Rhodiola tea in the making

Rhodiola rosea tea is my morning cuppa’ jo, and has been for several years now.  It’s an amazing drink for starting the day with positive energy and focus.  The taste is unique, pleasant and mild.  Like most root teas, it is important not to let it boil.  Also, a steep time of 5-10 minutes is essential to extract the root’s bioactive compounds.  Start the root brewing before your other activities in the kitchen and your tea will be ready when you sit down for breakfast.

How does ARRGO process the roots for tea?  The tea is made from pure Canadian-grown Rhodiola rosea and nothing else.  After we have washed, chipped and dried the Rhodiola, it’s necessary to ensure that potentially harmful bacteria are removed.  The Rhodiola chips are given a 15-minute exposure to low-pressure steam.  The attached pictures show the Rhodiola chips coming out of the steam kettle onto pans for a quick period of drying prior to milling to our customer’s spec’s. 

In the steam kettle room the floral smell is powerful, and one could imagine that inhaling the heady aroma should be beneficial in itself.  Back to reality, though.  What’s most important – this form of steam pasteurization is not harmful to the beneficial compounds in Rhodiola rosea.  Testing of the bioactives (rosavins and salidroside) indicates very little change after pasteurization.  Sometimes the steam process will even create a conversion of the cinnamyl alcohol back into rosavins. 

Here’s the best part – the benefits of Rhodiola rosea are extracted into the hot water in your teacup.  Testing has shown that a heaping teaspoon of coarse milled tea, or even less for finer milled material, will provide the same benefits as the average daily Rhodiola rosea supplement. 

Back at the breakfast table and savouring my tea.  Bring on the day!

Organic Rhodiola tea comp

The Case for Cultivating Rhodiola rosea

Cultivated Rhodiola rosea - Alberta, Canada

ARRGO is thankful and grateful for the work of Ann Armbrecht and Terrence Youk who have recently released their video – The Case for Cultivating Rhodiola rosea.  Ann is the Director of the Sustainable Herbs Program of the American Botanical Council.  Interviews by Ann and filming and editing by Terry have accurately told the story of what we do and why we do it.  

The detailed research of Josef Brinckmann regarding the status of wild Rhodiola rosea was released earlier this year.  His paper is cited and reviewed in an earlier ARRGO blog.  In the video Dr. Brinckmann discusses the slow growing nature of Rhodiola rosea and how the plants that are wild harvested have been growing for 20-30 years to reach maturity.  ARRGO works with the slow-growing nature of Rhodiola rosea, and has demonstrated maturity under cultivation at 5 years.  Given time to grow, a circumpolar climate, and limited competition from other plants, the cultivated Rhodiola will yield economic returns after 5 years of diligent crop management efforts.

Since 2007 ARRGO applauds and supports the pioneering and inventive spirit of the members of our growers cooperative.  We have learned enough to make it work, and there is much more to discover, to be amazed by and surprised by, as we continue to work with this amazing adaptogen. 

ARRGO also recognizes that it is essential to share our knowledge with others who are keen to cultivate Rhodiola rosea sustainably.  ARRGO openly collaborates with the Alaska Rhodiola Growers, as well as grassroots efforts in the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec.  There is room for many as the worldwide demand for Rhodiola rosea increases. 

ARRGO looks forward to working with companies and their customers who demand purity, sustainability and a stable supply chain.  Thank you for supporting the ARRGO Farmers and for making cultivated Rhodiola rosea truly sustainable.


FairWild Week and wildharvested Rhodiola rosea

Harvesting wild Rhodiola rosea in the Tian Shan Mountains

ARRGO celebrates those who are working hard right now to bring in the wild Rhodiola rosea harvest in an ethical and sustainable manner.  In the province of Xinjiang in northwest China, the wild Rhodiola is dug in June and July.  More than 95% of the world’s supply of Rhodiola rosea comes from the wild.  ARRGO is hoping to make a difference and to make the supply of Rhodiola rosea sustainable through cultivation.  Rhodiola rosea has benefitted so many and we want to ensure the supply for generations to come.  But just as important is the wild supply.  What have we yet to discover about this diverse species?  And what will we lose if the wild species is lost?

Here is an article recently revised and published by the American Botanical Council’s Sustainable Herbs Program about the wild harvest of Rhodiola rosea in China.  In China, the wild harvest takes place in the Xinjian Uighur Autonomous Region, which lies in the northwest of the country where Rhodiola rosea grows on the steep slopes of the Tian Shan mountain chain.  Wild Rhodiola rosea is also collected in parts of Mongolia and Russia.

