years,” says “In 77 A.D., the Greek physician Dioscorides documented the medical applications of the plant, which he then called rodia riza, in his classic medical text De Materia Medica. The Vikings depended on the herb to enhance their physical strength and endurance, while Chinese emperors sent expeditions to Siberia to bring back the golden root’ for medicinal preparations. The people of central Asia considered a tea brewed from Rhodiola rosea to be the most effective treatment for cold and flu. Mongolian physicians prescribed it for tuberculosis and cancer.”


MDidea says the root made its way west via Bronze Age trade routes between Greece and what is now the Republic of Georgia. Sailors and traders made their way from “the Aegean Sea, the Hellespont (Dardanelles), the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus, and the Black Sea to a land called Colchis” in Georgia.

The tale of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts has some myth and fiction in it, but it documents contacts between the Greeks and people of Colchis more than 3,000 years ago.

Map of the Argonauts’ route. Note Colchis (Kohlkis) in the upper right.

Map of the Argonauts’ route. Note Colchis (Kohlkis) in the upper right. (Maris stella map/Wikimedia Commons)

The University of Pennsylvania researchers’ article, which may be read here, says roseroot and other herbs used to treat depression may not be as effective as the modern control drug, but it may be better in one way:

In the current trial, we believe that we may have shown a potentially more favorable benefit to risk ratio for R. rosea subjects (even though sertraline demonstrated a greater efficacy), and others have shown similar results for hypericum and other botanicals in mild to moderate depression.

In other words, side effects of the modern drug sertraline are more severe than roseroot, which may cause patients to stop taking the modern drug. In fact, two subjects in the recent study quit taking sertraline because of side effects.

Featured image: A 15 th century Byzantine copy of De Materia Medica by the ancient Greek doctor Dioscorides that mentions Rhodiola rosea as beneficial. (PHGCOM photo/Wikimedia Commons)

By Mark Miller



Good information.  The terrible, profit-driven paradigm of using patentable synthetic drugs to treat nearly every affliction is one which relies on such brutal public ignorance that studying it will stagger the comprehension of future generations.  That being said, I’m encouraged to see the high effectiveness of natural treatments and cures regaining recognition.

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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