Herb: Himalayan Rhubarb

Latin name: Rheum australe

Synonyms: Rheum emodi

Family: Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Medicinal use of Himalayan Rhubarb:

Rhubarb has a long and proven history of herbal usage, its main effect being a positive and balancing effect upon the whole digestive system. It is one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine. The main species used is R. palmatum. Though the chemistry varies slightly, this species is used interchangeably. The root is anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, aperient, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, laxative, purgative, stomachic and tonic. Small doses act as an astringent tonic to the digestive system, whilst larger doses act as a mild laxative. The root is taken internally in the treatment of chronic constipation, diarrhoea, liver and gall bladder complaints, haemorrhoids, menstrual problems and skin eruptions due to an accumulation of toxins. This remedy is not prescribed for pregnant or lactating women, nor for patients with intestinal obstruction. Externally, the root is used in the treatment of burns. The roots are harvested in October from plants that are at least six years old, they are then dried for later use. A homeopathic remedy is prepared from the dried root. This is used especially in the treatment of diarrhoea in teething children.

Description of the plant:


3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

to July

Habitat of the herb:

Open slopes on rocky ground at elvations of 3200 - 4200 metres. Grassy slopes at elevations of 3400 - 4300 metres in Tibet.

Edible parts of Himalayan Rhubarb:

Leaf stem - raw or cooked. An excellent flavour that is something like apples (this is likely to be a cooking apple!). The crop is sometimes blanched by excluding light from the growing stems, this produces an almost white stem that is free of fibre, crisp and less acid. This species makes an excellent late crop. The stems can also be made into a preserve or be dried and stored for later use. One report says that the plant contains 0.32% rutin. It does not specify which part of the plant, though it is likely to be the leaves.

Other uses of the herb:

The leaves can be up to 1 metre in diameter, they are used as a lining material and also to cover and protect fruit in baskets. A bright yellow dye is obtained from the root.

Propagation of Himalayan Rhubarb:

Seed - best sown in autumn in a shaded cold frame. The seed can also be sown in spring in a cold frame. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter, planting them out in the spring. Division in early spring or autumn. Divide up the rootstock with a sharp spade or knife, making sure that there is at least one growth bud on each division. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.

Cultivation of the herb:

Open slopes on rocky ground at elvations of 3200 - 4200 metres. Grassy slopes at elevations of 3400 - 4300 metres in Tibet.

Known hazards of Rheum australe:

Although no specific mention has been seen for this species, the leaves of some if not all members of this genus contain significant quantities of oxalic acid and should not be eaten in any quantity. Oxalic acid can lock up certain minerals in the body, especially calcium, leading to nutritional deficiency. The content of oxalic acid will be reduced if the plant is cooked. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.