Plant Family: Crassulaceae (Orpine or Stonecrop family)
Part Used: Root and rhizome (You can buy seeds of Rhodiola from: Horizon Herbs)
Tissue state/Energetics: Very astringent and Dry (Yance in Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism recommends rhodiola is best used in a formula with other adaptogens with rhodiola in the range of 10 to 20% of the overall formula), Sweet, Slightly bitter or sour, Spicy, Cool - Brigitte Mars in The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine considers the herb moist. The conflict between Yance's "Very astringent and dry" and Mars' "moist" could merely be a reflection that most astringent herbs help the body retain moisture rather than cause dryness, a common misconception until you understand how astringents work in the body.
Active Constituents: Rosavins: rosavin, rosin, rosarin, and tyrosol; Salidroside (rhodioloside); p-Tyrosal; Flavonoids (rodiolin, rodionin, rodiosin, acetylrodalgin, and tricin); Monoterpenes (rosiridol, rosaridin); triterpenes (daucosterol, beta-sitosterol); and phenolic acids (chlorogenic, hydroxycinnamic, gallic); Essential oil (n-Decanol, geraniol, 1,4-p-menthadien-7-ol, linalool and its oxides, geraniol; amino acids; vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. It is important to harvest rhodiola in the right season following the right number of growth years (minimum of 4 years’ growth before harvesting) from a climate suitable to the plant (Russion Rhodiola rosea is twice as potent as Chinese Rhodiola rosea), and avoid overdrying the plant or using inferior extraction methods.
Biochemical Actions: Adaptogen, antidepressant, antioxidant, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, antimetastatic, antiviral, immune system stimulant, nervine/antidepressant, mild central nervous system stimulant, antiarrythmic (protects against irregular heartbeats), cardioprotective, hepatoprotective, and neuroprotective.
Medicinal Use: The root of rhodiola is used in mainstream Russian medicine for fatigue and infectious illnesses and in psychiatric and neurological conditions. Small doses have a stimulating effect on laboratory animals while larger doses have more of a sedative effect. The root's double whammy of cognitive stimulation and emotional calming enhances learning and memory while delivering beneficial antioxidant effects to the brain. Rhodiola is a cooling adaptogen and, though improving mental performance and symptoms of fatigue, it is not likely to cause overstimulation, which is sometimes seen in those taking Asian or Panax ginseng. Rhodiola is very appropriate for folks with asthenic depression, altitude sickness (particularly when combined with cordyceps, reishi, and holy basil), ADHD, and helping folks recover from traumatic brain injury. The herb has positive effects on the endocrine glands, helping to balance blood sugar levels, decreasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, relieving muscle stiffness and spasms, and enhancing male and female reproductive function in that it improves erectile dysfunction in men and relieves amenorrhea and infertility caused by mild hormonal imbalances and stress in women.
An open study of 53 healthy subjects and 412 patients with a mixed bag of neuroses and debilities (such as recovering from illness and infection) showed rhodiola to improve symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, irritability, weakness and headaches. In another open study, 21 docs took rhodiola before embarking on intense intellectual work – every last one had an improvement in quality of work, and their fatigue was diminished.
At 300 mg/day (a relatively high dose), proofreaders’ accuracy improved , though it did not increase the number of errors caught. Moral: You may produce more and be more accurate, but you may still miss your boo-boo’s!
At 170 mg/day (lower dose), 56 physicians’ functioning was improved on prolonged night duty during a 2-week period but was not as effective in the last 2 weeks of a 6-week period, suggesting the herb is helpful in coping with physical and emotional stressors but we still need to alter our lifestyle for better health in long-term and also may address the issue of rhodiola being best used in a formula for long-term use.
A double-blind study of 60 med students studying for finals, their well-being, physical fitness, mental fatigue, and exam grades improved with a relatively low dose of rhodiola.
High school students’ psychic fatigue and situation anxiety were reduced using rhodiola.
In a 12-week study, rhodiola and a blend of vitamins and minerals improved symptoms such as exhaustion, forgetfulness, daytime sleepiness, irritability, and other similar complaints. More improvement was seen in those who took a full dose of rhodiola in the morning rather than a divided dose during the day.
In a 6-week study of depression (mild to moderate), a rhodiola dosage of 340 to 680mg/day improved symptoms of depression, insomnia, and emotional stability but not self esteem.
