Chinese Rhubarb Root
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Botanical:  Rheum palmatum
Family:   Polygonaceae (buckwheat)
Other common names:   Turkey Rhubarb, Da Huang, Chinghai Rhubarb, Tahuang

Chinese Rhubarb Root has been used for over two thousand years as a mild, yet effective, laxative.  It supports good colon health by cleansing it and treating constipation; and in smaller doses, its astringents ease diarrhea and hemorrhoids.  Chinese Rhubarb Root is considered a fine cleanser  for the intestines, bowels, liver and blood, helping to rid the system of accumulated toxins.

The information presented herein by Herbal Extracts Plus is intended for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Chinese (or Turkey) Rhubarb is a hardy perennial that is native to the cool mountains and high plateaus of western China and Tibet.  Rhubarb occurs in commerce under various names (Russian, Turkey, East Indian and Chinese), but the commercial names simply refer to the routes by which the herb was formerly transported to European markets.  The origin of the name of Rhubarb's botanical genus, Rheum, is somewhat vague: Some claim that it comes to us from the Greek word, rheo, which means "to flow," an allusion to the root's purgative properties.  Often grown as an ornamental, the roots send up hollow stalks, bearing large, deeply-lobed red leaves that resemble the shape of a human palm (hence its botanical specific, palmatum).  The stalks are topped with a leafy panicle of greenish or whitish flowers, and the plant thrives in well-drained, moist, humus-rich soil in sun, sometimes reaching a height of six to ten feet.  The roots of another species, Rheum officinale (also called Chinese Rhubarb, Turkey Rhubarb and Rhubarb Root), are smaller than those of Rheum palmatum, but the two species are used

interchangeably in herbal medicine, with only minor variations in chemistry.  The familiar, edible garden Rhubarb that we include in our diets is a hybrid that was developed during the nineteenth century, and the roots have no medicinal value.  First mentioned in the Shen Nong Canon of Herbs of the Han Dynasty (206-B.C.- A.D. 23), Chinese Rhubarb Root has been one of the most widely used herbs in China for over two thousand years as a mild, but powerful, purgative.  In Chinese medicine, it was called tahuang, which means “great yellow,” because of the laxative properties contained in its yellow underground stems.  As early as 114 B.C., caravans transported the herb to central Asia, where traders carried it to the Middle East and also to Europe, via the Black Sea.  Dioscorides and Pliny both wrote of the plant in the first century A.D., and Arab physicians also valued the root’s laxative qualities.  In the mid-1600s, two major routes had been established for importing the drug from China – one through India and the other through Moscow.  The Russians quickly established a monopoly on the trade because of their insistence on high quality, and in the eighteenth century, Europeans were commonly cultivating it in their gardens for medical purposes, and it became the standard treatment in Europe for constipation.  By 1767, the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland, devoted a large area to the plant’s cultivation.   After the Russian monopoly was broken by the opening of the Port of Canton in 1860, direct trade facilitated the herb’s transport to Europe and the West.  Even American pioneers carried the roots with them on their trek across the new country to ensure their families’ health.  Only the roots of this bitter, astringent and cooling herb are used in herbal medicine; the leaves are highly poisonous and contain oxalic acid.  Some of the constituents included in Chinese Rhubarb Root are anthraquinone glycosides (laxative), tannins (astringents), a bitter principle, pectin, rutin, starch, catechin, phytosterol, gallic acid and flavones.  It is interesting to note that because of the opposing nature of the tannins and “anthraglycosides,” the health of the colon is supported by the dosage, and the effects vary, i.e., larger amounts treat constipation, and lower doses relieve diarrhea.

Beneficial Uses:
Chinese Rhubarb Root has been used for over two thousand years as a mild, yet powerful and effective, laxative that empties the intestines and cleanses the bowels thoroughly. The anthraquinone glycosides are natural stimulants that produce a purging action, which make it useful for treating chronic constipation.  At higher doses, the anthraquinone activity is throught to predominate, resulting in more watery and more frequent stools.  Its mild action has been considered suitable for children (only under a doctor's supervision), and it is often used as a stool softener in the presence of anal fissures and hemorrhoids and used post-operatively for recto-anal operations.  In China, it is included in some standard bowel preparation programs for colonoscopy.

The tannins in Chinese Rhubarb Root produce astringent properties, and when taken in small doses, the tannin activity in Rhubarb supersedes the anthraquinone activity, thus leading to a lower water content of stool, and this action has been effective in relieving diarrhea.  Moreover, the pectin content in Rhubarb Root is also thought to work well with tannins as an anti-diarrheal.  As an effective astringent, Chinese Rhubarb Root has been used to alleviate hemorrhoids, internal bleeding and inflamed mucous membranes.

Chinese Rhubarb Root is considered an "alterative" or agent that helps to gradually and favorably alter the course of an ailment or condition.  It helps to modify the process of nutrition and excretion and restore normal bodily function, acting to cleanse and stimulate the efficient removal of waste products from the system.  As such, it not only cleanses the intestinal tract and blood, but it is also thought to cleanse the liver by encouraging bile flow. The herb is also said to enhance and improve gallbladder function and relieve both liver and gallbladder complaints by releasing an accumulation of toxins.

The bitter principle included in Chinese Rhubarb Root is said to stimulate good digestion and improve the appetite.  It is considered a "stomachic" that relieves gastric disorders, improves the appetite and gives tone and strength to the stomach.  Rhubarb is thought to be particularly effective in treating atonic dyspepsia, helping the digestive organs when in a condition of torpor and debility.  In addition, the herb is also believed to encourage gastric flow, which also aids the digestive process.

As an antimicrobial, Chinese Rhubarb Root has been used to treat internal pinworms, threadworms and ringworms.

Chinese Rhubarb Root has been used to relieve menstrual problems. The herb stimulates the uterus and is thought to move stagnated blood, which also helps to relieve pains and cramps.

Chinese Rhubarb Root is thought to possess antibacterial, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties, which have made it useful for both internal and external inflammation and infection (skin eruptions, boils and carbuncles, etc.) and to promote healing (wounds, cold sores and burns, etc.).

In vitro studies, the anthraquinones in Rhubarb exhibited virucidal activity against HSV I, measles, polio and influenza virus; but thus far, no conclusions have yet been published.

Pregnant and nursing women should not use Chinese Rhubarb Root Herbal Supplement (it is a uterine stimulant), nor should it be used by those who suffer from colitis or have intestinal obstruction.  Long term use is not recommended, as it may cause dependence and tendency toward chronic constipation.  Because it is considered a bowel cleanser, it should not be taken when the colon is already empty (do not take Chinese Rhubarb longer than eight to ten days).  People with a history of renal stones or urinary problems should avoid Chinese Rhubarb Root (and any herbs with oxalates).  Never eat or cook  Rhubarb leaves as a food.  Oxalates are contained in all parts of Rhubarb plants, especially in the green leaves, and are considered extremely toxic.  There is some evidence that anthraquinone glycosides (the active purgative ingredient) are also present and may be partly responsible.  The stalks and roots contain low levels of oxalates, so this does not cause problems.  Do not take Chinese Rhubarb without talking to your doctor first if you are taking blood thinning medicine: examples: warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), aspirin, enoxaparin (Lovenox), dalteparin (Fragmin).  Children under twelve years of age should not take Chinese Rhubarb, except under the direct supervision of your family physician.

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