Next week, June 21-25, 2021 is FairWild Week.   This series of webinars is sponsored by the FairWild Foundation.  It is a great way to learn more about the state of wildharvesting and how it affects everyone.

Regarding wildharvesting, the FairWild Foundation says this:

One key issue is that, as consumers, we often have absolutely no idea we’re consuming wild plants. And if we do, many companies, whether purposefully or not, make it very difficult to find out where these ingredients came from and whether they were collected sustainably and ethically.

Based on IUCN Red List criteria, one in 10 of the 19% of plant species used for medicinal and aromatic properties that have been assessed are threatened with extinction in the wild. Unsustainable use and overexploitation are key threats to the world’s wild plants, and figures show that global trade in wild plant ingredients is increasing with the value of trade tripling in recent years.

It’s not only consumers who rely on wild plant ingredients however; millions of people the world over depend on them for their primary source of income. In Europe, 26% of households collect non-wood forest products (NWFPs), with global production of NWFPs valued at USD88billion per year.

ARRGO sincerely appreciates our customers and our growers that have made the choice and support cultivation of Rhodiola rosea.  We applaud all efforts to keep the wild sources of Rhodiola in tact.  Let’s work together to allow this amazing and invaluable medicinal herb to continue to benefit many in the years to come.

Organic cultivated Rhodiola rosea

Organic vs. Conventional Growing for Rhodiola

Organic vs. Conventional Growing for Rhodiola

What’s the difference between organic and conventional growing methods for Rhodiola rosea?

In short – pesticides and fertilizers.  All inputs for organic farming must be from approved organic sources.  From mulches to potting soil – it all has to be organic. 

I have been working in a lovely organic field this spring, and the size of the Rhodiola is amazing.  The rows of blooming Rhodiola are speckled with blooming dandelions and a variety of weeds, not to mention a few trees.  The field looks healthy and is a vibrant community of diversity.

Weeds like organic farming, too, and that can be challenging, especially for a five-year crop like Rhodiola.  Methods for weeding include cultivation, flaming, mulching and dropping down on your hands and knees with a trusty digger.  I personally thought alpacas would work.  They seemed to prefer dandelions over Rhodiola, but now they nibble the Rhodiola stems and leaves and some of the crown, too!  We keep looking for better ways to control weeds.  Maybe robotic weeders will someday save my back!

For conventional Rhodiola rosea, the inputs are limited, too.  There are no herbicides currently registered for Rhodiola rosea.  That means the conventional farmers are limited to spraying in the paths between the rows.  Over the next few months, though, these limitations will change.  With the introduction of approved herbicides, it is hoped that the conventional Rhodiola rosea will produce higher yields in shorter time.  One other key component is in processing.  Processing rates are higher when there are fewer weeds to remove.

Other than removal of herbicides from our diet, are there other advantages for organic Rhodiola rosea?  Possibly.  ARRGO has noted over the last two years that the beneficial compounds in organic Rhodiola are relatively higher or more concentrated than those in conventional Rhodiola.  Why?  Possibly since the organic Rhodiola has to compete with invasive weeds, its defense mechanism may be to increase its levels of rosavins and salidroside.  Our customers who buy organic like to see weeds in our fields for this reason!  Whew!  That means we don’t have to be so embarrassed by our plant menageries, until the county weed inspector gives us a call!

Organic Rhodiola rosea growing in rows – Alberta, Canada

Spring Harvest is underway!

Spring Harvest is underway!

The harvest has started and the farmers are delivering their Rhodiola rosea to the ARRGO Processing Facility in Thorsby, Alberta.  Six years or more of hard work culminates in many trips to Thorsby with the flatbed trailer.  Thanks, Brett and Micha.  Your roots look amazing! 

Each net bag holds 600-800 lbs of roots, tops and dirt.  Most of the plants are dug with a potato digger and then manually picked up one at a time and cleaned before placing in the bag.  Depending on the size of the plant, there will be 300-500 plants in a bag.  Brett and Micha are hoping to bring in 60,000 plants this spring.  That’s 120 bags or more of bending, picking and cleaning!

A closer look at the plants shows lots of spring growth.  The plants have bolted and are blooming.  To make processing easier, the farmers are asked to mow their fields before the plants are dug.  Rhodiola makes a crown or dome above ground, so a real close shave with the mower deck is not recommended.  The rest of the shoots will have to be removed by the processing crew.

