Rhodiola rosea

(aka Sedum rosea)
Stonecrop Family [Crassulaceae]  

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2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
A single stalk surrounded by leaves topped by a cluster of flowers with many anthers protruding, giving it a distinctly fuzzy appearance on top.

2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are a grey-green, glaucous. The flowers yellow.

2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The leaves apparently spiral up the stem, with room for perhaps ten leaves radiating outwards before the spiral comes full circle. It is possible that it is a double-start or triple-start spiral, similar to some coffee jar lids.

2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are a greenish lemon-yellow. The inner flowers in the cluster turn first reddish, then brownish before dying.

2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The glaucous leaves are broad, mainly straight-sided, and with a few coarse teeth on the end,

4th May 2011, a garden, Buxton, Derbyshire. Photo: © RWD
There is at least one here with the normal four petals, bottom left.

2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
About ten anthers to a single flower, sometimes tipped a shade of purple.

2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Although the book says that roseroot has four petals, many shown on this plant have five, unless these are actually sepals, and the petals are much shorter and a deeper shade of yellow much nearer the centre? Cream coloured pollen on dark-tipped anthers. Dead flowers in centre, perhaps due to lack of rain in last two months.

2nd June 2010, Waberthwaite, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
The leaves are often tinged red on the edges. The teeth irregular.

11th July 2008, Castle Hill, Borrowdale Valley, Cumbria Photo: © RWD
The stems are a reddish to flesh colour, this specimen growing wild amidst piles of waste slate of a now disused slate quarry (but on a popular path to the summit).

Not unlike: Blinks which also has reddish flesh-coloured stems, but the leaves of Roseroot are larger and slightly toothed at the ends.

Not dissimilar to: Goldilocks Aster, but that has very narrow leaves and belongs to a different family, Asteraceae.

Some similarities to: Houseleek in the way that the leaves are arranged, which is another member of the Stonecrop Family.

Uniquely identifiable characteristics

Distinguishing Feature :

No relation to : Rose

Unlike most other Stonecrops, Roseroot has but four petals, rather than the normal five, sometimes six, rarer seven, of the other stonecrops. But even in Roseroot, it is possible to find 5-petalled flowers, such is the variability of Stonecrops. Being a Stonecrop, Roseroot is a succulent. It is also dioecious, with male and female flowers growing on separate plants.

The roots, but only when dried, smell of Roses, hence the name. Planted on turfed roofs it is said to defend against lightning, presumably because the numerous points create a silent electric discharge when the electric field is high, dissipating the charge safely, or so theory may suggest. It may simply increase the likelihood of a lightning strike - after all - you wouldn't point a metal umbrella skywards in a thunderstorm!

More likely to be found growing in a garden than in the wild.

The root contains small amounts of the toxic Cyanogenic Glycoside Lotaustralin which is also found in small amounts in the foreign plant Austral Trefoil (Lotus australis) belonging to the Bird's-Foot-Trefoil plants. It is also present in the non-native food-plant Cassava (Manihol esculenta) and is one of the cyanogenic glycosides responsible for the (un-treated) toxicity of that plant. Lotaustralin is structurally similar to the toxic cyanogenic glycoside Linamarin, which is also found in these plants.

A FLAVONOL and its Rhamnoside

It contains the compound Rhodionin, an chromen-4-one rhamnoside, the rhamnoside of the chromenone Herbacetin, and which is presumably a bright yellow colour. The moiety in red is the glycosidic unit Rhamnose, which can be isolated from Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)


The glycosidic phenyl propanoids are all constituents of Roseroot, and probably unique to Roseroot. They are all monoterpenoids. All are based loosely on para-Tyrosol, apart from Rosiridin and Rosiridol which have broken phenyl rings (bottom). Indeed, p-Tyrosol is a component of Roseroot.

Rosavin and Rosaein are both double-glycosides, except that Rosarin has a terminating molecule of fructose rather than a glycoside with a six-membered ring.

Rosin (not to be confused with violin 'rosin' nor with the 'rosin' used for soldering with lead) and Salindroside are mono-glycosides, but Salindroside lacks a double bond in the aliphatic chain and gains a hydroxyl group on the terminating phenyl (far right). Salindroside (aka Rhodioloside) and along with Rosavin is thought responsible for the anti-depressant and anxiolytic properties of Roseroot when the dried roots of Roseroot are consumed.

