Wednesday, January 4, 2012

From Russia with Love

Health Benefits of Siberian Ginseng, Chaga, and Rhodiola

Herbal Tradition in Russia

The use of herbs in Russia dates back many centuries. On the one hand, herbs were used in traditional folk medicine and by the shamans, on the other, herbal medicine was introduced to Russia by the Byzantine Empire together with the Orthodox Christianity. The early herbal tradition is not very well documented and it seems that by the early 16th century the healers in Russia experienced the same difficulty as did their brothers in trade in Western Europe. The Church condemned any use of herbs in healing. By the end of the 16th, however, many monasteries established herb gardens and revived the ancient Greek and Roman herbal recipes.

The Russian expansion to the Far East gave the herbal healers and doctors access to herbs and medicinal plants that were traditionally used by the native folks living in the steppe of Asia and in Siberia. Some of these plants were highly valued by the Chinese who incorporated them into their Materia Medica.

With time, the Russians developed a rich herbal tradition that uses hundreds of herbs, some of which grow only in the Russian territory. Today, herbalism is a highly regarded healing art in Russia. Herbs are widely researched and well understood. Most medical schools offer courses in herbal medicine and treatment of diseases usually includes pharmaceutical drugs, herbs and natural therapies such as massage and cupping.

A serious, scientific research of certain herbs began in 1947 when a Russian pharmacologist, Nikolai Lazarev observed that some of the herbs and plants were traditionally used as tonics in Siberia and the Russian Far East. These tonics were used to alleviate fatigue after long periods of exertion. Very often, these tonics were used before the taxing activity to increase endurance.

Dr. Lazarev coined the term "adaptogen" to describe the properties of these particular herbs. An adaptogen is a substance that is supposed to help the body better cope with stress, either mental or physical. Although botanically unrelated, all herbs researched by Dr. Lazarev and his followers had one important quality - they were all able to modulate the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.

Adaptogen research was taken to the next level by Lazarov's student, Dr. Berkhman who conducted wide ranging experiments and later prescribed  them to the Cosmonauts and the Russian Olympic athletes who were able to produce extraordinary results.

There are many healing plants in Russia, but probably the best known in the West are the Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola, and Chaga. Their efficacy was confirmed by the research in the West, but as with other potent herbs a caution is advised as some herbs may interfere with other medication.

Siberian Ginseng

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as eleuthero, has been used for centuries in Russia for centuries to prevent colds and flu, to increase stamina, and to prolong the lifespan. Despite its name, Siberian ginseng in not related to panax ginseng.

Studies conducted in Russia demonstrated that eleuthero stimulates the immune system. It is not only useful in warding off cold and flu, but also in reducing the duration of infection and the severity of symptoms. Its efficacy was also tested on people with herpes simplex infections. The herb is capable of reducing the duration and frequency of herpes simplex outbreaks.

Siberian ginseng is a well known and widely used adaptogen. It helps reduce stress and improve concentration and memory. It also helps reduce chronic fatigue. The herb is also used by physically active people to increase energy and physical performance.

Siberian ginseng supplements are made from the root which contains the active components called eleutherosides. Eleutherosides are responsible for the therapeutic effects. The root is also rich in polysaccharides which were demonstrated to improve the immune function and to lower the sugar levels in serum. Siberian ginseng is available in form of tinctures, dry extract, bulk powder, as capsules or tablets, and as a dried, sliced root that can be used to prepare infusions.

The recommended daily dose is 100 - 200mg  of standardized extract or 500 - 3000mg of root taken in form of infusion. Siberian ginseng is not recommended for children.


Chaga (Inonotus obliquus) also known as birch fungus, grows in the Northern part of Russia on birch, beech, and alder trees with the best specimens coming from the cold climate of Siberia. The medicinal chaga is harvested from birch trees.

The primary active compounds in Siberian Chaga are triterpenes, sterols, saponins, and polysaccharides.

It is used to stimulate the immune system and improve metabolism. This fungus also stimulates the central nervous system as well as the cardiovascular and the endocrine systems. It helps with respiration and digestion. It regulates blood sugar and lowers blood pressure. Chaga contains large amounts of the antioxidant SOD enzyme. It is also rich in betulinic acid which has very strong anti-cancer properties. It inhibits the growth of tumors and slows down the development of metastases in the body. Chaga is a very powerful antioxidant. It has the highest ORAC value ever measured.

Chaga can be taken as tincture or as a powder mixed in a non-alcoholic liquid. As with other herbs, there is no established daily dose. Healthy people should take 200 - 300mg of powdered extract for disease prevention. Sick people should take higher doses in order to stimulate their immune system. The suggested amount is 700 - 1000mg daily.

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola rosea also known as golden root, is a Siberian herb with a very long history of therapeutic use. The main active compound is called rosavin. This herb is thought to strengthen the nervous system, improve mood, enhance immune system, increase endurance, enhance memory, aid weight reduction, increase sexual function, and improve energy levels. It has long been known and used as a potent adaptogen.

Rhodiola is used traditionally to prevent cold and flu and to increase physical performance. The herb is also capable of reducing mental stress and chronic fatigue. It is also successfully used to alleviate depression and fatigue syndrome.

Research shows that rhodiola rosea can shorten recovery time after prolonged physical exertion. The plant extract increases the level of RNA as well as the enzymes and proteins important to muscle recovery after exhaustive physical activity. It stimulates glycogen synthesis in muscles and liver.

Rhodiola also demonstrated some anti-tumor activity as it stimulates the immune system and the body's resistance to toxins.

Rhodiola can be taken as a tonic or in form of capsules. There is no established daily dose, but for the best results it is suggested to take 300 - 500mg of full spectrum herb.


These three herbs from the Russian Far East are well researched and show very good therapeutic results. They are powerful adaptogens and immune system modulators. A caution is advised as the active ingredients may interact with certain drugs. Please contact your health care provider before commencing self medication.

By Dominique Allmon


*This information is for educational purpose only. It is not meant to diagnose or cure a disease.

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From Russia with Love - Health Benefits of Siberian Ginseng, Chaga, and Rhodiola by Dominique Allmon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.