Rhodiola is considered superior to ginseng during acute stress, preventing stress-induced dysruptions to the nervous and endocrine systems, improving the HPA response and enhancing performance.
A recent study showed rhodiola did not affect muscle recovery time or time to exhaustion in 12 resistance-trained men taking 1500 mg/day for 4 days. Though a small study did show rhodiola did reduce levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory protein) and creatinine kinase in healthy untrained volunteers after exhaustive exercise – guess what I’m reaching for tomorrow so I can get the rest of my garden planted?
Rhodiola has antioxidant, cardioprotective, anticarcinogenic, and strengthening effects, along with a very low toxicity level. The LD50 in rats equates to a 235,000mg dose for the average-sized man. Since the typical dose is 600 mg/day, I think safety is not a big issue.
Rhodiola normalizes thyroid function in mild hypothyroidism, enhances thymus gland function, and protects or delays age-related involution of organs, as well as improves adrenal gland reserves without causing hypertrophy.
The extract reduces the incidence of chromosomal damage and increases DNA repair in bone marrow cells after exposure to a mutagen such as radiation.
Additionally, rhodiola provides sexual enhancement, assists in weight reduction, is chemoprotective and chemopotentiating, as well as radiation protective, and is a cardioprotective adaptogen, it prevents stress-indcued catecholamine activity in cardiac tissue and reduces adrenaline-induced arrhythmias, as well as regulates blood pressure and heart rate, provides resistance to altitude sickness, improves sleep, breathing, and fatigue associated with altitude, provides protection against lethal heat shock, has profound antioxidant activities, is hepatoprotective, antidiabetic and enables better insulin sensitivity and signaling, prevents ischemic brain damage, prevents lung damage in pulmonary hypertension, and helps to normalize overall body functions, especially under stress conditions, both physical and psychological.
Rhodiola for Whom?
*Folks bogged down in the stress and fatigue of demanding intellectual work;
*Those who have trouble getting over minor illnesses: It’s just hanging on and on;
*Those unable to rest and can’t “afford to be sick;”
*Students of any age who are frazzled and fatigued from studying too hard;
*Those with trouble concentrating while awake and trouble sleeping at night;
*For enhancing fertility and improving libido;
*Those with low thyroid function and depleted adrenal function;
*Improving adaptation to high altitude;
*Treating GI infections and ailments.
Safety Issues: Winston & Kuhn in Herbal Therapy & Supplements states “There is no animal or human evidence of toxicity or teratogenicity for Use in Pregnancy/Lactation/Children.” Winston and Maimes, in Adaptogens, suggests avoiding rhodiola in patients who are bipolar, manic, or have paranoid mental states. Yance in Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism says “Taken within the [wild Russian grown] dosage range, rhodiola root extract has no side effects or toxicity. This herb is best used as part of an adaptogenic formulation because of its drying, astringent nature, and because it does not require high doses to produce a therapeutic effect.”
Dosage: 1 to 2 tsp dried root in 8 oz hot water decoction – 1 to 3 cups/day; 4 to 6 ml/three times/day of a 1:5 tincture (30% alcohol); 500 – 1,000mg standardized capsule providing 3% to 6% rosavins and 1% salidroside. The best rhodiola product will be wild Russian-grown 1:1 fluid extract: 2 to 5 ml daily as part of an adaptogenic formula that includes other adaptogens.
Shonda's Personal Dosage: As I said in the earlier blog post on American Ginseng, I take a blend that includes Rhodiola at 10 am and before 3 pm to avoid having any of the more stimulating adaptogens interfere with my already muddled sleep pattern, leaning heavily upon ashwaganda in the evening and bedtime to enhance sleep.
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Plant Family: Araliaceae, commonly called sang or seng
Learn to start your own Sang farm at:
Part used: Root – Given the endangered status of wild American ginseng, please look for cultivated American ginseng on the bottle of your preferred supplement or from your bulk herb supplier.
Taste/Energetics: Sweet, bitter, slightly cool, and moist.
Active Constituents: Triterpene saponins (4.3% to 4.9%), known as ginsenoside Rb; Triterpene oligoglycosides; Antioxidants.
Biochemical Actions: Adaptogen, antioxidant, bitter tonic and gentle stomachic, mild central nervous system tonic, mild demulcent (soothes mucous membranes), hypoglycemic agent, and immune amphoteric.
