When herbalists talk about rhododendron, they are referring not to the many varieties of decorative shrub grown across the U. S., but rather to the Nepalese plant Rhododendron anthopogon of the family Ericaceae. It grows on slopes and hillsides throughout the Himalayas, generally between the altitudes of 3,000 and 4,500 meters. It forms an important part of Tibetan herbalism, with varied uses that span the gamut from the banal to the sacred.
Cough and Cold Treatment
Tibetan herbalism regards R. anthopogon as having antitussive applications; boiling the leaves releases a vapor which helps suppress a cough. This treatment also helps decongest the nasal passages. A tea made from the leaves and fresh flowers can help relieve a sore throat. The flowers may also be used to reduce a fever. According to Ashwani Kumar, rhododendron is also used as an errhine; the aromatic leaves expedite sneezes.
Use of rhododendron leaves and flowers as a tea substitute is thought to stimulate appetite and digestive heat.
As an Anti-inflammatory
Traditional use of the rhododendron herb includes relieving muscle and joint inflammation.
Other Medicinal Uses
Aarya Aroma, a retailer specializing in Himalayan essential oils, lists "water-earth illness, fire headaches, fire back pain, cold, blood disorders, bone disease, potato allergies, and vomiting" as symptoms treatable by rhododendron.
Additionally, the herb may treat disorders of the lungs. Rhododendron is considered a tonic for the adrenal glands and nervous system, such that it may be used as a mild sedative. It is also considered anti-bacterial. In Tibetan medicine, the herb is used to treat some skin disorders. Some research exists to suggest that the essential oil may play a role in supporting hepatic metabolism, a function of the liver.
The scent of the rhododendron is said to have a grounding, calming and centering effect. The essential oil is used to support meditation and to quiet the mind.
Rhododendron anthopogon plays a role in sacred traditions across the Himalayas. According to Aarya Aroma, it is one of five common incense herbs used to honor the earthly divine, the element of earth and the general environment.
Rhododendron essential oil works well as an ingredient in shampoos, skin care and bath products. You can add it to unscented bath salts and lotions. To make a liquid soap for washing your hands, blend 20 drops each rhododendron, lavender and orange essential oils into 4 ounces of Castile soap and store the mixture in pump dispensers by the kitchen and bathroom sinks.
As a Stimulant
According to Ashwani Kumar, climbers in the Himalayas use the herb for its stimulant properties.