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Veterinarian Reviewed on June 6, 2012 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Uncategorized

Rhubarb, aka Da Huang (Rhizoma Rhei)


Chinese Rhubarb is a plant originating from the northwest region of China and Tibet. It has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years before reaching India and Europe. They are short hardy plants with large leaves and have reddish hued stalks that have a slight crescent shape to them. They feature small flowers in usually a pinkish red or green hue when starting to bud. It has a bitter tart flavor that is off putting if consumed raw.


Rhubarb has been used for centuries in Chinese traditional medicine. Its use has been documented as early as 2700 BC for purging effects. Rhubarb was treated as a controlled drug for several Chinese Emperors and played a large role in the Opium war. Several times through its history, it has been prohibited for sale and trade to foreign countries and invaders of China. Greek doctors and apothecaries called it “Rha” due to it originating from the banks of the Rha River, the ancient name of the Volga River. In fact some believe the genus name is based off of the Greek word rhue which means “to flow”.

Ancient Uses

In traditional Chinese medicine, Rhubarb is traditionally used as a diuretic, purgative, laxative, used for stomachic issues and as a general intestinal tonic. Good for treating the spleen, large intestine, heart, stomach and the liver. Due to natural laxative properties it has been issued for treating intestinal blockages, fecal impactions and cleansing the bowels for improved health by removing toxic buildups from the intestines. It contains anthraquinones which are the substance that cause the purgative effect. When taken in small doses, it acts as a cleansing tonic for the digestive system and when taken in larger doses it acts as a mild laxative.

It has also been found to improve blood flow and removing toxins from the blood stream. Treating many common blood related issues such as high blood temperatures from carbuncles and furuncles, blood stasis and blockages. Another popular use is treating throat agitation from Colds, coughing and other chest related illnesses.

Modern Uses

Presently in Western medicine, it is widely used as a natural remedy. The root of this plant, when taken internally, helps treat chronic constipation, liver maladies, hemorrhoids, menstrual problems and diarrhea. Other studies have shown that rhubarb enhances appetite, when taken before meals in small doses. It also relieves pain in some cases of inflammation or injury and has been found to promote increased blood circulation and may be a good candidate for poor circulation sufferers. Recent studies have shown that Rhubarb can help reduce the risks of gastronomical cancer and also help patients’ recover from gastric cancer operations by aiding in the removal of toxins.
It is often used in cooking and it is commonly prepared in dried fruit tarts, pastries or as a pie. Rhubarb can also be easily found prepared as a liquid extract, sold as a dried root or ground up and encapsulated.

Side Effects

Consumption of its leaves can be fatal. The leaves are highly poisonous because they contain oxalate; this can cause kidney stones and liver failure if consumed in large quantities. Other side effects my include loss of potassium, loss of body fluids and cramping in the abdomen due to the muscle contractions. You should consult your doctor or any professional physician before taking rhubarb or any other herb. The side effects are mild for usual doses but they can be serious if you have cancer or other vascular problems. Pregnant women or nursing mothers should suspend use of Rhubarb to prevent infants from receiving Rhubarb through the bloodstream or breast milk.

Read also: Mullein Flower Oil

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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