Editor's Note
Since the late 1980's there has been a shift from relatively low demand for infusions using chopped dried  Rhodiola  roots, to high 21st century demand for a wide variety of processed products. In the face of growing demand, both effective conservation of wild populations and cultivation are needed. The authors note that the growing market for  Rhodiola  products in China is currently supplied entirely from wild collection creating justifiable concerns about sustainability. The study concludes that commercial cultivation needs to expand to meet future demand.
Abstract

Across Asia,  Rhodiola  species have been used in Bhutanese, Mongolian, Nepalese, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek traditional medical systems. China is globally significant in terms of  Rhodiola  species diversity, with over 60% (55 species) of the world's 90 Rhodiola species, including 16 species found nowhere else in the world. Since the late 1980's there has been a shift from relatively low demand for infusions using chopped dried  Rhodiola  roots, to high 21st century demand for a wide variety of processed products. China's trade in  Rhodiola  products is now very diverse, with use in cosmetics and foods in addition to herbal products.  Rhodiola crenulata (Hook.f. & Thomson) H.Ohba is the most widely traded species in China. In addition to R. crenulata and  Rhodiola rosea L., 19  Rhodiola  other species are used.

Aims of the study

These were to: (i) better understand why adulteration occurs in  Rhodiola  products; (ii) become more aware of what drives the growing market demand for  Rhodiola  products in China; (iii) find out whether increased demand is reflected in wholesale prices for  Rhodiola  raw materials traditional medicine markets; (iv) to examine  Rhodiola  supply chains and (v) given that wild populations are the primary supply source, to review the implications of growing demand for conservation and sustainable use.

Materials and methods

Firstly, we assessed growth in the diversity of  Rhodiola  products using three approaches: (i) by assessing patent applications for  Rhodiola  products in China (1990–2019); (ii) in 2018, through on-line searches of CFDA (China Food and Drug Administration) records for medicines and dietary supplements that had  Rhodiola  as an ingredient and (iii) by visiting retail stores in 2018 and 2019 to assess the diversity of commercial  Rhodiola  based products in trade. Secondly, we visited traditional medicine markets in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Qinghai provinces to investigate the trade in  Rhodiola  (folk taxonomy, trade names, prices, source areas, levels of processing and grading). Thirdly, we analysed the wholesale price data for  Rhodiola  raw materials in trade over a 16-year period (2002–2018). Fourthly, as most products come from wild collected  Rhodiola  species, we documented the extent of  Rhodiola  cultivation in China.

Results

International exports of  Rhodiola  products from China, particularly extracts, is a major driver of commercial trade. One proxy indicator of  Rhodiola  product diversification in China has been the rapid rise in patent applications from single applications in 1990 and 1991, to a peak of 1017 patent applications in 2015. Wholesale price data from 2002 to 2018 shows a steady increase in wholesale prices. As the growing market for  Rhodiola  products in China is currently supplied entirely from wild collection, there are justifiable concerns about sustainability. Commercial cultivation needs to expand to meet future demand.

Conclusions

In contrast to Europe and North America, where  R. rosea  is the focal species in commerce, the trade in Rhodiola products in China is much more diverse. In the face of growing demand, both effective conservation of wild populations and cultivation are needed.

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