Rheum palmatum

Rheum palmatum is a species of flowering plant in the knotweed family Polygonaceae. It is commonly called Chinese rhubarb,[1] ornamental rhubarb,[2] Turkish rhubarb, Turkey rhubarb, Indian rhubarb, Russian rhubarb or rhubarb root (and within Chinese herbal medicine da-huang).[3]

Rheum palmatum is a herbaceous perennial closely related to, and resembling, the edible rhubarb. It is primarily used in traditional medicine, and as an ornamental subject in the garden.

Chinese rhubarb
Rhubarb Flower
The blooming white flowers of a Chinese rhubarb
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Order: Caryophyllales
Family: Polygonaceae
Genus: Rheum
R. palmatum
Binomial name
Rheum palmatum
Rheum palmatum MHNT.BOT.2011.3.67
Rheum palmatum


Rheum officinale 002
Loosely branched clusters of matured red flowers found on the lobed-leafed Chinese rhubarb.

The species R. tanguticum and R. officinale, also under the categorical term of the Chinese drug da-huang, are closely related to R. palmatum.[4] Today, these three species are regarded as superior in performance to other species-existing rhubarbs.[4] Though R. palmatum is commonly misinterpreted to be one and the same with the familiar R. rhabarbarum garden rhubarb we eat, there are several facets falsifying this assumption.[3] Size is the most evident of the facets used to differentiate these two closely related species.[3] While most garden species only grow to a mere few feet in height, Chinese rhubarb can produce as high as a "six to ten foot jointed stalk", with loosely branched clusters of flowers along the tips that mature red in color from their often yellow or white blooms.[3]

Habit of Rheum palmatum

Its leaves are rather "large, jagged and hand-shaped", growing in width of at least two to three feet.[3] It is important to recognize that only those species of Rheum with lobed leaves are accredited for their medicinal use.[3] Subsequently, garden rhubarb, R. rhubarbarum, as well as any other variety of species with either "wavy" or "undulating leaves" are not founded for any medicinal purpose.[3] Additionally, one can decipher Chinese rhubarb by its rather thick, deep roots whereas the perennial garden plant is composed predominantly of "fleshy rhizomes and buds."[5]

Habitat, cultivation and preparation

Though native in the regions of western China, northern Tibet, and the Mongolian Plateau, Chinese Rhubarb was widely used in other parts of the world, such as Europe, for hundreds of years before its source of plant identity was actually discovered in the 18th century.[3] As a consequence of these findings, today Chinese rhubarb is also found flourishing in the West and in the wild.[4] It is extensively cultivated, no doubt for its great medicinal advantages and uses.[4] Like all flowering plants, it is grown from the protective coat of a seed in the spring, or by "root division" in the seasons of spring or autumn, where the temperature is not yet too hot or too cold.[4] A rather spacious environment where it can receive an abundance of sunlight for the production of sugars, as well as its development in "well-drained soil", proves to be most efficient for the augmentation of this species.[4] Since it is the roots and rhizome which serve as this plant's source of medicinal usage, special care is taken in their preparation.[3] When 6–10 years old, the rhizomes of these plants are removed from the ground in the autumn when both its stems and leaves changed to yellow wild.[4] Furthermore, the removal of the lateral rootlets and the crown are removed, leaving only the root.[4] Any debris around the root is cleaned off, the coarse exterior bark removed, and the root cut and divided into cube-like pieces to increase its surface area, thereby decreasing the time needed for drying.[3]

