Rhubarb Root
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Botanical: Rheum officinale
Family: Polygonaceae (buckwheat)

Rhubarb Root is an ancient and gentle, but extremely effective, laxative.   It supports good colon health by cleansing it and helping to treat constipation; and in smaller doses, its astringents have been used to ease diarrhea, bleeding and hemorrhoids.  Rhubarb Root is considered a wonderful cleanser  for the intestines, bowels, liver and blood,  helping to rid the system of accumulated toxins.  It is also an antimicrobial, antibacterial, antibiotic and antiviral, and it may even help to improve your digestion.

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.

Rhubarb Root is a leafy, hardy perennial that is one of many species native to the cool mountains and high plateaus of western and northwestern China, India, Tibet, Russia and Turkey, that have been used in Asia for their laxative properties as far back as the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- A.D.23).  Rhubarb occurs in commerce under various names (Russian, Turkey, East Indian and Chinese), but the general geographical origin of all species is the same; the commercial names simply refer to the route 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 believe that it is derived from the Latin words, Rha Babrum, an ancient name for the Volga River, where the plant grew in profusion; others claim that it comes to us from the Greek word, rheo, which means "to flow," an allusion to the root's purgative properties.  In the first century A.D., Dioscorides, the most influential pharmaceutical writer of antiquity, spoke of a root known as rha or rheon, an herb that came from the Bosphorus Strait that separates Europe from Asia.  Rhubarb Root was introduced to Europe in 1767, although specimens of another rhubarb species, Rheum palmatum (Turkey Rhubarb/Chinese Rhubarb and similar in activity to Rheum rhaponticum), were cultivated as early as 1762, in the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh; and in the eighteenth century, cultivation of Rheum palmatum was given preference, but the two are frequently used interchangeably, with only minor variations in chemistry.  The roots of Rheum officinale are much smaller than those of the Chinese/Turkey Rhubarb and appear more shrunken, spongier, distinctly pink in color, bearing star-shaped spots and thriving in well-drained, moist, humus-rich soil in sun.  The familiar, edible garden Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) that we include in our diets is a hybrid that was developed during the nineteenth century, and the roots have no medicinal value.  Rhubarb Roots are lifted in autumn from plants that are at least three years of age, then dried and used in herbal medicine.  Only the roots of this bitter, astringent, cooling herb are used medicinally; the leaves are highly poisonous.  Current research in China is investigating the potential use of Rhubarb Root as an antineoplastic in cancer therapy that may prevent the development, growth or proliferation of malignant cells and tumors.  In animal trials, Rhubarb Root caused damage to sarcoma-27, and the emodin content inhibited melanoma growth.  The herb is also an ingredient in the controversial Essiac formula, which is an herbal mixture that was invented by Canadian nurse, René Caisse, as a treatment for cancers (its efficacy has not been established, nor is its use sanctioned by the established medical community).  Some of the constituents found in Rhubarb Root include anthraquinone glycosides (the active purgative ingredient), tannins (astringents), a bitter principle, pectin, rutin, starch, catechin, phytosterol, physcion, gallic acid, oxalic acid, aloe-emodin, rhein (sennosides A and B) and flavones.  Paradoxically, 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 treat diarrhea.

Beneficial Uses:
Rhubarb Root has been used for over two thousand years as a mild, yet powerful and effective, laxative that empties the intestines and helps to cleanse the bowels thoroughly.  The anthraquinone glycosides (also found in Senna, Buckthorn and Cascara Sagrada) are natural stimulants and produce a purging action, which make it useful as a colon cleanser and 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, 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.

Rhubarb Root may help to treat diarrhea:  The plant's tannins 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, Rhubarb Root has been used to alleviate hemorrhoids, internal bleeding and inflamed mucous membranes.

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 said to enhance gallbladder function and relieve both liver and gallbladder complaints by releasing an accumulation of toxins.

The bitter principle included in Rhubarb Root is said to stimulate 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 Root 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.

Rhubarb Root is considered an anti-microbial that has been used to treat intestinal worms, including internal pinworms, threadworms and ringworms.

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.  A special extract of Rhubarb (Rheum rhaponticum) has been used for many years to treat menopausal symptoms in Germany and elsewhere, and according to researchers, Rhubarb significantly reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes in perimenopausal women.  Until recently, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was the most common treatment for menopausal hot flashes, but in the wake of negative side effects, there is much interest in finding a safe, alternative treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms caused by menopause, and Rhubarb extract may be a viable alternative treatment for women experiencing severe hot flashes associated with menopause and perimenopause.

Rhubarb Root is thought to possess antibacterial, antibiotic and antiviral properties.  In modern medicine, Rhubarb Root has been found to be useful in treatment of hepatitis-B virus. In vitro studies, the anthraquinones in Rhubarb exhibited virucidal activity against HSV I, measles, polio and influenza virus; and the rhein component showed antibacterial activity against Bacteroides fragilis, but thus far, no conclusions have yet been published.  Teas made from Rhubarb have been said to help relieve infection caused by bacteria.

Rhubarb Root may be used externally to fight inflammation and infection (skin eruptions, boils and carbuncles, etc.) and to promote healing (wounds, cold sores and burns, etc.).

Pregnant and nursing women should not use Rhubarb Root Herbal Supplement, 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, nor should it be taken when the colon is already empty (do not take Rhubarb longer than eight to ten days).  People with a history of renal stones or urinary problems should avoid 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 Rhubarb without talking to your doctor first if you are taking blood thinning medicine: examples: warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), aspirin, enoxaparin (Lovenox), dalteparin (Fragmin) or blood disease medication (Sulfinpyrazone).  Children under twelve years of age should never take Rhubarb, except under the direct supervision of your family physician. Using Rhubarb Root may temporarily cause the urine to appear yellow or red, but this is a common occurrence and no cause for alarm. 

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