Medicinal rhubarb, or Rheum officinale, has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. Mostly grown and cultivated in China and Tibet, the root of this herb is used for medicinal purposes. Not to be confused with garden rhubarb of the same name, medicinal rhubarb has large leaves with brownish-colored stems. It can easily reach heights of around ten feet tall (about 3 meters). Garden rhubarb, while similar, has reddish-purple stems and only reaches about three feet tall (.9 meters).
Garden rhubarb is also much less potent than that of the medicinal variety. The genus Rheum typically means "flow" and is associated with the plant’s purgative properties. This is due to the anthraquinones chemicals found in the plant. In fact, Rheum officinale is commonly used as a mild laxative to clean out the body.
Herbal remedies of medicinal rhubarb help tone the gastrointestinal tract. Within only a short time, it can stimulate the bowels. While it helps alleviate constipation, the herb can also help with diarrhea in small doses. The plant is known to help improve urinary conditions as well. The Chinese have long since used Rheum officinale as an ulcer remedy too.
In some places, the herb is used to help treat toothaches and mouth ulcers. Other properties of this herb have been found to possess medical benefits as well. For instance, the plant contains tannins, which have astringent properties. These astringent qualities have routinely been used for healing skin conditions, including poison ivy. In fact, Rheum officinale is oftentimes prescribed as a poultice for treating sores, burns, and other wounds.
Research continues to be performed in order to study the effectiveness of medicinal rhubarb as a treatment for cancer. Other studies have found this herb to be effective in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people suffering from kidney disorders. Parasitic treatments have been conducted as well using Rheum officinale. It has been shown to help treat both internal pinworms and threadworms.
While medicinal rhubarb has its advantages, as with any herbal remedy, there are also downsides. These remedies often cause urine discoloration. In addition, continual use of Rheum officinale can deplete the body of important electrolytes, leading to muscle weakness.
Overdoses may also cause vomiting, intestinal spasms, and bloody diarrhea. In more severe cases, it could lead to inflammation of the kidneys, or nephritis. This herbal remedy should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women as well as individuals having kidney inflammation.