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Herbal Monograph

Herb:    Turkish Rhubarb Root   (Rheum palmatum; R. officinale, Polygonaceae)                                                            

Other Names:  known as da huang in China, or “big yellow”  (15); China Rhubarb   (37)

Character/Energetics:    bitter, astringent, gritty when chewed, tinges the saliva yellow  (37); bitter, cold, dry.    (15)  

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  stomach and intestines    (14)

Part(s) used:  root  (22); dried rhizome or root, deprived of most of its bark (periderm tissue).  (37)                                                                                   

          NOT the garden rhubarb!    (8)

Identification & Harvesting:    A large, sturdy herbaceous perennial;  Stem grows to over 5′ high.  Leaves are orbicular, cordate, palmate-lobed, rough on the upper surface and 3-5 ribbed.  Root consists of a tuber, which after several years measures 4-6″ in diameter and has arm-thick lateral roots.  Inflorescence is an erect panicle foliated to the tip;  flowers are narrow red, pink or whitish yellow tepals;  fruit is red-brown oval, angular, 1/2″ wide;  nutlet is a 1/2″ long ovoid.  Cultivated widely, but main producers are China and Russia.    (2);  see (37, pg.183)  for extensive description of identifying characteristics                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                      Perennial; native of western and central China, Timbet; flourishes best at 8,000-10,000 feet elevation in the Himalaya and other mountains, on the shady side of deep ravines, with northern exposure; most of the supply came from Hankow on the Upper Yang-tse, with the Shensi rhubarb being the most expensive and undoubtedly the best (East India variety). The Turkish variety (no longer on the market) consists of the best rhizome formerly, was shipped from Chinese Tartary via Siberia to Turkish ports (hence the name). The Shensi variety has a smoky odor, is bitter, and ochre yellow; and the Shanghai variety has a smoky odor and is light yellow. These plants resemble our garden variety.    The rhizome is dug when the plant is 8-10 years old in the autumn (Tartary in the springtime.)   (37) 

Not the garden rhubarb.  Also known as Chinese, Turkey or medicinal rhubarbs.  Member of the buckwheat family.  Most of the supply comes from China.    (61)

Active Constituents:    Anthracene derivatives 3-12%, chiefly 1- or 8-beta-glucosides of the aglycones rheumemodin, aloe-emodin, rhein, chrysophanol, physcion (together 60-80%), 8,8′-diglucosides of dianthrones 10-25% incl. sennosides A and B;  tannins, in particular, gallo tannins, incl. galloylglucose, galloylsaccharose, lindleyine, isolindleyine;  flavonoids 2-3%;  naphthohydroquinone glycosides.    (2)

anthraquinones, tannins, bitter aromatic principle.    (8)

anthraquinones, tannins, calcium oxalate, resins, minerals.    (15)

Actions:    laxative, primarily due to the increased motility of the colon, stimulating propulsive contractions.  This results in increased water and electrolyte content of stool  (2)

bitter stomachic, mild purgative, astringent, laxative, cathartic  (22)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Primarily astringent, laxative, stomachic;  also alterative, sialagogue, aperient   (14)

laxative, digestive remedy, astringent, antibacterial.  Chinese believe it moves stagnant blood.  The action varies considerably depending on dose.  Low doses 5-10 drops are astringent and are used for diarrhea.  Slightly higher doses (1 ml) acts as a good liver stimulant and gentle laxative.  Very high doses (up to 2.5 ml) have a strong cooling and purgative effect.  The anthraquinones irritate the digestive tract, increasing gut movements.    (15)

cathartic (aperient-brisk purgative, according to dosage), hepatic, cholagogue, astringent, tonic, stomachic, antibilious, sialogogue, vulnerary, anthelmintic, peristaltic  (37)

Used as laxatives for at least 5000 years.  Both astringent and laxative.  Once the most valued laxative in the world;  has largely been replaced by natural or synthetic drugs.  In small doses it is astringent, and in larger doses strongly laxative.  The anthroquinone glycosides are changed by intestinal bacteria into stimulant laxative principles, not only slowing uptake of water and electrolytes in the large intestine, but also stimulating motility.    (61)

Conditions & Uses:    used for constipation in the presence of anal fissures, hemorrhoids or recovery from recto-anal surgery.    (2)

Internal uses —  constipation, diarrhea:  tincture, powder, fluid extract.  Dyspepsia, infant indigestion:  tincture, powder, syrup, fluid extract.  Jaundice:  tincture*, powder*.  Worms:  syrup*.

