The rhubarb plant has been used since ancient times with medicinal aims. It was mentioned in the writings of Shen-Nung, a Chinese Emperor, 2700 years B.C. The great Greek physician, pharmacologist, botanist, and author Pedanius Dioscorides, In the 1st century A.D., introduced its use to Europe.
Rhubarb Plant Scientific Facts
- French: Rhubarbe.
- Spanish: Ruibarbo.
- Environment: Native to central and eastern Asia, especially China, its cultivation has spread worldwide.
- Description: The rhubarb plant is a Vivacious member of the Polygonaceae family, growing from 1 to 2 m high, with large, palm-shaped leaves and a large rhizome with a characteristic smell.
- Parts of the plant used medicinally: The root.
Healing Properties and Warning
The rhubarb plant root contains anthraquinonic derivatives (free anthraquinones and glycosides), to which the plant owes its laxative and purgative properties, and tannin, which gives it astringent, stimulating, and digestive properties. Its effects depend on the dose taken:
- Low doses (0.1-0.5 g of root powder or half a cup of infusion): Astringent properties of tannin predominate. It stops diarrhea, increases appetite, and stimulates the functions of the stomach (eupeptic: it promotes digestion) and of the liver (choleretic: relieves liver congestion and promotes bile secretion). In short, it invigorates and regulates the digestive system.
- Medium doses (0.5-1 g of root powder or a cup of infusion: Laxative properties of anthraquinones predominate. It produces defecation with no colic some 8-10 hours after its intake. It presents a powerful congestion-relieving effect on the liver.
- High doses (1-3 g of root powder or 2-3 cups of infusion: Effective purgative and vermifuge.
WARNING! Continuous use of rhubarb can produce colitis, which is an inflammation of the colon or large intestine. We advise against its use in the following cases:
- Pregnancy, menstruation, and hemorrhoids produce blood congestion in the pelvic organs, a severe problem in these cases.
- Kidney stones, since it has a high amount of oxalate, which form part of kidney stones.
Other Rhubarb Species
In Europe and America, there are some similar species to common rhubarb. The medicinal properties of their roots and rhizomes are the same in all cases. Rhubarb species used in phytotherapy are these:
- Chinese rhubarb or turkey rhubarb (rheum palmatum L.).
- Rheum rabarbarum L. = Rheum undulatum L., which comes from Asia and has spread all over Europe and North America. Its petioles are edible.
- Rheum rhaponticum L. = Rheum undulatum Pall., whose stems and petioles are edible as any other vegetable.
How to use Rhubarb
- Root powder. It usually comes in the form of pills. The doses are those recommended above. We recommend that you begin treatment by trying low doses. The maximum dose for adults: 3 g per day; for children, never exceed 0.05 g per year of age.
- Infusion of the root, with 5-10 g per liter of water. Drink from a half to three cups at night before going to bed. One cup approximately equates to 1 g of root powder.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. vols. 2 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 529, 530. Print.[rhubarb plant]