Folk medicine

Rhei radix 158233
The cut-up and dry root of Chinese rhubarb

The first accounts of use are found in ancient Chinese writings, dating back to 2700 B.C.[6] A study of Chinese history shows that it was known, even back then, for its purging effects, as well as its ability to suppress feverish conditions (Foster): it was taken by an emperor in the Liang dynasty (557-579) for fever, used as gift-bearing means to an emperor of the Tang dynasty (618–907), used to combat the plague in the years which the Song dynasty ruled (960–1127), and used as a suicidal measure by a general of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).[3] With a variety of medicinal uses, it wasn’t long before this potent plant began making its way to other parts of the world. In fact, it became one of the most prominent items traded along the Silk Road.[3] A rhubarb monopoly initiated in Imperial Russia in 1731, stiffly regulating its trade from "China via the Asian steppes to Moscow and St. Petersburg, where its root was shipped to the rest of Europe."[3] For 125 years thereafter, rhubarb-root imports were governed solely by what was known as the "Rhubarb Office".[3] This "office" ceased to exist once China opened its ports to the Western nations, allowing for free trade.[3] Some of the common names associated with Rheum palmatum—"Russian rhubarb", "Turkey rhubarb", and "Indian rhubarb"—are directly affiliated with the trade routes for rhubarb from China.[3]

In ancient China, rhubarb root was taken to try to cure stomach ailments and as a "cathartic" (an agent used to relieve severe constipation), and used as a poultice (a preparation of fresh, moistened, or crushed dried herbs, applied externally) for "fevers and edema" (swelling caused by fluid retention in the tissues of the body).[3] It was given its Latin name by the renowned Carolus Linnaeus in the year 1759 and made to augment its proliferation to British botanical gardens around 1762.[3]

Rhubarb festivals persist in areas "all over the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia.[3] These "gatherings" appeal to both travellers and "rhubarb buffs" all around the world.[3] For instance, the first International Symposium on Rhubarb was held in China in 1990 (Foster). Its objective was to verify the scientific data and treatment of Chinese Rhubarb used by Chinese pharmacopoeias.[3]

Health risks

Though the root of the Chinese rhubarb is a key facet of herbal medicine, its leaves can actually be poisonous if consumed in a high enough dosage.[3] The oxalic acid crystals found in the leaves may cause a health risk.[3] Owing to the swelling of the tongue and throat, breathing canals become constricted, ultimately preventing breathing.[3] Patients with "arthritis, kidney problems, inflammatory bowel disease, or intestinal obstruction" should refrain from consumption.[3]

Additionally, pregnant women should avoid all intake since Rhubarb may cause uterine stimulation.[3] If taken for an extended amount of time, adverse effects include: "hypertrophy of the liver, thyroid, and stomach, as well as nausea, griping, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea."[3]

Ornamental use

Rheum officinale 001

With its large palmate leaves and tall panicles of pink flowers, Rheum palmatum is a bold statement plant for the temperate garden, that grows up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) tall and broad. It is hardy down to −20 °C (−4 °F).[7]

The following cultivars have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit:-[8]

  • ’Ace of Hearts’[9] - compact cultivar to 1.5 m (4.9 ft)
  • ’Bowles’s Crimson’[10]
  • ’Hadspen Crimson’[11]


  1. ^ "Rheum palmatum". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  2. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa Foster, Steven. Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. pp. 104–105. ISBN 0-7922-3666-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Chevallier, Andrew (2000). Natural Health: Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York, New York 10016: Dorling Kindersley. p. 127. ISBN 0-7894-6783-6.
  5. ^ "Growing Rhubarb". 2010-04-09. Retrieved 2018-02-19.
  6. ^ Chmelik, Stefan (1999). Chinese Herbal Secrets. Garden City Park, New York 11040: The Ivy Press Limited. pp. 20–29. ISBN 0-89529-986-0.
  7. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum palmatum". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  8. ^ "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 84. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
  9. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum 'Ace of Hearts'". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  10. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum palmatum 'Bowles's Crimson". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
  11. ^ "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum palmatum 'Hadspen Crimson'". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
10th edition of Systema Naturae

The 10th edition of Systema Naturae is a book written by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus and published in two volumes in 1758 and 1759, which marks the starting point of zoological nomenclature. In it, Linnaeus introduced binomial nomenclature for animals, something he had already done for plants in his 1753 publication of Species Plantarum.

