Friday, June 5, 2015
Soviet-era Secret Could Become Cash Crop in Alaska
What this appears to do is increase the supply of blood sugar long past normal duration. Obviously useful for soldiers and long distance runners. Ideally it also works for training situations as well when the body still lacks condition.
As there are scant potential plant crops in the Arctic, this is welcome It it could also be made into a palatable food, then all the better or we will see it show up mostly as a pill.
Definitely something that we all could use, particularly the elderly and others with deficient blood sugar. I would try to integrate this into a protocol for managing diabetes.
Soviet-era secret could become cash crop in Alaska
It looks like a jade plant and you might even see it in neighbour's garden, but rhodiola rosea is not your average succulent.
The hardy, Arctic plant was a state secret in Stalin-era Russia, and may have played a role in helping Russians soldiers get through the siege of Stalingrad during WWII.
"The Russians use it on the international space station to help astronauts," says professor Stephen Brown, who has been studying the plant at the University of Fairbanks in Alaska
His work focuses on ways to help Alaskan farmers tap into the plant's potential as a cash crop.
Soviet State Secret
Alaska natives have been using a less potent cousin of the plant for generations. Russians have also been using it for hundreds of years.
"They would dig up the root and place it in vodka and drink it. Supposedly it has a protective effect for the liver, so it was kind of like a zero-sum game."
During the Cold War, Russia did extensive research on the plant, which Brown describes as a Soviet military secret.
In recent years it's been used extensively in cosmetics in Europe and as a substitute for caffeine in sports drinks.
How it works
The roots of the rhodiola rosea contain a compound called rosavin, which helps the body deal with stress.
"Inside your cells you have something called mitochondria, a cellular structure that helps your body convert things over to energy," Brown says. "We think what it does is helps mitochondria do that more efficiently."
Brown himself uses a rhodiola rosea capsule that comes from a health food store.
"I run marathons," says Brown. "Usually by about mile 19 or 20 you run out of blood sugar.
"When you take rhodiola, at about mile 19, you are still tired but you don't have that feeling of 'I just want to quit.' Unlike caffeine it doesn't stimulate you, it gives you a bigger gas tank."
While there's no known toxicity, Brown warns the plant shouldn't be used by people with bipolar disorder, as it can exaggerate the extremes of the illness.
Adapted to the Arctic
The beauty of the plant, from Brown's perspective as an agricultural outreach worker, is that it actually thrives in the Arctic climate.
"Unlike other things we try to grow here in the state like potatoes, carrots and peony flowers, this is basically its native habitat."
Right now Brown is working with 11 growers. They're part of a co-operative that works with them to dry and slice the crop. The end product is sold as chips and as a tea.
Although they are only growing about three hectares now, Brown says he hopes rhodiola rosea could replace hay as the state's biggest crop.
"We are growing thousands and thousands of acres of hay. Once we reach 100 hectares, rhodiola production it would be our most valuable crop in Alaska."
Other producers of rhodiola rosea products include Sweden and China.
Brown says the crop also has potential for places like the Northwest Territories.
It's already grown in Alberta, but Brown says the industry there has struggled with pests and other problems, probably because the climate is just not harsh enough.