Medicinal Use: American ginseng was a last medicinal measure for serious illness when nothing else worked in many Native American tribes. The plant is quite lovely and found in Eastern hardwood forests chillin’ in the shade. There is some concern amongst clinical herbalists about cultivated American ginseng products. The plant has been over-harvested in the wild, but organic, woods-cultivated products that simulate growth in the wild have the potential for less conscientious growers exposing the plant to high levels of fungicides and other chemicals. This is yet another case for knowing your suppliers as well as possible.
Modern medicinal usefulness centers on:
*Mild to moderate depletion of HPA axis and adrenal gland depletion, often found in those with dark circles under their eyes, who are chronically fatigued, and may show elevated cortisol levels in saliva tests,
*Immune system dysfunction that results from HPA axis depletion, often evidenced by those who frequently catch every cold or respiratory bug that passes by them,
*Metabolic syndrome (hyperinsulinemia), as well as type 2 diabetes are better controlled with use of American ginseng,
*Sexual tonic. Though known as a male sexual tonic, it has also been used for female reproductive problems as well. Due to its positive effects on the HPA axis and in helping to improve insulin sensitivity and maintain healthy blood sugar levels, American ginseng would be appropriate in an adaptogen formula for women with PCOS and for menopausal women feeling dry and emotionally tight,
*Pain in the bones, particularly in response to cold, and loose ligaments,
*Digestive bitter to enhance digestion and absorption of nutrients making it useful for achlorhydria (low stomach acid), tummy rumblings, and nutrient absorption malfunction, and
*Endocrine, immune, gastrointestinal, and nervous system support.
American ginseng shows definite hypoglycemic action in clinical studies for Type 2 diabetes (NIDDM), as well as improving lipid (blood fats) levels in this same population.
A proprietary blend extract (COLD-fx) was found to aid the prevention of colds in healthy adults, 323 of whom took, 400mg of COLD-fx per day or placebo for four months and maintained assessment records of cold-related symptoms. 279 of participants completed the study. American ginseng (in extract form) reduced risk of recurrent colds by 12.8% and significantly reduced the severity of symptoms and length of colds, too.
American ginseng combined with ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, reduced hyperactive impulses and social problems in children with ADHD in one study.
In a randomized, double-blind, crossover study of 13 healthy males, they were given 1,600 mg of American ginseng per day for 4 weeks prior to exhaustive running exercise. There was an improvement in a marker of muscle damage (creatine kinase), but their aerobic workout ability was not enhanced.
If you’re a mouse, American ginseng can make you a calmer mouse – no stressed out Remy in the kitchen for you! (remember the movie, Ratatouille?). The saponins in the plant had an anxiolytic effect equal to that of diazepam (Valium®) but didn’t make the mice woozy and have negative effects on their motor skills (good thing since we never know when they might need to pinch hit in the kitchen)!
The herb appears to have neuroprotective and immune-enhancing effects in animals, making it a possible treatment for Parkinson’s disease. Its antineoplastic effects actually enhanced the efficacy of breast cancer chemotherapy drugs in vitro. The herb has cardioprotective effects and blocked the development of reverse tolerance to morphine and inhibited morphine-induced memory impairment, as well as facilitated robust male libido in rats. Even low-dose (35mg/kg body weight) American ginseng enhanced the course and magnitude of antibody response to vaccination in horses…don’t say “Naaaayyyy!”
Authors of Clinical Herbal Medicine, Eric Yarnell, ND, Kathy Abascal, B.S., J.D., and Robert Rountree, M.D., from which book some of this helpful information comes, encourage herbalists to match therapy with American ginseng with the following demographic groups:
*Men and women of middle age (40-65), particularly those who handle common midlife stressors such as teenage children, elderly parents, peak career demands, and the physical stressors of poor lifestyle choices finally catching up to them in elevated lipid levels and increased blood pressure,
*Those who cannot tolerate the more stimulating effect of Panax ginseng,
*Of particular use in menopausal women and women with breast cancer – cools hot flashes, moistens dry tissue, and supports chemotherapy,
*When gentle effects are needed rather than a bolder, quicker body effect.
Safety Issues: Botanical Safety Handbook - Class 1, Interaction B, meaning safe to be used in appropriate dosages, though because of its modifying effect on glucose regulation, those on meds for diabetes will need to be monitored and evaluated by their physician to avoid blood sugar levels falling too low. Large amounts above the recommended dosage range may cause overstimulation. The caution in several herbal texts against using in persons with hypertension was hypothetical; American ginseng was found to have a neutral effect on blood pressure of hypertensive patients in a double-blinded control trial (Herbal Therapy & Supplements by Winston and Kuhn). No known contraindications for pregnancy and lactation.