Chinese herbology

Chinese herbology (simplified Chinese: 中药学; traditional Chinese: 中藥學; pinyin: zhōngyào xué) is the theory of traditional Chinese herbal therapy, which accounts for the majority of treatments in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). A Nature editorial described TCM as "fraught with pseudoscience", and said that the most obvious reason why it has not delivered many cures is that the majority of its treatments have no logical mechanism of action.The term herbology is misleading in the sense that, while plant elements are by far the most commonly used substances, animal, human, and mineral products are also utilized, among which some are poisonous. In the Huangdi Neijing they are referred to as 毒藥 [duyao] which means toxin, poison, or medicine. Unschuld points out that this is similar etymology to the Greek pharmakon and so he uses the term "pharmaceutic". Thus, the term "medicinal" (instead of herb) is usually preferred as a translation for 药 (pinyin: yào).Research into the effectiveness of traditional Chinese herbal therapy is of poor quality and often tainted by bias, with little or no rigorous evidence of efficacy. There are concerns over a number of potentially toxic Chinese herbs.

Chinese rhubarb

Chinese rhubarb can mean either of two species of rhubarb, genus Rheum:

Rheum palmatum Linnaeus 1759, also known as Turkey rhubarb, East Indian rhubarb, or palmate rhubarb

Rheum officinale Baillon 1871, also known as Indian rhubarb, Tibetan rhubarb, or medicinal rhubarb


Emodin (6-methyl-1,3,8-trihydroxyanthraquinone) is a chemical compound that can be isolated from rhubarb, buckthorn, and Japanese knotweed (Reynoutria japonica syn. Polygonum cuspidatum). It is also produced by many species of fungi, including members of the genera Aspergillus, Pyrenochaeta, and Pestalotiopsis, inter alia. The common name is derived from Rheum emodi, a taxonomic synonym of Rheum australe, (Himalayan rhubarb) and synonyms include emodol, frangula emodin, rheum emodin, 3-methyl-1,6,8-trihydroxyanthraquinone, Schuttgelb, and Persian Berry Lake.

Granton Garden

The Granton Garden is an organic wildlife garden in the Granton area of Edinburgh, at the home of the musician and gardener Fraser Drummond. There are over 200 species in one small walled garden. Drummond has recorded 29 bird species in the garden as well as fox, hedgehog, squirrel and a colony of frogs.It has appeared in the BBC television programme The Beechgrove Garden and in The Scotsman. and has regularly been open to the public as part of Scotland's Garden Scheme.

List of kampo herbs

Kampō (or Kanpō, 漢方) medicine is the Japanese study and adaptation of traditional Chinese medicine. In 1967, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare approved four kampo medicines for reimbursement under the National Health Insurance (NHI) program. In 1976, 82 kampo medicines were approved by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. Currently, 148 kampo medicines are approved for reimbursement. [1]

The 14th edition of the Japanese Pharmacopoeia (JP) (日本薬局方 Nihon yakkyokuhō) lists 165 herbal ingredients that are approved to be used in kampo remedies. [2] The following are the most common herbs used in it:

Tsumura (ツムラ) is the leading maker;[3] they make 128 of the 148 kampo]] medicines. The "count" column shows in how many of these 128 formulae the herb is found. The most common herb is Glycyrrhizae Radix (Chinese liquorice root). It is in 94 of the 128 Tsumura formulae. Other common herbs are Zingiberis Rhizoma (ginger) (51 of 128 formulae) and Paeoniae Radix (Chinese peony root) (44 of 128 formulae).

Note 1: this character cannot be displayed correctly on a computer. "庶" is usually substituted in Chinese and Japanese. The "灬" in "庶" should be replaced with "虫".

Note 2: this character cannot be displayed correctly on a computer. "梨" is usually substituted in Chinese. "梨" or "藜" is usually substituted in Japanese. The "勿" in "藜" should be replaced with "刂".

