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Traditional Indications

Rhubarb is antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-cancer, aperient, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, hypocholesterolaemic, laxative, purgative, stomachic and tonic. 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. The other herbs included in the formula are Arctium lappa, Ulmus rubra and Rumex crispus. 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 and to lower cholesterol. (1)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Rhubarb is called Da Huang 大黄. Da Huang is bitter and cold and to enter the Heart, Large Intestine, Liver and Stomach channels. It is prescribed to purge accumulations and clear heat from Blood and to invigorate the Blood. Da Huang drains Heat/Damp and is indicated for Yang jaundice. This remedy is not prescribed for pregnant or lactating women, nor for patients with intestinal obstruction. (2)

Pharmacognocy

Four anthraquinones including aloe-emodin, rhein, emodin, chrysophanol, and their glycosides in rheum palmatum were found to be subject to a rapid and extensive conjugation metabolism in rats and the serum metabolites of RP exhibited a potential free radical scavenging effect on AAPH-induced hemolysis. (3)

Rheum palmatum volatile oil possesses an anti-HBV effect in vitro. (4)

Rheum palmatum root extract inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma in rats treated with diethylnitrosamine. (5)

Antimetastatic effects of Rheum palmatum L. extract on oral cancer cells have been demonstrated. (6)

1. PFAF. Rheum palmatum 2019.
2. Healing WRIo. Rhubarb (Da Huang) 2019.
3. Shia C-S, Juang S-H, Tsai S-Y, Chang P-H, Kuo S-C, Hou Y-C, et al. Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics of Anthraquinones in Rheum palmatum in Rats and ex vivo Antioxidant Activity. Planta Med. 2009;75(13):1386-92.
4. Zhang B, Chen J, Li H, Xu X. [Study on the Rheum palmatum volatile oil against HBV in cell culture in vitro]. Zhong yao cai = Zhongyaocai = Journal of Chinese medicinal materials. 1998;21(10):524-6.
5. El-Saied MA, Sobeh M, Abdo W, Badr OM, Youssif LT, Elsayed IH, et al. Rheum palmatum root extract inhibits hepatocellular carcinoma in rats treated with diethylnitrosamine. 2018;70(6):821-9.
6. Chen Y-Y, Hsieh M-J, Hsieh Y-S, Chang Y-C, Chen P-N, Yang S-F, et al. Antimetastatic effects of Rheum palmatum L. extract on oral cancer cells. 2017;32(10):2287-94.