General Dosage: 1 tsp of root in 12 oz water. Slowly decoct 15 to 20 minutes until the liquid is reduced to 8 oz; up to 12 oz/day; 6 to 9 ml/day of a 1:2 or 1:5 tincture (35% alcohol); Two 500 mg capsules twice/day.
Shonda's Personal Dosage: I take a daily tonic that includes American ginseng, astragalus, rhodiola, Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), licorice root, schisandra berries, and Fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum, also called He Shou Wu) with one dose about 10 am in the morning and one no later than 3 pm in the afternoon. I take this tonic along with 1,000 mg of ashwaganda root.
A few novel ways to introduce American ginseng to your diet suggested by David Winston and Steven Maimes in Adaptogens:
**Add two to three American ginseng roots to your favorite chicken soup recipe. Other adaptogenic herbs you might choose to add to your chicken soup might be astragalus or lycium.
**Steep the roots in your favorite Mountain Corn Liquor for six months to a year then take a shot as a tonic daily.
Winston & Maimes also have a recipe for American ginseng in a Quail's Eggs dish on page 255 of their book.
Herbal Text Sources:
Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd Edition Edited by Zoe Gardner & Michael McGuffin
Clinical Botanical Medicine by Eric Yarnell, Kathy Abascal, & Robert Rountree
Essential Guide to Herbal Safety by Simon Mills & Kerry Bone
Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs by Kerry Bone
Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants by Matthew Wood
Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, & Stress Relief by David Winston & Steven Maimes
Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism by Donald R Yance
Herbal Therapy & Supplements by David Winston & Merrilyn Kuhn
Naturally Healthy Herbs Materia Medica by Shonda Parker
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Commonly called Indian ginseng, winter cherry, Hindi name asgandh
Plant family: Solanaceae (Nightshade family) - An evergreen shrub found in arid regions of India. Its range extends as far west as Israel.
Part Used: Root primarily, though a bit of research has been done on the leaves, too (see pictures and growing information at Horizon Herbs
Taste/Energetics: Bitter, warm, dry
Active Constituents: Steroidal compounds: steroidal lactones (withanolides, withaferins), withanolides and alkaloids (isopelletierine and anaferine), saponins (including sitoindoside VII and VIII), glycosides, and iron.
Biochemical Actions: Adaptogen, mild sedative, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune amphoteric (immunomodulating), antitumor, antistress/nervine, antispasmodic, mild astringent, antianemic (hemapoietic), and rejuvenating properties, positively affecting the endocrine, cardiopulmonary, and central nervous systems.
Medicinal Use: One of the most useful herbs as we age, particularly when there is sexual debility/loss of libido involved or infertility; promotes growth in children. The Latin name of the plant means “sweat of the horse.” From that, you can guess the root is a tad odiferous. Ashwaganda is the one of the best adaptogens for calming nervine or antistress effects, which makes it very effective for anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, stress-induced insomnia, neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion), and some perimenopausal muscle pain. When taken during extreme stress, ashwaganda counteracts changes in blood sugar, adrenal weight, and cortisol levels.
In Ayurvedic medicine, the herb is usually prescribed for arthritis and rheumatism and to prevent disease in the elderly, as well as in pregnancy. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study of 42 patients with osteoarthritis, ashwaganda combined with other herbs significantly reduced pain and disability. In another study, again with other herbs, ashwaganda proved superior to placebo to treat arthritis of the knee. David Winston often uses a blend of ashwaganda with kudzu root, cyperus root, and black cohosh root for the chronic muscle pain of fibromyalgia, neck and back pain, restless legs syndrome (if taken with magnesium), and arthritis.
In healthy children, administration of ashwaganda increase body weight and hemoglobin. It also increased hemoglobin levels and hair melanin in a year-long study of 101 healthy males. For anemia, ashwaganda powder is often mixed with milk and molasses.
In a six-week study on laying hens, ashwaganda extract increased egg productions, improved shell weight despite increased stress on hens, and improved calcium and phosphorus retention in the hens' tibia bones, thus the herb possibly may enhance productive performance and bone mineralization in humans.
One study showed a significant inhibition of parasitemia in mice inoculated with Plasmodium berghei compared to controls with a maximum inhibition at a dose of 600mg/kg of body weight.
