Rheum Palmatum (Da Huang)

rhubarb rootRheum Palmatum root, also known as Da Huang, is one of the most common Chinese herbs. According to incomplete statistics, currently there are 801 kinds of compounds in the proprietary Chinese medicines that contain rhubarb. As you can see, it has very extensive clinical applications, involving internal medicine, surgery, gynecology, pediatrics, orthopedics, and more. Owing to its powerful efficacy and apt descending purgation, it cures severe and lingering illness over and over again. As a result, it is often regarded as the general. In TCM’s view, the way it treats diseases is just like an intrepid general breaks through the enemy lines and captures the castle swiftly.

What is rheum palmatum?

Rhubarb collectively refers to a variety of perennials in the family Polygonum. It comes with a few different common names, such as Turkish rhubarb, Indian rhubarb, Chinese rhubarb, and Russian rhubarb. But in different contexts this herb has different definitions. In TCM it is known as the rhubarb root or Radix et Rhizoma Rhei in Latin, namely the dried root and rhizome of Rheum palmatum L., Rheum tanguticum Maxim. ex Balf., or Rheum officinale Baill. But in USA, Europe and the Middle East, it tends to mean a few edible species of the genus Rheum, mainly the R. rhabarbarum. There it is usually consumed as fruit instead of vegetable.

A perennial tall herb, in its natural habitat rhubarb plants usually grow in forest edge near the mountain or grassy slopes, wild or cultivated. It has stout rhizomes. Stems are erect, about 2m high, hollow, smooth, and hairless. Large basal leaves are with stout fleshy long handle, which is in similar length with the leaf. Inflorescence is large panicles, with terminal flowers. Pedicels are slender and with joints in the middle to lower part. Flowers are purplish red or mixed with red purple. Dark brown achene has 3 ridges, wings along the ridges, hollow top, and heart-shaped base. It blossoms from June to July and fruits from July to August.

Rheum palmatum has anthraquinone glycosides and dianthrone glycosides, which are the main cause why it is used as a laxative. Compared to its aglycone, these components have a stronger purgative effect. Anthraquinone glycosides include Chrysophanol-1-monoglucoside or Chrysophaein, Emodin-6-monoglucoside, Aloe-emodin-8-monoglucoside, Physcion monoglucoside, Rhein-8-monoglucoside. And Rheum palmatum L. alson contains Emodin diglucosi-de, Aloe-emodin diglucosi-de, and Chrysophanol diglucoside. Dianthrone glycosides include Sennoside A、B、C、D、E、F. Free anthraquinones include Chrysophanol, Emodin, Physcion, Aloe-emodin, Rhein, and so on. In addition, rhubarb also contains fatty acid, calcium oxalate, glucose, fructose and starch.

Rheum palmatum benefits

In addition to culinary use, as previously mentioned rhubarb-based formulas can be the remedies to a variety of diseases. And now let’s explore a little deeper on what exact health benefits it can do to us.


1. Rhubarb can increase peristalsis, inhibit intestinal absorption of water and promote defecation;

2. Rhubarb has anti-inflammatory effects on a variety of Gram-positive and-negative bacteria. The most sensitive ones are staphylococcus and streptococcus, which are followed by diphtheria, typhoid and paratyphoid bacillus, pneumococcus, Shigella, and so on;

3. Rhubarb also inhibits influenza virus;

4. Rhubarb cause constipation after the diarrhea due to the tannin contained;

5. Rhubarb has cholagogue and stomachic effects;

6. Rhubarb stops bleeding, protect liver, lower blood pressure, reduce serum cholesterol, and more.

Popular rhubarb root related Chinese herbal formulas

On the basis of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), rheum palmatum herb is viewed as bitter and cold in properties. It covers 5 meridians, including spleen, stomach, large intestine, liver, and pericardium. Its key functions are purgating heat and bowels, detox and cooling the blood, and restoring menstrual flow by expelling blood stasis. Its basic indications and uses are constipation due to excess heat, abdominal pain induced indigestion, dysentery and diarrhea, damp-heat jaundice, spitting blood and nose bleeding due to blood heat, hot eyes, sore throat, abdominal pain due to appendicitis, carbuncle and boils, amenorrhea caused by blood stasis, traumatic injury. Rhubarb root parched in wine is good at clearing blood aspect heat-toxicity in upper warmer and it is mainly used for red eyes, sore throat, and gingivitis; cooked rhubarb has relatively weak purgative effect and is used for skin and external diseases due to heat-toxicity; charred rhubarb works to cool blood heat, remove blood stasis and stop bleeding so that it is usually used for hemorrhagic fever accompanied with stasis. Usual dosage is from 3 to 30 grams, decocted later if used in purgation. In external use, apply appropriate amount of powder on the affected area.

Da Huang Mu Dan Tang

This formula comes from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is primarily designed for treatment of abdominal pain due to periappendicular abscess. Other major herbal ingredients are Mu Dan Pi (Tree Peony Root Cortex), Tao Ren (Peach Seed), and Mang Xiao (Mirabilite).

Da Huang Zhe Chong Wan

This prescription is also from Jin Gui Yao Lue. It is mainly formulated for stasis induced abdominal mass, amenorrhea, pelvic mass, endometriosis, secondary infertility, and more. Other major herbs include Tu Bie Chong (Wingless Cockroach), Shui Zhi (Leech), Meng Chong (Gadfly), Qi Cao (grub), Tao Ren, Huang Qin (Scutellaria), and so on.

Da Huang Fu Zi Tang

It comes also from Jin Gui Yao Lue. In this formula rhubarb combines with Fu Zi (Prepared Aconite Root) and Xi Xin (Chinese Wild Ginger) to cure acute appendicitis, acute intestinal obstruction, biliary colic, chronic dysentery, uremia and other diseases.

Da Huang Jiang Zhi Wan

This comes from Jiang Xi Zhong Yi Yao (Jiangxi Chinese Medicine). It is mainly used for hyperviscosity. Other key herbs include Hu Zhang (Bushy Knotweed Root), Zhi Shi (Immature Bitter Orange), Shan Zha (Hawthorn Fruit), Dan Shen (Salvia Root), and Dan Nan Xing (Jack in the Pulpit Rhizome and Bile).

Da Huang Gan Cao Tang

This is a famous formula from Jin Gui Yao Lue, in which rheum palmatum herb couples with Gan Cao (Licorice Root) to treat gastrointestinal heat, hiccup, vomiting right after eating, and more.

Potential rhubarb side effects and contraindications

Rhubarb is generally considered less toxic and safer in clinical application. However, overdose can cause poisoning, especially when it is decocted later. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, abdominal cramps, jaundice and so on. After given a certain dosage for a certain duration, the rats and mice may lead to somewhat renal toxicity and carcinogenicity mainly because the side effect of Anthraquinone and Emodin.

TCM wise, Rheum Palmatum (Da Huang) is a violent cathartic drug, which could hurt vital Qi. As a result, it shouldn’t be abused in the case of deficiency. And it is cold and bitter in nature, which is likely to injure stomach Qi. So use it with care in those suffering from deficiency of spleen and stomach. What’s more, rhubarb is also a descending herb, which makes it a good herb of removing blood stasis. Thus it should be avoided by women during pregnancy, menstrual period, and lactation.

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