Brett and Micha’s roots were tested before harvest, and their results were excellent.  Rosavins and salidroside are all in the highest range.  There are markets waiting for their harvest.  A spring harvest to be proud of.  Thanks to all the ARRGO growers for the all the work! 

Rhodiola rosea - spring harvest fresh from the field


In Full Bloom

In Full Bloom

Late May and the adult plants in the nursery are loaded with yellow flowers.  The seedlings are all moved out to the field, but these plants remain in the nursery to make next year’s seed.   The sounds and sights of buzzing insects are evidence of a good seed harvest in the making.

Rhodiola rosea plants are dioecious, either male or female.  As the flowers appear, the differences in plant gender are noticeable.  Just my observation, but the males are bright yellow before the females show their color display.  At this time of year and in the pictures the male plants have the most color. 

Close up photos show the differences in flower structure.  The males have a star shaped burst of stamens and are in their fully glory.  The females have swollen pods and are just starting to open.  The female flowers are smaller, and tighter and the pod or ovary at the flower base is prominent.

The male plants in the picture are shorter and smaller, but that is not always the case.  Published literature suggests that the male plants can be larger and may have slightly increased levels of beneficial compounds.  I think I will look for new breeder males for next year’s crop of seeds!

Rhodiola rosea requires insects for pollination.  The bees are always around, and so are smaller flying insects.  They hop around quickly and were camera shy today. There are many other flowers blooming, such as cherry, apple and dandelions, and the native plant called Buffalo bean.  It’s good that some insects prefer some adaptogenic pollen and nectar during this time of plenty.

The male flowers will fade as their work will soon be done.  The female flower heads will develop over the next two months and seed harvest occurs in early August after the stems have turned brown.

May is almost wrapped up, and the next two months are all about weeding.  Yay!!! (not!!!!)

Male Rhodiola rosea Flowers
Female Rhodiola rosea Flowers

Time to Transplant

Time to Transplant

It’s cloudy, cold and damp outside and the weather is perfect for transplanting.  While most Albertans gather inside and wait for warmer spring days, this Rhodiola farmer is busy moving seedlings from their nursery to the field.  The plants are small enough that it’s easy to scoop them out of the loose dirt in the nursery and crowd them into trays for the short drive out to the field.   Then we load them onto the shelves on the transplanter, and plant them one-by-one as we ride behind the tractor.  The furrows open up and fill with water, and the plants are firmly seated into the muddy furrow.

There are as many ways to plant Rhodiola as there are Rhodiola farmers.  Some plant into raised beds, some plant into holes punched into plastic mulch.  Most Rhodiola is planted in rows and the spacing between rows is dictated by some part of the tractor, often the width of the wheel base. 

Like so many things, the actual transplanting is the last action after much planning and preparation.  The field is worked up and there are no weeds, at least none growing for now.  How will the rows be laid out?  How will the next five years of weeds be contained?  And who’s driving the tractor, because I’m going to plant Rhodiola!

How to avoid transplant shock?  Keep the plants cool and under the clouds for a few days as they get used to their new home in the field.  A gentle rain would make the move to their new home just perfect.  In this case though, the rains are due to hold off for another three days, so we’ll water these seedlings in as they are placed in the ground.

End of the day and we’re cold and damp and muddy.  Ideal conditions for Rhodiola, but I’m ready for a shower and a warm cup of Rhodiola tea!


Checking the Rhodiola seedlings

Rhodiola seedlings 18 months

Springtime at last! – Time to check the seedlings.

It’s springtime and the Rhodiola rosea is waking up.  Time to take inventory in the nursery and see which plants are large enough to withstand transplanting into the field.

Some seedlings are planted in cells with potting soil for easier transplanting.  These seedlings germinated 18 months ago in waist-high tables filled with dirt and aged organic matter from the barns.  Overhead shade cloth and sprinklers ensure perfect growing conditions for their first 18 months.

You can see from the picture that some of the plants are sporting their first flower buds.  As one of the survival traits, Rhodiola rosea grows and sets flowers quickly after the soil thaws.  A plus for local bees and insects after a long winter.  These plants need to move out quickly, though, so that they don’t cross with new select strains that also reside in the nursery.

Taking stock in the nursery, there are other seedlings that are slower to mature.  What’s the difference?   Water, sun and dirt are the same, but there are different strains of Rhodiola rosea.  A strain is simply a group of the same species of plants that has been set apart and identified by differences in growth, plant/leaf shape or yield.  Wild Rhodiola rosea from different parts of the world exhibit significant differences in many aspects. 