Rosiridin is the glycoside of Rosiridol. Rosiridin is but one of a whole series of Rhodiolosides also present in Roseroot, Radiolosides A-E, all lacking a completed phenyl ring, but having differing side branches and/or glycosides. Rosiridin is one of the most pharmacologically active constituents of Roseroot and inhibits monoamine oxidase type A and B enzymes, and therefore should benefit those suffering from depression and senile dementia (not that it has been approved for such).


Discovered only recently, Rhodiocyanosides are non-toxic glycosides containing a cyanide group, CN. Ordinarily, these compounds would be expected to be toxic, but neither within the body nor within the cells of the plant does an enzyme exist which will release the CN moiety (un-like with plants containing Cyanogenic Glycosides which are toxic).

Indeed, far from being toxic, these compounds have an anti-allergenic action and have been used in Chinese medicine (as Roseroot preparations) for centuries, if not for millennia.

The two Rhodiocyanosides differ from each other only in the position of the -C≡N moiety.

Many of the above Glycosidic Phenylpropanoids are based upon p-Tyrosol, which is a phenolic anti-oxidant. It is mainly present in Olive Oil and to a lesser extent in White Wine, and has considerable health benefits especially to aging hearts. It is a derivative of Phenylethyl Alcohol, depicted below.


More than 70 other compounds have been found in Roseroot, amongst them is Geraniol which imparts the rose-like scent, but Geranyl Formate, Geranyl Acetate, Benzyl Alcohol and Phenylethyl Alcohol; all contribute to its overall aroma.

Benzyl alcohol, a phenolic alcohol, is synthesized in many plants, and occurs in the essential oils of several including Jasmine and Hyacinth. It has a mild pleasant aroma and is used as an organic solvent for inks, paints, lacquers and epoxy resin coatings, but dissolves only sparingly in water on account of its slight polar character. If ingested in high concentrations it is toxic inducing respiratory failure, vasodilation, hypotension, convulsions and finally paralysis, but is used medically in low concentrations as a preservative in intravenous injections. Because it has a similar refractive index as that of quartz (Benzyl Alcohol ~1.53-1.55, Quartz ~1.544, depending slightly upon temperature, wavelength and, in the case of quartz, orientation), it is used as a test for quartz: quartz objects become almost invisible when submerged.

Phenylethyl Alcohol (or Phenethyl Alcohol for short) is a colourless liquid, and occurs in the essential oils of many plants including Hyacinth, Carnation and last but not least Roses. It smells of roses and is used both as a perfume and as a preservative in soap because it is stable in those alkaline conditions. It is also used as a general flavouring agent and a perfume, even in some cigarettes. It has antimicrobiotic effects.

Geraniol is an alcoholic monoterpenoid which occurs in small quantities in Geranium, Lemon, Clary Sage and many essential oils of other plants. It too has a rose-like aroma and is used in perfumes and as flavourings (together with other aromatic compounds) to imitate the flavour of Peach, Raspberry, Grapefruit, Apple, Plum, Lime, Orange, Lemon, Pineapple and Blueberry. It attracts bees yet repels mosquitos, and is used as a mosquito repellent. The scent glands of Honey bees manufacture geraniol for use as a scent marker to help them re-find their hives and nectar bearing flowers.

Geranyl Acetate is an monoterpene ester and a liquid with a slightly yellow tinge, and a rose-like smell. It is insoluble in water but soluble in some organic solvents such as alcohol. Another component of perfumes and flavourings, it is used in a variety of products such as creams and soaps, and where a rose, lavender or geranium scent is required. It occurs in the essential oils of over 60 plants including Lemon Grass, Coriander, Carrot and Geranium.

Geranyl Formate is another monoterpene ester, and like many esters has a fruity aroma.

But these are not the only compounds that come out smelling of roses! There are the so-called Rose Ketones, which are also present in Roses and some other flowers.

The extracts of Roseroot have been scientifically proven to significantly improve the physical strength and endurance of those with asthenic build, and also alleviates neurological symptoms associated with this condition. But which of the many constituents is responsible for the improvement has yet to be determined.

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Rhodiola rosea

(aka Sedum rosea)
Stonecrop Family [Crassulaceae]  

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