Rhubarb is both a laxative and an astringent.  Its dual properites make it a good herb for both diarrhea and constipation.  It stimulates the walls of the colon and the secretory glands of the stomach and intestines.  In small amounts, rhubarb is an excellent digestive tonic.  Judge the amount on your own.  30 grains given every 2 or 3 hours has stopped diarrhea and hemorrhages in adults.  Larger amounts will produce a laxative effect.  If you do not desire a laxative effect, cut back on the dosage and it will act as a good tonic and blood cleanser.  Finley Ellingwood, MD states in the American Materia medica, “it is the laxative for debilitated patients, or for patients recovering from prostrating disease.  Given to a nursing mother, like aloe, it relaxes the infant’s bowels, and in some cases it is desirable to administer it to the mother for this purpose.”  Rhubarb is used to treat chronic blood diseases.  The dosage for a general digestive tonic and blood cleanser is one teaspoon of the tincture three times daily or one to three capsules three times daily.    (14)

Rhubarb root is a valuable remedy that incites the activity of the stomach, liver and bowels by increasing the flow of  the digestive juices. In small doses it makes an excellent strengthening tonic for the stomach, in large doses  it acts as a laxative. Rhubarb root’s purgative action is useful in constipation, but also has an astringent effect following this. It therefore has a truly cleansing action on the gut, removing debris and then astringing with antiseptic qualities as well. This herb is also included in Rene Caisse’s herbal formula.    (22)

Turkey rhubarb, given in small doses, is a valuable stomachic tonic, increasing saliva and the flow of gastric juice, improving the appetite, promoting the action of the liver and flow of bile without catharsis (astringing the intestines), facilitating systemal vascularity and absorption. As a cathartic agent, it increases the circulation of the glands appended to the intestinal canal and increases peristalsis by stimulating the muscular layer of the bowel; in larger doses (30-50 grains), it produces copius yellow, pultaceous (mushy, soft) stools in 6-8 hours, with considerable hepatic stimulation and some griping (and, although the larger doses may occasionally produce quite severe griping, the herb will never inflame the gastro-enteric mucous membrane). Turkey rhubarb is highly esteemed because of the milk-like quality of its action) as a laxative tonic for children and infacts; it acts chiefly on the duodenum, generally does not clog or produce an after-constipation as so many of the active cathartics do. The tonic and astringent action following catharsis makes Turkey rhubarb a valuable healing remedy for diarrhea due to irritating matter in the bowel–it removes the irritating substance, the after-astringent properties check the diarrhea, and it tones the tissue and corrects the accompanying atonic indigestion. It is also a particularly suitable mild-laxative agent for hemmorrhoids with constipation, wherein the astringent after-action is overcome by taking 2–4 drams nightly of olive oil. A cathartic action may be produced by the herb being applied locally to ulcers, moist or abraded skin, or in poultices to the abdomen. The urine of a patient taking Turkey rhubarb will often become quite red, which is the alkakine urine acting upon the yellow matter of the root. Here in this great healing herb, you have a most valuable and reliable organic friend for stimulating, cleansing, and toning the vital alimentary and intestinal areas.    