In Alberta, the ARRGO growers are trying several different strains to see which will grow the best and yield the most root mass and beneficial compounds for people and animals.  Even different parts of Alberta will require different strains for best results, and some parts of Alberta do not produce good results at all.

Below is a picture of another seedling from a different strain.  This strain originates from a different part of the world.  Germination is sporadic, and It may be slower to grow than the strain shown above, but it is high in beneficial compounds.  Given the right environment both strains grow well in Alberta. 


Roles in Sustainability

Rhodiola rosea blooming - May

Sustainability is key to success for our customers, for our growers and for the world’s supply of Rhodiola rosea.  Every part of the equation must have success – a win-win for all players.  How do we get there?  Let’s look at each key player and their role in the steps to sustainability.

  1. The end-use customer. When the customer is standing in front of the rows of options at their local health food store, are they willing to support sustainability?  As a consumer, here’s a good way to think about it – can we spend the same amount of money and get a bit less product, but one that is sustainable?  When we do that, we as customers are ensuring a quality supply for generations to come. 
  2. The manufacturer of finished products. ARRGO supplies our Canadian-grown raw material to manufacturers around the world who are concerned about their supply of Rhodiola rosea.  Cost is always a factor.  How can the manufacturer balance cost with the ideals they stand for? -quality, purity, fair trade, sustainability, equality, diversity and so much more.  It’s a tough boardroom and tough decisions have to be made.
  3. The middleman. ARRGO stands in the middle to support the growers and the manufacturers.  ARRGO listens and responds with a commitment to provide the best quality Rhodiola rosea to the manufacturer in terms of purity and highest standards.  ARRGO is also fully committed to the growers by ensuring a fair price and by supporting the farmers in their efforts to grow Rhodiola sustainably.
  4. The grower. The farmer knows their costs to produce.  ARRGO helps to find ways to make their work more efficient.  It’s the grower’s decision in the end and the supply chain ‘buck’ stops here.  Without the grower there is no supply chain, at least for cultivated Rhodiola.  Without the grower, then reliance for the global supply of Rhodiola rosea falls on Number 5.
  5. The supply of wild rhodiola rosea. How much Rhodiola rosea is left in the wild?  In the comprehensive study by Josef Brinckmann et al., it is calculated that in the Altai region of the Soviet Union 76% of the wild supply was removed between 1974 and 1986.  Brinckmann cites other examples of devastation, as well.  What are we losing in diversity and benefits to humans and animals?  How can this wild resource be preserved and still provide its amazing benefits for the rest of forever?  Is there a way to make this a sustainable option?

For cultivated Rhodiola rosea, the crop requires at least 5 years in appropriate climate and soil to grow and mature.  In the wild, Rhodiola rosea on average is 20-30 years old when dug.  All harvest practices are destructive, and regenerative efforts are necessary. 

What’s the final solution to sustainability for Rhodiola rosea?  Change is inevitable, but this is where we are now.


Rhodiola rosea – what’s in a name?

The Latin term – Rhodiola rosea, or R rosea L. – refers to the genus and species for this amazing adaptogen.  Rhodiola is the genus for 26 to 200+ different species.  The number of plants depends on whether or not the author assigns Sedums into the genus. The term Rhodiola usually refers to thick-leaved succulents which grow in high altitudes in cold circum-polar regions.  


The species name – rosea – refers to the ‘rose-like’ smell of the root.  Compared to a tea rose, there is no comparison, but the odor is unique, somewhat sweet and spicy, although some would consider it strong and heady.


Rhodiola comes from the Greek word ‘Rhodon’, which means rose.  Combined with the species term, rosea, this plant could be called Rose rose!?! 


The plant has been given many familiar names, such as orpine rose, golden root, roseroot, alpine rose, Aaron’s rod, king’s crown and Arctic root.  Many groups have their own name for Rhodiola rosea, and these groups will brew the root as a tea, make a tincture, or use the stems and leaves in preparing meals.  The many names for the same plant suggest a favorable, highly regarded status among multiple groups. 


The main traditional uses for Rhodiola rosea are for anxiety and fatigue. But there are specific uses in select groups, such as treating urinary disorders, infections, colds and toothaches.  Given the wide diversity that we know exists in the species, is it possible that there are unique strains growing in select areas of the world that have these special beneficial/curative properties?  North American clinical studies have focussed on stress, depression and cognitive function.  Possibly there is much more to learn.