FWD 2 HerbalEgram

HerbalEGram: Volume 6, Number 12, December 2009

Canadian Rhodiola Growers Open Processing Plant

On October 30, 2009 the world’s first processing plant designed specifically for Rhodiola rosea root opened in Thorsby, Alberta, Canada.1 This is Alberta’s first large scale production of a botanical to be used as a source for a natural health product (NHP, the regulatory category for herbs etc. in Canada). It was selected by the Government of Alberta because it can withstand freezing temperatures, according to Susan Lutz, project lead for the Rhodiola Rosea Commercialization Project (RRCP), a collaboration of organizations, universities, and industry, which is behind the commercialization efforts of R. rosea in Alberta (e-mail, November 18, 2009). The processing plant itself is solely an effort of the Alberta Rhodiola Rosea Growers Organization (ARRGO). In Alberta’s capital Edmonton (near Thorsby) mean and extreme temperatures are -14°C and -51°C (6°F and -59°F) in January and 16°C and 35°C (60°F and 95°F) in July.2,3

Rhodiola rosea, also known as “golden root,” “roseroot” and “arctic rose,” normally grows in the arctic areas of northern Europe and Asia,4 and is native to Russia and south Siberia, according to Alexander Panossian, PhD, rhodiola expert and head of research and development at the Swedish Herbal Institute (e-mail, November 20, 2009).4 “Normally it grows on glaciers, where the temperature in the winter time could be very low, particularly in Kamchatka, Sakhalin and in arctic Siberia,” said Dr. Panossian. Therefore, it should grow very well in the subarctic and arctic climate of northern and central Alberta.5

Is there a temperature too cold for R. rosea? The seeds have to face extremely cold temperatures to crack and begin to germinate; however, Dr. Panossian suggests that -40ºC (-40°F) might be too cold. There are certainly temperatures too warm for R. rosea since anything over 30 to 35ºC (86 to 95°F) tends to cause the plant to go dormant. “After a dormant phase, the plant may reappear the following spring, but with significantly smaller root mass because it missed part of the growing season,” said Lutz.

However, since extreme heat does not often occur in this area, the government of Alberta began encouraging the planting of R. rosea in 2004 which resulted in the formulation of ARRGO.6 According to Peter Haberli, chairman of ARRGO, the organization became incorporated in 2007, currently has 140 co-op shareholders, and is in the process of releasing another share offering in February.1 ARRGO has membership shares and delivery-right shares but every shareholder must be a grower of R. rosea. With the high demand for R. rosea, ARRGO hopes to double the amount of growers/members they have currently. Of their current harvest, two-thirds will go to a German pharmaceutical company which is producing R. rosea pills for the European market, and the other one-third will go to an Alberta-based international beverage company which has various product lines in the planning stage, said Haberli. (The names of these companies were not disclosed.) Otherwise, ARRGO’s crop is sold until 2012 and the group cannot enter into any new agreements until that time.

“Many other food and pharmaceutical companies are interested as well but we don’t currently have enough to keep up with demand,” said Zastre. This is why there’s interest in finding ways to harvest the plant in 3 years instead of 4 to 5. According to Haberli, new growing techniques with an improved strain of R. rosea have shown encouraging signs that this may be possible while achieving an equal or higher root mass and contents of active ingredients (e.g., salidroside, rosarin, rosavins, and rosin). “We are not quite ready to roll this out yet,” said Haberli. “But probably in about a year.”

After the plants are harvested, washed, and chipped, they are dried in a 15-ton dehydrator very slowly at a low temperature to keep them from caramelizing. Since these dryers are custom-made and expensive, they “planned for the future,” said Haberli.

Drying the plant extends the shelf-life of the product enabling it to be sold to different companies which then perform their own extraction processes. “We’re looking into ways to extract here in Alberta (not at the plant) as well in the future, but this is expensive and takes a certain kind of research, equipment, and specialized lab,” said Zastre.

With currently 70 acres under cultivation with R. rosea the goal, according to Zastre, is to process about 87 tons of dried R. rosea root per year by 2013. Zastre further added that ARRGO would also like to have its own brand name product on the market in the future.

— Kelly E. Lindner


1. Finlayson D. Medicinal herb to take root: stubborn plant thrives in Alberta’s cold. Edmonton Journal. October 29, 2009. Available at http://www.edmontonjournal.com/health/Medicinal+herb+take+root/2158316/story.html. Accessed October 29, 2009.

2. Climate and Geography page. The Government of Alberta website. Available at http://alberta.ca/home/90.cfm. Accessed November 11, 2009.

3. Alberta Canada Page. Britannica Online Encyclopedia website. Available at http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/12840/Alberta. Accessed November 11, 2009.

4. Brown R, Gerbarg P, Ramazanov Z. Rhodiola rosea: A Phytomedicinal Overview. HerbalGram 2002;56:40–52.

5. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook’s Canada Profile Page. CIA website. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ca.html. Accessed November 11, 2009.

6. Anon. Canadian Government Promoting Rhodiola Cultivation. HerbalEGram October 2005; Volume 2, Number 6.