My quest for health-promoting and performance-enhancing plants

More than 30 years ago I wrote my first article about the use of adaptogenic plants in order to improve adaptation to the mental and physical stressors of elite sports training.

I discovered that Rhaponticum carthamoides, was the first plant used for this purpose and this mainly in the former Soviet-Union.

The problem was that these plants only grew in the former Soviet-Union and the available information was in Russian language only and even then, hard to get. 

Monograph about Rhaponticum from 1955

But I kept searching this rare plant since it has a wide range of health-promoting effects, due to its unique so called phyto-ecdysteroids, hormone-like compounds found in this plant.

One of my pupils wrote her academic bachelor-thesis about the use of phyto-ecdysteroids to counteract sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass as a result of aging.

She unraveled the biochemical mechanisms of this effect e.g. the stimulation of the PI3K-Akt-mTOR pathway and the estrogen receptor beta.

Excited about the possible applications, she found a reliable source of this plant and produced her own nutritional supplement, based on Rhaponticum cathamoides. (

Flourish 580: the supplement based on Rhaponticum carthamoides

Recently I made some trips to find out more about Rhaponticum carthamoides.I discovered this rare plant growing in the wild in Kazakhstan.

Unfortunately it is on the Red List as it is threatened with extinction.

Rhaponticm carthamoides in the wild

During my most recent trip, I got in touch with Dr. Moldir Zhumagul and visited her and her colleagues at the Botany lab in the Botanical Garden in Astana,  the capital of Kazakhstan.

This visit was fantastic: so many smart and nice people working so hard and knowing all about Rhaponticum and other useful plants that I have been hunting for so long.

We went into the botanical garden and saw Rhaponticum plants being cultivated. Big problem: the botanical garden is suffering from lack of adequate water supply. A real pity.

In the botanical garden of Astana, looking at Rhaponticum

I also met with Dr. Kupriyanov, and Dr. Kubentaev, who both belong the world’s experts in plant determination and research regarding aromatic and medicinal plants. The kindly presented me their wonderful books.

Meeting the dedicated scientists at the Astana botanical garden

I then went to the heart of Central Asia to meet with a person who is experienced and specialized in growing Rhaponticum and other very interesting medicinal plants.

The goal is to set up a center for cultivation, harvesting and processing of medicinal plants, mainly Rhaponticum, to produce of valuable natural nutritional supplements.

This, of course, is a costly and long-term plan. Nevertheless, considering the growing interest and advantages of using these particular plants, I am willing to support this unique plan.

Cultivation of Rhaponticum carthamoides

A limited bibliography by the of the scientists mentioned in this post:

Terletskaya, N.V.; Turzhanova, A.S.; Khapilina, O.N.; Zhumagul, M.Z.; Meduntseva, N.D.; Kudrina, N.O.; Korbozova, N.K.; Kubentayev, S.A.; Kalendar, R. Genetic Diversity in Natural Populations of Rhodiola Species of Different Adaptation Strategies. Genes 2023, 14, 794. 10.3390/genes14040794

S.A. Kubentaev, Yu.A. Kotukhov, M.Zh. Zhumagul, K.S. Izbastina1, D.T. Alibekov, S.K. Mukhtubaeva: Ecological and biological characteristics and phytocenotic structure of Rhodiola quadrifida populations in East Kazakhstan;

Moldir Zhumagul, Meryuert Kurmanbayeva, et al.: Studies on the biological activity of different populations of the medicinal plant Rhodiola rosea (Golden root) Pak. J. Bot., 55(5): DOI:

Kubentaev SA, Danilova AN. Evaluation of ecological and biological characteristics of Rhaponticum carthamoides (Willd.) Iljin and its resource indicators on the Ridge of Ivanovo (Eastern Kazakhstan). Vestnik Tomskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta. Biologiya – Tomsk State University Journal of Biology. 2017;37:31-46. doi: 10.17223/19988591/37/3

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