Rhubarb is a perennial herb that belongs to the genus Rheum in the family of Polygonaceae. The term rhubarb was coined from the Latin word “rha”, which means river, while “barb” connotes barbarian land. Due to its immeasurable medicinal benefits, this vegetable is often referred to as "the wondrous drug". Rhubarb is richly endowed with several compounds such as saponins, flavonoids, volatile oils, polysaccharides, tannins, stilbene glycosides (resveratrol and picetannol) and anthraquinone glycosides (physcion, aloe emodin, chrysophanol, emodin and rhein). However, tannins are the main active compounds of this vegetable.
The three main types of rhubarb are the Rhapontic Rhubarb, the Indian Rhubarb (Himalayan Rhubarb) and the Chinese Rhubarb. Rhubarb exhibits several pharmacological activities such as antioxidizing, antiplatelet, immunoregulation, purgation, antidyslipidemic, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, nephroprotective, antifungal and antidiarrhoeal effects. Rhubarb also exhibits diuretic (increases the passage of urine), aperient (relieves constipation) and emmenagogue (stimulates blood flow in the pelvic area and uterus, even menstruation) properties.

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Benefits of Rhubarb

Edible Purposes
Rhubarb is edible thus can be used for preparing assorted dishes such as soup, vegetable stir-fries, sauce, stew. It can also be used for making smoothies, jams and jelly. The leaves, flowers and leaf-stalk can be cooked and consumed as vegetables.
Recovery from Heat Stroke
Some researchers examined the impact of rhubarb on the recovery of patients with heat stroke. Eighty-five patients with heat stroke were randomly allocated to 2 treatment groups: one group receiving rhubarb supplement with conventional treatment (rhubarb group) and the other group receiving only conventional treatment for heat stroke (conventional group). Afterwards, the Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) II scores, procalcitonin (PCT), plasma interleukin‑6 (IL‑6), venous white blood cell count (WBC), C‑reactive protein (CRP) levels, Liver and kidney function parameters were analyzed. The duration of stay in the hospital and the intensive care units (ICUs) were also recorded. Besides, the Kaplan‑Meier curves were drawn to ascertain the 30‑day survival rates of the patients. The results showed that rhubarb supplementation remarkably lowered the IL‑6, WBC, PCT and CRP levels at 3 to 5 days of treatment. Rhubarb intake reduced the heat stroke‑induced damage to liver and kidney function by reducing the unusually high levels of creatinine, alanine aminotransferase and plasma aspartate aminotransferase. It was also observed that the rhubarb group patients spent a shorter time at the hospital and ICU unlike those in the conventional group. These researchers concluded that rhubarb consumption offers remarkable benefits for patients with heat stroke. This they believed is achievable by mitigating liver and kidney injury and by inhibiting systemic inflammation.
Antifungal Activity
Studies reveal that the physcion, chrysophanol, aloe-emodin and rhein, which were isolated from Rheum emodi rhizomes exhibited antifungal activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Candida albicans, Aspergillus fumigatus and Cryptococcus neoformans. In another experiment, 3 compounds were isolated from the Rheum emodi rhizome (revandchinone-1, 3 and 4). These compounds exhibited antifungal activity against Rhizopus oryzae and Aspergillus niger with inhibition zone diameters of 8-9 and 9-11 mm for the 100 and 150 g/ml test concentrations, respectively.
Anticancer Activity
Some researchers examined the aqueous and methanolic extracts of Rheum emodi rhizome in liver carcinoma (Hep3B) and human breast carcinoma (MDAMB-435S) cell lines for cytotoxicity. The results showed that the extracts displayed substantial concentration-dependent cytotoxicity in tested cells. Cytotoxicity connotes the ability to be toxic to cells.
Suitable for Chronic Renal Failure Patients
An experiment conducted on some Chinese patients suffering from chronic renal failure recorded a significant improvement in their quality of life after consuming rhubarb supplements. In another controlled, randomized, experiment of patients with chronic renal failure, rhubarb extracts proved more effective to Captopril after 6 to 22 months of follow-up. This was evidenced in terms of the uremic symptoms such as anorexia, nausea and serum albumin level.
Anti-inflammatory Activity
The anti-inflammatory activity of the methanol extract of rhubarb was tested by using carrageenan-induced paw oedema. It was observed that the level of oedema inhibition increased over time, at a maximum inhibition after 5 hours. This inhibitory effect was equivalent to the control drug Ibuprofen (50 mg/kg body weight).
Antimicrobial activity
To determine its antimicrobial activity, rhubarb compounds were tested against gram-negative (Klebsiella aerogenes, Chromobacterium violaceum and Pseudomonas aeruginosa) and gram-positive (Bacillus subtilis, Bacillus sphaericus and Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria. The results showed that rhubarb has significant antimicrobial effects.
Purgative or Laxative Purpose
The rhubarb stalks can be cooked and used as a purgative for eradicating unwanted wastes from the stomach. It can be used to soften stool as a result of haemorrhoids, anal fissures and post-operations of recto-anal procedures.
Treatment of Mumps
Rhubarb is a strong herb for tackling mumps. Mumps is a viral disease caused by the mumps virus. Early signs and symptoms include tiredness, muscle pain, fever, poor appetite and headache. This is often followed by painful swelling of one or both parotid salivary glands.
Treatment of Diarrhea
Powdered root of rhubarb is ideal for treating diarrhoea in adults. ¼ to ½ tsp. powdered root of rhubarb can be boiled in a cup of water for 10 minutes. Take one tbsp. at a time, up to one cup daily. If using rhubarb tincture, take ¼ tsp. daily.
Tones the Stomach
Rhubarb can be used as a stomachic medicine for toning the stomach, improving its functionality and boosting the appetite. Rhubarb also aids easy digestion of food.
Treatment of Constipation
Powdered root of rhubarb can be used for treating constipation. Take one tsp of powdered rhubarb root boiled in one cup of water for 10 minutes. Take 1 tbsp. at a time, up to 1 cup daily. Alternatively, ½ -1 tsp of rhubarb tincture can be taken daily.
Blood Cleansing
Rhubarb can be used as a blood cleanser. This suggests why it is often part of the ingredients for making blood cleanser or spring tonics such as Swedish Bitters.
Emmenagogue Properties
Due to rhubarb's emmenagogue properties, it can be used to tackle menstrual disorder as it induces or increases menstrual flow.
Soothes Toothache
Using a cotton swab, rhubarb tincture can be directly applied to soothe and relieve painful tooth.
Tackles Gout
Rhubarb is a powerful herb for treating gout. Gout is a type of disease characterised by a defective metabolism of uric acid that causes arthritis. There is usually a deposition of chalk-stones and episodes of acute pain in the smaller bones of the feet.
Treatment of Liver diseases
Rhubarb can be used for tackling liver diseases especially those that are characterized by jaundice.
Stomach Ulcer Remedy
Rhubarb is a powerful remedy for stomach ulcer.
Expels Helminths
Rhubarb is an effective herb for expelling helminths such as parasitic worm, tapeworm or nematode.
Treatment of Tonsillitis
Rhubarb can be used for treating tonsillitis, which is an inflammation of the tonsils.
Textile Industry
Rhubarb can be used for colouring textiles.
Other Uses of Rhubarb
- Rhubarb can be decocted and used for treating cough and fever.
- Powdered rhubarb root can be spread over ulcers for fast healing.
- Rhubarb is useful for tackling children's ailments and malnutrition.
- Little dosages of rhubarb can be used for treating dysenteric diarrhoea.
- Rhubarb root can be used for relieving muscular swelling and inflammation.
- Rhubarb root can be used for treating and healing wounds, scabs, skin sores and skin cuts.
- Rhubarb root can be chewed as a chewing stick while the powdered roots can be used for cleaning teeth.
- Rhubarb possesses antioxidizing properties thus inhibits the oxidation or reactions of peroxides or free radicals.
- In traditional and folk medicine, many people consider rhubarb root as a panacea (medicine or remedy for all types of diseases).
Contraindications of Rhubarb
- It is noteworthy that garden rhubarb used for food is not the same as the medicinal rhubarb root.
- It is not recommended for individuals with ileus or intestinal obstruction.
- Rhubarb should not be used as a laxative or purgative for more than 8 to 10 days.
- Its use is prohibited for patients suffering from uric acid troubles and epilepsy.
- Rhubarb’s leaves are poisonous, impairing hemostasis and causing nausea and vomiting.
- Rhubarb root can cause severe abdominal cramps and diarrhoea if not used appropriately.
- Chronic use of this herb may lead to pigmentation of the intestinal mucosa (melanosis coli).
- Chronic usage of rhubarb can deplete potassium and increase the effects of cardiac glycosides.
- Patients with a history of renal stones should avoid rhubarb because of its high oxalate content.
- Rhubarb root can increase the power of other laxatives, hence shouldn't be taken with other laxatives.
- Anthraquinones in roots, oxalic acid and tannins in leaves are the potentially toxic compounds in rhubarb.
- Rhubarb root is not recommended for individuals suffering from chronic intestinal inflammation like Crohn’s disease or colitis.
- Due to its uterine stimulating ability, rhubarb root is not recommended for pregnant women. It is also not recommended for breastfeeding mothers and children below the age of 12 years.

