Herb: Rhubarb

Latin name: Rheum x cultorum

Synonyms: Rheum undulatum

Family: Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Medicinal use of Rhubarb:

The roots of many members of this genus are used medicinally. Whilst R. palmatum is the main species used in China, we have a report that this species (which has probably been derived from it through cultivation) is used in Korea. The uses of R. palmatum are as follows:- Chinese rhubarb, called Da Huang in China, 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. It has a safe and gentle action, safe even for children to use. The plant is also part of a North American formula called essiac which is a popular treatment for cancer. Its effectiveness has never been reliably proven or disproven since controlled studies have not been carried out. The other herbs included in the formula are Arctium lappa, Ulmus rubra and Rumex acetosella. The root is anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, aperient, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, laxative, purgative, stomachic and tonic. The roots contain anthraquinones, which have a purgative effect, and also tannins and bitters, which have an opposite astringent effect. When taken in small doses, it acts 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:


150 cm
(5 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Steppe, sparse woods and sandy soils.

Edible parts of Rhubarb:

Leaf stem - raw or cooked. An acid taste, it is used as a fruit substitute in spring, usually stewed with sugar and used in pies, jams etc. The juice strained from stewed rhubarb can add colour and flavour to a fruit punch. It is best not to eat large quantities of the stems because of their oxalic acid content - see the notes above on toxicity. Immature flowers - cooked and used like cauliflower. One report says that the plant contains 0.7% 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 simmered in hot water to make an insecticide.

Propagation of 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. This species is a hybrid and will not necessarily breed true to type from seed. However, this does give the opportunity to look for superior plants from amongst the seedlings. 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:

Steppe, sparse woods and sandy soils.

Known hazards of Rheum x cultorum:

The leaves contain high concentrations of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid can lock up certain minerals (especially calcium) in the body, leading to nutritional deficiency. Cooking the plant will reduce the concentration of oxalic acid. Another report says that the leaves have the same concentration of oxalic acid in the stems as they do in the leaves and it is not the oxalic acid that makes them poisonous. It says that any toxic properties of the leaves is more likely to be due to the presence of glycosides. 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.