Rhubarb (Da Huang)

Botanical Name: Western – Rheum rhabarbarum. Eastern – R. officinale.

Rhubarb is very low in calories, and super high in nutritional value. The stalks are used in the West as a popular food for pies and jams. In China, the roots have long been used to drain heat and treat pain caused by blood stagnation, including injuries. Rhubarb is wonderful for treating constipation, diarrhea, and high fevers.

Watch a short video, from Ann Christensen, Founder and Creator of White Rabbit Institute of Healing™ – Preparing Rhubarb...

Below is an overview of rhubarb, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of rhubarb.

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Western Name: Rhubarb

Also Known As: Crimson Stalks, Hawke’s Champagne, Victoria, Pie Plant, Chinese Rhubarb, Garden Rhubarb

Organs/Systems: Digestive, Large Intestine

Key Actions: Cathartic, Laxative, Anticancer, Astringent

Medicinal Uses: Constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, stomach pain, gastrointestinal bleeding, cancer, heart disease, cold sores.


Pin Yin: Da Huang (“Big Yellow”)

Also Known As: Chinese Rhubarb

Meridians: Heart, Stomach, Large Intestine, Liver

Key Actions: Drains Heat, Purges Accumulations, Drains Heat from the Blood, Drains Damp, Invigorates Blood, Removes Blood Stasis, Reduces Fire Toxicity

Medicinal Uses: High fever, profuse sweating, thirst, constipation, abdominal distention, pain, delirium, blood in the stool from hemorrhoids, vomiting blood, nosebleeds with constipation, painful eyes, or Fire Toxin sores due to Heat in the Blood level, dysentery, jaundice, infectious candida, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, amenorrhea, abdominal masses, endometriosis, fixed pain due to Blood Stasis such as trauma or dysmenorrhea, and externally to treat burns, hot skin conditions, sores, skin ulcers, and promote hair growth.

Basic Habitat / Botany:

Rhubarb is a herbaceous perennial, in the Polygonaceae, buckwheat family The stalks are technically known as petioles and are succulent and rose red to pale green colored. The stalks are stiff and can grow to be three feet tall. It thrives in areas of direct sunlight and will spread across the ground in large spreads. It is a very hardy plant and can be grown almost anywhere.

Rhubarb is native to Siberia.

Parts Most Frequently Used: Stalk, Root

Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Slightly Sour, Cold

Caution: Rhubarb can leach out potassium. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider if you are using cardiac medications, diuretics, or steroids. Caution during pregnancy or while nursing, as the active ingredients can enter the mother’s milk.

Key Constituents: Anthraquinones (Rhein, Emodin (Glucorein, a glycoside), Malic acid, Oxalic acid, Parietin, Stilbenoid (Rhaponticin), Phytonutrients including Dietary fiber, Poly-phenolic antioxidants, Minerals (including Iron, Manganese, Copper, Calcium, Potassium and Phosphorous) and Vitamins (especially A, C and K). The stalks are also rich in several of the B-complex vitamins and Flavonoids.

History/Folklore: Rhubarb is a vegetable that is often thought of as a fruit. This confusion was supported by the USDA which classified it as a fruit in 1947 because tariffs on fruit were lower than on vegetables. Rhubarb is therefore technically a vegetable, but is legally considered a fruit!

The anthraquinones in rhubarb impart the cathartic and laxative properties of the plant. It is often used as a cathartic in case of constipation. The anthraquinone compounds have been separated from powdered rhubarb to make Western medicines.

The rhaponticin found in the rhizomes seems to lower blood glucose levels in mice.

The lutein in rhubarb is good for the skin and eyes, helping to protect them from environmental toxicities.

The vitamin K in rhubarb helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Rhubarb also contains 10% of your minimum daily requirement of calcium.

The oxalic acid in the leaves is toxic, so when harvesting, quickly remove the stalks from the leaves to prevent the acid from migrating into the stalks. Cooking the leaves and stalks in milk helps to reduce the oxalic acid by as much as 70%. Cooking in water will reduce the acid level by 49%. Medicinal and culinary rhubarb was cultivated in Philadelphia, in the United States as early as 1730. Thomas Jefferson planted R. undulatum at Monticello in 1809, enjoying the leaves which tasted similar to spinach. In general, the leaves are not considered edible due to their bitter taste and high levels of the toxic compound oxalic acid which can damage the kidneys and lead to death if consumed in high levels. However, this same compound does make them useful for shining pots and pans!

