Rhaponticum carthamoides (Russian Leuzea or Maral Root) is an herb used in traditional Siberian and Russian medicine to bolster physical performance particularly after illness, in addition to being used as a general physical enhancement and male sexual enhancement aid. It is a source of molecules known as ecdysteroids which are hormones involved in the molting and maturation process in insects but have different actions when ingested by non-insect organisms. Despite being an 'insect steroid' of sorts, ecdysteroids have not been found to interact with estrogen or androgen receptors nor influence levels of these hormones in the body.
The major claim associated with Rhaponticum carthamoides is the enhancement of physical strength and muscle protein synthesis. The evidence to support these claims are limited to rodent evidence at this point in time and focuses mostly on the ecdysteroid known as 20-hydroxyecdysone (also known as ecdysterone). However, the limited evidence does suggest potential for oral supplementation to aid in both of these claims.
A major limitation of orally supplemented Rhaponticum carthamoides and 20-hydroxyecdysone, however, is rapid metabolism of 20-hydroxyecdysone in serum (with an 8 minute half-life or less) which results in limited amounts of the molecule reaching skeletal muscle. This has been circumvented in some animal studies where 20-hydroxyecdysone has been administered directly to the muscular area via injections, and it appears that in this manner it causes time-dependent increases in the size of the muscle in the applied area with limited peripheral actions (ie. other muscle groups may not experience muscle protein synthesis nor do organs appear to be affected).
Human studies are nonexistent at this point in time, but there does appear to be potential for this herb and the 20-hydroxyecdysone content to be an ergogenic aid pending future research, including research into preserving its stability in serum (to allow more to reach the target tissues).