Rhubarb root is derived from the base of the Chinese rhubarb plant. It is an herbal remedy that has been utilized medicinally for centuries. Due to potential side effects, care should be taken when using rhubarb root. As with the use of any supplement, individuals should consult with a physician prior to starting an herbal supplement regimen.
Originating in Tibet and China, rhubarb's popularity as a medicinal herb spread to Europe and Asia during the 15th and 16th centuries. Indigenous to the wild, rhubarb is one of the few herbs which is widely cultivated and still used for herbal and conventional applications. The characteristic bright stems of the rhubarb plant can grow to a height of nearly 6 feet (1.828 meters). The large, green leaves of the rhubarb plant contain oxalic acid, making them very toxic and not safe for consumption.
Grown in the west since the 1700s, the perennial rhubarb's active elements include tannins and anthraquinones, two distinct medicinal classifications. Tannins possess astringent properties, which lessen inflammation and aid with the easing of symptoms associated with diarrhea. Rhubarb's anthraquinones are classified as a laxative, and act as a stimulant on the colon to promote and regulate bowel movements easing constipation.
Prepared as a decoction, 0.5 to 1 full teaspoon (about 3 to 6 grams) of rhubarb root is combined with one cup of water and taken in the morning and evening. As a tincture, 0.25 to 0.5 teaspoons (1 to 2 ml) of rhubarb root is taken three times a day for the treatment of constipation. Rhubarb can be combined with carminative herbs, such as mint or fennel, to ease excessive cramping and gas accumulation. When employed to treat constipation, short-term use is recommended to establish regular bowel movements and prevent dependence. Small doses of rhubarb can be employed to alleviate diarrhea.
A decoction of rhubarb root may be used topically as an astringent. Use of the decoction has proven effective for the treatment of Staphylococcus aureus, the common source of most staph infections. Applied topically, a rhubarb decoction is effective in promoting the healing of skin abrasions, sores, and scabs. The infusion has also been used as a diuretic and as a treatment for conditions including kidney stones and gout.
Side effects associated with the use of rhubarb root include intense abdominal cramping, dehydration, and loss of potassium. Rhubarb root should not be used as a long-term treatment for persistent constipation. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should avoid using rhubarb root and products which utilize it as an ingredient. Individuals with conditions including Crohn's disease, certain heart conditions, and liver disease should not use rhubarb root.