List of traditional Chinese medicines

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are roughly 13,000 medicinals used in China and over 100,000 medicinal prescriptions recorded in the ancient literature. Plant elements and extracts are the most common elements used in medicines. In the classic Handbook of Traditional Drugs from 1941, 517 drugs were listed - 442 were plant parts, 45 were animal parts, and 30 were minerals.Herbal medicine, as used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), came to widespread attention in the United States in the 1970s. At least 40 states in the United States license practitioners of Oriental medicine, and there are about 50 colleges of Oriental medicine in the United States today.In Japan, the use of TCM herbs and herbal formulas is traditionally known as Kampo, literally "Han Chinese Medical Formulas". Many Kampo combinations are manufactured in Japan on a large scale by reputable manufacturers.In Korea, more than 5000 herbs and 7000 herbal formulas are used in Traditional Korean Medicine for the prevention and treatment of ailments. These are herbs and formulas that are traditionally Korean or derived from, or are used in TCM.In Vietnam, traditional medicine comprises Thuoc Bac (Northern Medicine) and Thuoc Nam (Southern Medicine). Only those who can understand Chinese characters could diagnose and prescribe remedies in Northern Medicine. The theory of Northern Medicine is based on the Yin-Yang interactions and the eight trigrams, as used in Chinese Medicine. Herbs such as Gleditsia sinensis are used in both Traditional Vietnamese Medicine and TCM.

Ginseng is the most broadly used substance for the most broad set of alleged cures. Powdered antlers, horns, teeth, and bones are second in importance to ginseng, with claims ranging from curing cancer to curing impotence.

Mesir macunu

Mesir Macunu is a traditional Turkish sweet believed to have therapeutic effects. Mesir paste was first produced as a medicine during the Ottoman period, but later became an important part of local festivities in the city of Manisa. Earlier versions of Mesir macunu were not sweet, but rather spicy in flavor.Macun is a sweet Turkish confectionery toffee paste that originated from spicy preparations of Mesir macunu.

Rhein (molecule)

Rhein, also known as cassic acid, is a substance in the anthraquinone group obtained from rhubarb. Like all such substances, rhein is a cathartic. Rhein is commonly found as a glycoside such as rhein-8-glucoside or glucorhein. Rhein was first isolated in 1895. It is found in rhubarb species like Rheum undulatum and Rheum palmatum as well as in Cassia reticulata.Originally the rhubarb plant which contains rhein was used as a laxative. It was believed that rhein along with other anthraquinone glycosides imparted this activity.Rhein has been reevaluated as an antibacterial agent against Staphylococcus aureus in 2008. Synergy or partial synergy has been demonstrated between rhein and the antibiotics oxacillin and ampicillin.Rhein has been shown to inhibit the fat mass and obesity-associated protein, an enzyme responsible for removing the methylation from N6-methyladenosine in nucleic acids.The pharmacokinetics of rhein have not been intensively studied in humans, but at least one study in healthy male volunteers found that rhein was better absorbed from oral administration of rhubarb than from a retention enema. Rhein (at an oral dose of 50 mg twice per day) was shown to be safe when administered for five days to elderly patients with chronic congestive heart failure.

Rheum (plant)

Rheum is a genus of about 60 herbaceous perennial plants in the family Polygonaceae. Species are native to eastern Europe, southern and eastern temperate Asia, with a few reaching into northern tropical Asia. Rheum is cultivated in Europe and North America. The genus includes the vegetable rhubarb. The species have large somewhat triangular shaped leaves with long, fleshy petioles. The flowers are small, greenish-white to rose-red, and grouped in large compound leafy inflorescences. A number of cultivars of rhubarb have been domesticated both as medicinal plants and for human consumption. While the leaves are toxic, the stalks are used in pies and other foods for their tart flavor.

Swedish bitters

Swedish bitters, also called Swedish tincture, is a bitter and a traditional herbal tonic, the use of which dates back to the 15th century.

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