- Family Polygonaceae
- Rheum palmatum
- Rheum tanguticum
- Rheum officinale
- Chinese rhubarb, Da Huang
Do not eat the leaves as they are poisonous.
Since rhubarb contains oxalic acid, the calcium absorption is blocked and contraindicated in those suffering from arthritis or gout and those prone to kidney or bladder stones.
Do not take during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.
Do not take during menstruation.
Native to China and Tibet, where the best quality of rhubarb can still be found, the plant also grows elsewhere in the world in the wild, as well as in cultivation. The rhizomes of six-to-ten-year-old plants are dug up in autumn after the stem and leaves have turned yellow. There are about fifty species of rhubarb plants, and the stalks of some are edible fruit. It is a thick-rhizomed perennial that can grow to ten feet, producing large palm-shaped leaves and small flowers. The life of the plant is about fifteen years.
Rhubarb is a magnificent architectural plant related to the dock, and has been a medicinal plant since around 3000 BCE.
The dried root (R. palmatum) was first taken to Europe by Marco Polo and the edible garden rhubarb (R. x hybridum) was brought to Britain from the Volga region of Russia in 1573. However, it also was used for its medicinal value and not enjoyed as a fruit until the 1800s.
Its name may be derived from the Greek rheo which means” to flow,” referring to the plants purgative properties.
Lord Nelson is said to have taken powdered rhubarb on his voyages so that he would have medicine for every eventuality: diarrhea, constipation, irritation of the colon, and for infections.
An excerpt from an article in The Lancet dated 3 September, 1925, and written by a Dr. R.W. Duckett, reads acute bacilliary dysentery has been treated in that colony [Nairobi, East Africa] almost exclusively with powdered rhubarb for the past three years…I know of no remedy in medicine which has such a magical effect. (McIntyre, p.84)
The plant was a favourite remedy with early Persian and Arabian physicians.
Chinese rhubarb was first mentioned in the 1st century CE. Chinese classic Materia Medica and has been grown in the West since 1732. It is one of the herbs still used today and listed in the British Pharmacopoeia of 1988.
The root is called Da Huang in China and means big yellow, which is also the colour of the tinctures and decoctions made from the root.
- antibacterial (against Staphylococcus aureus)
- digestive remedy
- eases stomach pain
- laxative and constipating
- anthraquinones (about 3-5% including rhein, aloe-emodin, emodin)
- flavonoids (catechin_
- phenolic acids
- tannins (5010%)
- calcium oxalate
In China, it has traditionally been used as a medicine for constipation. It has a bitter taste and a “cold” quality, therefore, ideal to clear stagnation of undigested food and excess heat from the body, including fevers. It is also commonly prescribed for headaches, appendicitis, infectious hepatitis, conjunctivitis, gingivitis, nosebleeds, edema, bacterial infections, and a variety of skin problems. It is considered a powerful medicine, one that should be used for only short periods of time and only on the advice of a qualified herbal practitioner.
Weakened decoctions of Chinese rhubarb are used for diarrhea, while stronger ones are effective for constipation or cramps with delayed menstruation.
Since the herb the root is antibacterial and astringent, it can be applied to burns, boils, pustules, and carbuncles.
Homeopathic tinctures are used for diarrhea, as well as being a good liver stimulant. Very high doses have a purgative effect.
R. tanguticum and R. officinale have similar uses to R. palmatum. These three are considered superior to all other varieties of rhubarb. Rheum rhaponticum is the Common Rhubarb whose stalks are used for food.
Since the edible stalks are tart, people are tempted to add much sugar to make it palatable as a food; but adding sweet cecily leaves to the cooking pot will reduce the amount of sweetener needed. Also, by adding such warming spices as cinnamon or ginger, not only will this counteract some of the tartness, but also makes a good remedy for constipation.