Medicinal uses: diarrhea, dysentery, weakened digestion (atonal dyspepsia), hemorrhoids, cholera, infantum, thread worms, jaundice, scrofula (with distended bowels), abdominal pains, salivation.     (37)

Used for diarrhea and stomachache in small doses;  in larger doses it is strongly laxative and is traditionally favored in hemorrhoids, due to the astringent effect.  Often used for cleansing and slimming programs, thought to be an inappropriate use for a laxative that should only be used when a laxative is needed.    (61)

Combinations:    Potassium deficiency can cause an increase in the effect of cardiac glycosides, as found in Digitalis purpurea (foxglove).    (2)

Should be combined with carminative herbs to relieve any griping that may occur.    (8)

Use increasing doses of carminatives such as fennel or mint with higher doses of rhubarb to prevent cramps.  Add 1-2 ml fennel, lemon balm, or chamomile tincture per dose to prevent griping.  Enhance with mild laxatives such as butternut or yellow dock.    (15)

Precautions:    Contraindicated in cases of intestinal obstruction, acute intestinal inflammatory disease, appendicitis.  Spasmodic gastrointestinal complaints can occur as a side effect to the herb’s purgative effect.  Long-term use leads to losses of electrolytes, in particular potassium ions, and resultant heart arrhythmias, edema.  Some question whether long-term use of anthracene compounds can increase incidence of colon cancer;  however, recent studies show no connection.  Potassium deficiency can cause an increase in the effect of cardiac glycosides, as found in Digitalis purpurea (foxglove).  Do not administer to children under 12. (2);  May color the urine red or yellow.    (8)

Avoid in pregnancy because it is a strong purgative.  Contains oxalates, and is best avoided in arthritic conditions and gout.  Leaves are potentially toxic, and fatalities have been reported.    (15)

Do not use over prolonged periods as it tends to aggravate any tendency toward chronic constipation.  Do not use during pregnancy.    (14)

Laxative abuse can cause loss of potassium and other electrolytes, and in this state it may increase the effects of cardiotonic glycosides as in digitalis or foxglove preparations.  Avoid in cases of intestinal obstruction.    (61)

Tincturing Process:

Applications:   As a stomachic 5 to 10 drops, as a cathartic 20 to 40 drops, both 2-3 times  daily.  (22)           

            see (37–pgs. 185-187) for applications applying to specific conditions: mild cathartic, abdominal pains; liver and jaundice compound; nausea and vomiting (especially during pregnancy); rheumatism.

Decoction:  simmer 5-15 min.;  3 oz., 3 x daily.  Fluid extract:  1/4 tsp. 3 x daily.  Powder:  1-2 #0 capsules (5-10 grains)  (stomachic) 3 x daily.  Powder:  3-5 #0 capsules (20-30 grains)  (purgative), 4 x daily.  Syrup:  1 tsp. as needed.    (14)


Dosage:   Infusion:  3 oz. 3x daily  (22)

                 Fluid Extract:  10-30 minims

    Infusion: 1 wineglass 3x daily, after meals. Children: 1 teaspoon–1 tablespoon according to age. 

    Powder: 2-3 grains

    Solid Extract:  2-3 grains

    Tincture:  1/2  to 1 teaspoon (fluid dram)      (37)

As a laxative, 1/3-1/2 tsp dried root.  Steep 1/3 tsp dried root in a cup of hot water for 10-15 min, no more than twice daily, nor longer than four days.  Tincture 15-30 drops up to 4 x daily.    (61)

Administration:  Large doses are a simple and safe evacuant, small and frequent doses are a tonic hepatic. It is often compounded with aromatic or stimulant agents to eliminate possible griping, specially larger doses.   (37)


General Notes:    “…so effective for the liver that it is called the life, soul and treacle of the liver, purging…choler, phlegme and water humours.” — William Cole, 1656.  The rhubarb grown for cooking and eating is usually R. rhabarbarum.    (15)



(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 1091-92

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 228

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 20, 60, 167-68

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 89, 152-53

(22) Herbs and Herbal Formulas (booklet) by Mark Hershiser, pg. 16

(37) School of Natural Healing  by Dr. John R. Christopher, pgs. 183-188

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 172-73