Although we all welcome the arrival of spring, the new season can bring new sneezin' as well--and not just from allergies! Change stresses our bodies, making us more vulnerable to viruses, especially if we try to hurry our winter-sluggish bags of bones into sudden gardening activity. That's when the herbs called adaptogens reportedly come in handy.
Adaptogens received their name because they are supposed to help your body adapt to stress.Some of them -- like ginseng -- are difficult to grow and too expensive for most budgets.However, the recently popular roseroot (Rhodiolaor Sedum rosea) isn't hard to please.The fact that one of its home ranges is Siberia should prove that!
A member of the sedum family that frequently grows in mountainous areas, it takes brutal cold and stony soil with equanimity. Growing one foot tall with blue-tinged succulent leaves and red-tinged yellow flowers, it can even make an attractive ornamental for those of us who will probably forget that it was supposed to be a medicinal herb.
Although it grows wild in some of our eastern states, roseroot is becoming endangered there -- and in some of its other habitats -- due to overharvesting.Western roseroot (Rhodiola integrifolia), a red-flowered type native to the Rocky Mountain area, isn't considered to be at risk -- yet.
Roseroot seeds require cold treatment to germinate, and the herb will reportedly survive outdoors from zone 2 to zone 9, though this is one plant that will favor the chillier end of the spectrum.Since it grows slowly from seed, you should keep your seedlings in a cold frame or indoors over their first winter.
Give them a somewhat limey and very well-drained location, when they are large enough to stay outside, and they should be happy.In most of the photos I've seen of the plants, they were growing in rock crevices or even in moss on those rocks, so I would scatter a few stones around to make them feel at home.
Like ginseng, roseroot does require several years -- at least three but five is better -- to produce a good crop of roots.But those roots are also imbued with the scent of roses, which should make them a pleasure to harvest.
You will probably need to slice those roots and dry them in a food dehydrator, as drying them in the sun reportedly destroys much of their medicinal value.Be sure to replant a few of the smaller ones too, preserving at least one bud on each as you would for dahlia tubers.
As with most herbs marketed as tonics or cure-alls, it's hard to know how much of the hype about roseroot to believe. If any of you have had experience with it, either as a medication or as a garden plant, please feel free to post your opinions.
Since its main claims to fame are as a tonic and anti-depressant, I would definitely try it if I had one of those diseases that causes chronic fatigue and/or depression. It seems only appropriate that a plant which thrives under difficult conditions should help us humans do the same. What this absent-minded writer really needs, however, are its supposed memory-enhancing properties. They might help me recall where I planted the ginseng seeds!
Photos: The thumbnail Rhodiola rosea photo is by ARG_Flickr, courtesy of Flickr Commons. The other Rhodiola rosea photo is by Finn Rindahl and the Rhodiola integrifolia photo by Jerry Friedman, both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs by Rebecca L. Johnson, Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, and David MD Kiefer
Herbal Antibiotics: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-Resistant Bacteria by Stephen Harrod Buhner
National Geographic Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine by Rebecca Johnson and Steven Foster
Agrifood Research Finland: "Demand and Availability of Rhodiola Rosea" by Bertalan Galambosi
Natural Elixir: "How to Grow Rhodiola Rosea"
About Audrey Stallsmith
Audrey is the author of the Thyme Will Tell mystery series. In addition to digging up plots--both garden variety and novel--the former Master Gardener writes free articles on plant history and folklore for her Thyme Will Tell site. Audrey also designs hay-seedy stuff and nonsense for her Rustic Ramblings Zazzle store, and indulges in flower photography, web site design, mystery novels, apologetics, cryptic crosswords, old lace, beads, and Border Collies.