Rhubarb (Da Huang)
Botanical Name: Western – Rheum rhabarbarum. Eastern – R. palmatum, 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.
Below is an overview of Rhubarb (Da Huang), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Rhubarb (Da Huang).
Western Name: Rhubarb
Also Known As: Crimson Stalks, Hawke’s Champagne, Victoria, Pie Plant, Chinese Rhubarb, Garden Rhubarb
Organs/Systems: Large Intestine, Stomach
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Cathartic, Laxative, Anticancer. Constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, stomach pain, gastrointestinal bleeding, cold sores.
Pin Yin: Da Huang
Also Known As: Translates as “Big Yellow.”
Meridians: Heart, Stomach, Large Intestine, Liver
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Drains Heat/Purges Accumulations: high fever, profuse sweating, thirst, constipation, abdominal distention, pain, delirium. Drains Heat from the Blood: blood in the stool from hemorrhoids, vomiting blood, nosebleed with constipation, painful eyes, or fire toxins sores due to Heat in the Blood level. Drains Damp: dysentery, jaundice, infectious candida, lin syndrome. Invigorates Blood/Removes Blood Stasis: amenorrhea, abdominal masses, fixed pain due to blood stasis. Reduces Fire Toxicity: burns, hot skin, sores, endometriosis, skin ulcers.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Stalks, Roots
Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Cold
Caution: Rhubarb can leach out potassium so be sure to check with your health care 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.
History/Folklore: 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 leutin 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 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.
Hothouse rhubarb is usually brighter red, more tender and sweeter-tasting than outdoor rhubarb is.
In the United Kingdom, the first rhubarb is harvested by candlelight in forcing sheds where all other light is excluded, producing a sweeter and more tender stalk.
Rhubarb root 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. They have used it as a laxative, and it was one of the first Chinese medicines to be imported to the West from China. The Chinese consider rhubarb root as an important herb for treating both recent and long-term blood stasis (trauma, amenorrhea or dysmenorrhea).
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.
Cooking the root longer will lessen the laxative properties and promote the blood cooling properties.
The Chinese say that the roots used raw are best for 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). If the roots are charred they are best for stopping bleeding, including vomiting blood and bloody stools. Used topically, the powdered roots are good for treating burns and as a skin wash.
Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends cooking the root for over ten minutes to reduce the herb’s purgative qualities and cooking the root for over 30 minutes in order to increase the herb’s clearing heat properties.
Good quality rhubarb root 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 for cultivating 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 Chili, their varietal 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 very 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 the 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.
Medicinal and culinary rhubarb was cultivated in the city of Philadelphia, in the United States as early as 1730. Thomas Jefferson planted R. undulatum at Monticello in 1809, enjoying the leaves as being similar to spinach.
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.
Anthraquinones (Rhein, Emodin (Glucorhein, a glycoside), Malic acid, Oxalic acid, Parietin, Stilbenoid (Rhaponticin), Phytonutrients including Dietary fiber, Poly-phenolic anti-oxidants, Minerals (including Iron, Copper, Calsium, Potassium and Phosphorous) and Vitamins (especially A, C and K). The stalks are also rich in several of the B-complex vitamins and Flavonoids.
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 not a vegetable either. It is one of only a handful of perennial vegetables on the planet.
Rhubarb can leach out Potassium
Rhubarb can leach out potassium, so be careful if using cardiac medications, diuretics or steroids. Check with your health care provider.
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