Name: Medicinal Rhubarb (Rheum officinalis)
Otherwise known as: Chinese Rhubarb
Habitat: A perennial member of the Polygonaceae family growing in rich moist soils in most temperate climates, it has a thick, multi-branched rhizome with long, stemmed leaves which are broad and deeply veined and reddish in appearance with multi-branched stems containing cluster of dull white flowers.
What does it do: This variety is not the usual plant (Rheum x cultorum) we serve with custard. It is believed to be the ancient Sanskrit remedy ‘Soma’ for courage, wisdom and longevity.
Rhubarb contains anthraquinones, calcium oxalates, rutin, tannins and fatty acids; this makes it laxative, astringent, gastric-stimulant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, tonic and stomachic. Tincture of rhubarb was once the world’s most popular laxative and yet taken in small doses it is a cure for diarrhoea. It definitely has an affinity for the bowels; apart from treating the former, it is a traditional Chinese herbal treatment for dysentery, Crohn’s disease (chronic ulceration and inflammation of the gut), diverticulosis, (weakness of the colonic wall), and toxaemia arising from gluttony and gastroenteritis. It cleanses the liver, treats jaundice, gall bladder problems, fevers, abdominal pains and disperses blood clots. Applied topically it is a used to treat boils, ulcers and burns. R. raponticum is a known stimulant for the production of oestrogen and therefore may have value for those women experiencing the menopause.
Recent research in China suggests it will inhibit some cancer cells.
Boiled rhubarb leaves will remove rust and other stains from pans, it is particularly effective in cleaning stained aluminium, the root yields a yellow dye and the dried rhizome is used to polish brass
While all the stems are more or less edible, the leaves are toxic. Victorian gardeners valued solutions made from boiled rhubarb leaves as an effective insecticide.