A nice adaptogen which specifically strengthens the kidneys.
Maral root used to be Leuzea carthamoides and Leuzea rhapontica. Now it's Stemmacantha carthamoides.
It's also been a host of other things (Centaurea, Cirsium, Cnicus, and Rhaponticum carthamoides), and one of those, if taken without the "author" bit of the "genus species auct" completeness of botanical binominals, points to another plant - it just makes sense to include "auct." in latin names.
A question on the herblist, in February 2005:
"What I'd like to know is, what are the real virtues of maral root, outside of the sensationalized claims of bodybuilders?"
Maral root is a nice adaptogen, which reliably will raise a low blood pressure -- for as long as you take it. That figures: like most adaptogens it'll strengthen the kidneys, so your pee is less watery, so you have more liquid to keep in your veins, so your blood pressure goes up. There's no effect on high blood pressure, as far as I know. If you don't have maral root use any of the dozens of other adaptogens that strongly affect the kidneys - nettle seed (Urtica dioica) would do nicely too. Or try licorice root (not licorice candy), which is very good for your kidneys, your gut, your lungs, and your adrenals. And yum for codonopsis, even though the sulphured stuff I got last time I bought some is less tasty.
There was some Russian research, years ago, about it being helpful for alcoholics (an amazing percentage kept off alcohol even after they stopped taking maral root). I'm not sure this is the piece I'm thinking of - I remember a half year course of herb with a 5 year follow-up; this one is rather shorter: "The use of a decoction of the rhizome of Leuzea carthamoides for the treatment of alcoholics with depressive states."
Very pretty plant, it is. And people who walk by ask "what's that"? Because it's only in flower for about a week, after which the show is over, and it's rarely grown outside specialty gardens (like a largish herb garden) so people really haven't ever seen it before.
Digging the root is major work, and as if that wasn't enough, cleaning it is even more work. No wonder the Russians dig 2nd year root instead of the far larger root clumps of 4-5 year old plants.
Don't grow maral root in clay, you'll never get the wire-like tangled roots up. I know, because a friend working on a local herb farm tried just that, a decade or two ago. They made no progress at all with a spade, and about as much with a tractor pulling the plants up. It simply won't work.
A follow-up question on the herblist:
"Do you think maral root would be drastically different or "better" than any of these other adaptogens for a certain purpose?"
Not really. If it sells for astronomical prices it's the current bandwagon - jump off that, you'll get the same zing for much less $$ from other plants. Plants that aren't the latest fad.
Except for that alcoholics thing, that's honestly intriguing.