Having detailed all the benefits of rhubarb, you might be pondering on what to do with your rhubarb harvest. Well, the team at First Tunnels has provided an in-depth guide that explains what you can do with your rhubarb harvest. Feel free to check it out here.

This post is for enlightenment purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for professional diagnostic and treatments. Remember to always consult your healthcare provider before making any health-related decisions or for counselling, guidance and treatment about a specific medical condition.
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- Kemper (1999), Rhubarb root (Rheum officinale or R. palmatum), The Longwood Herbal Task Force and The Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research.
- Khan et al., (2014), Evaluation of Rhubarb Supplementation in Stages 3 and 4 of Chronic Kidney Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial, International Journal of Chronic Diseases, 2014, 789340. http://doi.org/10.1155/2014/789340
- Liu et al., (2014), Rhubarb Tannins Extract Inhibits the Expression of Aquaporins 2 and 3 in Magnesium Sulphate-Induced Diarrhoea Model, BioMed Research International, 2014, 619465. http://doi.org/10.1155/2014/619465
- Pixabay (2018), Images via https://pixabay.com/
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- Seto et al., (1996), Determination method of sennoside A, sennoside B, Rhein and Rhein 8- glucoside in Kampo or crude drug preparations and the comparison of these components in processed rhubarb. Natural Medicines, 50:138-44.
- Wan et al., (2018), Adjuvant rhubarb alleviates organs dysfunction and inhibits inflammation in heat stroke, Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 16, 1493-1498. https://doi.org/10.3892/etm.2018.6327
- Zhang et al., (1990), Clinical effects of rheum and captopril on preventing progression of chronic renal failure. Chinese Medical Journal, 103:788-93.
- Zhang et al., (1986), Decoction with liquid diet in bowel cleansing, Bulletin of Hunan Medical College, 11:299-302.

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