Hothouse rhubarb is usually brighter red, more tender, and sweeter-tasting than outdoor rhubarb.

In the United Kingdom, the first rhubarb was harvested by candlelight in forcing sheds where all other light was excluded, producing a sweeter and more tender stalk.

Rhubarb root (R. officinale) has been used for medical purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years. It is documented in the Divine Farmer’s Herb-Root Classic, compiled over 2,700 years ago. Used as a laxative, it was one of the first Chinese medicines imported to the West from China. The Chinese consider rhubarb root an important herb for treating recent and long-term Blood Stasis (trauma, amenorrhea, or dysmenorrhea). Be aware, that another rhubarb species, R. palmatum, is also sometimes commonly called Chinese rhubarb. It is an ornamental rhubarb and is not edible or used medicinally.

In decoction, the recommended dosage is 1-1.5 teaspoons of pulverized, crushed rhubarb root in a cup of boiling water. Then let it sit for ten minutes. This dosage can be taken twice a day. Rhubarb is often combined with other herbs. If abdominal cramping occurs, reduce the dosage. Only small amounts are needed.

The Chinese say the roots are best used raw when breaking up accumulations and purging. Used in extract, the roots are better at Clearing Heat. The roots fried or cooked in vinegar are best for Invigorating Blood, especially for treating pain caused by Blood Stagnation (even injuries). Charred roots are best for stopping bleeding, including vomiting blood and bloody stools. When used topically, the powdered roots, are good for treating burns and as a skin wash.

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) cooking the root longer will lessen the laxative properties and promote the Bblood Ccooling properties. The general recommendation is to cook the root for over ten minutes to reduce the herb’s purgative qualities and to cook the root for over thirty minutes to increase its Clearing Heat properties.

Good quality Chinese rhubarb root (R. officinale) is heavy, hard, solid, oily, bitter (but not astringent) with a golden-brown color.

During Islamic times, rhubarb was imported along the Silk Road reaching Europe in the 14th century from ports in Aleppo and Smyrna, where it became known as “Turkish Rhubarb.” Russia also became a valued importer of rhubarb. The plant was more expensive than cinnamon, opium or saffron, leading Marco Polo to look for alternate routes. The high price of rhubarb led to efforts to cultivate the plant on closer European soils.

Not all rhubarb has medicinal qualities. The first recorded use of rhubarb for culinary purposes was in England in the 17th century after affordable sugar was available. Nowadays, rhubarb is commonly stewed with sugar in pies and desserts, but it can also be pickled or put into savory dishes. No water is added when stalks are stewed, just sugar, as the stalks already contain a lot of water.

In Norway, Finland, and Iceland, a tender stalk of rhubarb will be dipped in sugar as a treat for children. In Chile, it is sold on the street with salt or dried chili pepper.

Rhubarb can be used to make wine. Being a bit sour, it is a refreshing cold juice drink in summertime.

The pigment, parietin, is known to slow the growth of cancer cells, especially leukemia cells.

Rhubarb damaged by severe cold should not be eaten as oxalic acid migrates from the leaves into the stalks and can cause illness.

The word, “rhubarb” derives from the Ancient Greek “rha” and “barbarum” referring to the plants and the river Volga, where for centuries, it used to grow wild.

Rhubarb root produces a rich brown dye similar to walnut husks and is used in northern areas where walnuts do not grow.

Hungry wildlife will dig up the roots in spring to eat.

Did you know?

Leaves Contain Oxalic Acid

 Rhubarb’s large triangular leaves are poisonous. After removing the toxic oxalic acid in the leaves, they are used in flavoring extracts.


A Perennial Vegetable

While rhubarb is not a true fruit, it is also not a vegetable. It is one of only a handful of perennial vegetables on the planet.

Fun fact!

Skin and Eyes

The lutein found in rhubarb protects the skin and eyes from environmental toxins.

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