Rhodiola is a very popular medicinal plant these days. There are about 90 species throughout the frigid and high altitude zones of the Northern Hemisphere. There are over 50 species in China with 16 being endemic. North America has about 40 species.
The most common species listed as a medicinal plant is Rhodiola rosea. This is mostly due to research that originally came out of Russia. This species grows in the Northern mountain ranges of China from the Northeast to the far Northwest, as well as Central Asia, Russia, Japan, Korea, and North America.
In China there are at least 6 species used, but there is likely both more species and more information about any of those species, as far as usage, than we currently have in the literature. Why? Well part of the reason is that the nomenclature of this genus is not well defined and the other part is that Chinese medicine, from wildcrafters to practitioners and pharmacists have not always been particularly conscious of species from the point of view of the Linnaeus system of taxonomy.
When reviewing the literature I have been able to find, it is very clear that there are mistakes and over-lapping information leading one to question most anything that is published. Not because what they say is “wrong” per se, but because we have no idea if they have made the correct species identification. This could easily lead to some errors because without proper species identification we will be working on assumptions that may or may not be accurate.
So far in my research I am beginning to question almost everything that is published, including Chinese sources. It is very likely that anything that has been published in English is, at best, hit or miss because the source information is questionable and the translator must simply translate, unless s/he takes the time to do full investigation of what s/he is translating.
I will continue to up-date this post as I gather more data. This is a fascinating topic and one worthy of investigation.