Ashwaganda may help compensate for damaged neuronal circuits in those with dementia and may have some protective effect against development of Alzheimer's; stimulate thyroid function and increases physical endurance; has strong hepato- and renal-protective (liver protective similar to that achieved by milk thistle) and antineoplastic (antitumor) effects; is cardioprotective, cardiotropic, and has anticoagulant properties; anti-inflammatory; antioxidant; and immunomodulating.
Ashwaganda is one of the herbs I always include in a protocol for those with cancer, even those who choose chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Animal studies indicate ashwaganda causes an increase in white blood cell, red blood cell, and platelet counts, as well as helps increase body weight following chemotherapy and protects against myelosuppression. Ashwaganda regulates angiogenic processes and appears to selectively inhibit cancerous tumor angiogenesis. Specific research has been conducted showing positive effects of ashwaganda use in cases of prostate, breast, and colon cancer, though other studies indicate protective and therapy-synergistic effects of the herb with other types of cancer as well.
Although ashwaganda appears safe, one study did show it interfered with serum digoxin measurements. Yet another study showed ashwaganda extract was found to be helpful against multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains.
Another case report states that ashwaganda may have precipitated thyrotoxicosis in a patient taking the herb for chronic fatigue (report is in Dutch and thus the details cannot be examined by this author). On the other hand, ashwaganda seems able to offset the side effects of some medicines, reversing haloperidol-induced catalepsy in mice and reducing reserpine-induced orofacial dyskinesia and cognitive dysfunction in rats.
Ashwaganda for whom?
*Those who are stressed, particularly if the stress results in low libido;
*Anxious folks because it is not associated with insomnia unlike the ginsengs and eleuthero and affords an anti-anxiety effect within 15-30 minutes after administration of the herb;
*Good choice for arthritic patients;
*Elderly suffering from various degrees of dementia;
*Those with cancer or those trying to prevent cancer development;
*Those with malaria or working to prevent malaria;
*Folks with autoimmune conditions.
Safety Issues: Class 2 b, according to Botanical Safety Handbook, 2nd Edition. Mills and Bone in Essential Guide to Herbal Safety report a review of traditional Ayurvedic literature notes that list ashwaganda as an abortifacient in three of the five sources checked; however, the definition of abortifacient was quite broad, including emmenagogue, uterine contractor, and antimetabolite. Although it is used in Casablanca and West Pakistan for abortion and has also been used to tone the uterus in women who miscarry to remove retained placenta, another traditional source lists it for use as a nutrient and tonic in pregnant women. In India, the herb is often used in milk as a tonic during pregnancy. An animal study of rats administered the whole plant decoction (100mg/kg/day for 8 months) resulted in same litter sizes and frequency of pregnant to controls, though progeny on ashwaganda had higher average body weights. Withania root powder (25mg/day for 10 days) administered orally to male and female mice, later paired for mating, resulted in decreased litter size and produced some infertility. Mills notes the discrepancy in safety information may be due to use of different plant parts: “Withania leaf has a very different phytochemical content compared to the root.” The root may have an antifertility effect (though I would not rely solely on this one study), but this is not clear either, as several texts list it as having been long used to prevent miscarriage and to enhance fertility, particularly in men with low sperm counts. Even should there be some antifertility effects associated with the use of the herb, that does not necessarily imply harm during pregnancy. Bone in Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs states no adverse effects expected. Winston in Adaptogens says caution may be warranted for use in pregnancy while Yance in Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism states "Ashwaganda is very safe and free of side effects when taken in the prescribed range of dosage. Toxicity studies reveal that ashwaganda is completely safe. Very large doses, however, have been shown to cause gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, and vomiting: such quantities may possess abortifacient properties as well, so caution should be taken in pregnancy." For my own use and that of my clients, I keep the dosage to 3 to 6 grams per day during pregnancy and have observed no ill effects.
General Dosage: 3 to 10 g/day of dried root or by decoction; 5 to 13 ml/day of a 1:2 liquid extract or equivalent in tablet or capsule form; 100 to 1,000 mg/day of a standardized extract (containing 4.5% withanolides).
Shonda's Use of Ashwaganda: I generally take at least 1,000 mg mid-morning, another 1,000 mg mid-afternoon, and then 2,000 mg at bedtime to help me sleep. If I happen to feel particularly anxious over something, I take another 1,000 mg as needed.
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