Rhubarb: what it is, properties, benefits, botany, contraindications, uses in the kitchen and recipes

Rhubarb: what it is, properties, benefits, botany, contraindications, uses in the kitchen and recipes

Rhubarb is a plant best known for its laxative and purgative properties. The bitter root is rich in beneficial substances for our body and in particular exerts an incomparable purgative action. Furthermore, the stem, with a fruity-sour taste, is used as the main ingredient to make excellent jams, savory or sweet cakes. The juice of the plant is also an effective natural remedy for regulating the intestines.

The edible part of the vegetable is the stem, which can be eaten both raw and cooked. The stem is characterized by a peculiar shade of red. On the contrary, the leaves, rich in oxalic acid, being toxic, are not edible.

But what does rhubarb taste like? It depends on the variety. In fact, the one with green stem and flesh has a bitter and very sour taste. The red-stemmed, green-fleshed variety is less bitter but a little sour, while the red-stemmed, red-fleshed rhubarb has a sweeter flavor.

The Asian shrub, despite boasting numerous therapeutic properties, is not free from contraindications.

Rhubarb – what is it

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a perennial herbaceous plant of the Polygonaceae family, native to Asia, especially China and Tibet. It has been known since ancient times for its fleshy and edible stems with therapeutic properties. The stalks are usually dark green or red in color and have a texture similar to celery. The taste of rhubarb is sour, but it varies according to the different varieties of the plant. It is often used in the kitchen to prepare desserts, jams and syrups.

It is composed of a long stem, usually reddish in color, with large leaves at the top, which however are not used in the kitchen. In fact, the coasts are generally used for the preparation of jams and cakes.

It has interesting medicinal properties and has been traditionally used to treat digestive problems and other intestinal ailments.

However, some parts of the plant, such as the leaves, are toxic when eaten in large quantities, so it’s important to use only the stems.

There are different varieties of rhubarb, each with different nuances of taste: those with green stem and flesh have a more sour taste, while the variants with red stem and flesh are distinguished by a sweeter and less acidic taste.

Active ingredients of rhubarb

There are some active ingredients of particular interest for health in rhubarb. For example, the purgative action of the plant would be attributable to some chemical substances called dimeric sennosides.

There is no shortage of anthraquinones which can be considered as the main chemical constituents of the rhubarb plant. These are compounds belonging to the glycoside family and are divided into free and combined. The former include the following organic compounds: rhein, emodin, aloe-emodin, chrysophanol and fiscione.

In particular, rhein exerts a protective action on the kidneys and improves lipid disorders. Emodin, on the other hand, has interesting pharmacological properties:

  • Reduces hypertension.
  • Improve microcirculation.
  • Lowers the concentration of lipids in the blood.

Chrysophanol carries out a protective action on the nervous system as well as reducing the damage caused by free radicals. Instead, the wisteria has neuroprotective properties.

Emodin aloe has interesting therapeutic virtues. In fact, it is an excellent anti-inflammatory, an antifungal, an antibacterial and has an excellent purgative action.

Finally, the anthrons and diantrons are characteristic chemical components of rhubarb and are considered to be mainly responsible for the purgative activity of rhubarb.

Nutritional values ​​of rhubarb

Rhubarb has an interesting nutritional profile. Calories are 71 per 100 g and there is no shortage of sugars and dietary fibers. Calories however may vary based on preparation. In fact, rhubarb pulp, given its slightly bitter taste, is often mixed with a considerable amount of sugar.

But what exactly does rhubarb contain? Inside the stem there are precious mineral salts such as potassium and phosphorus, but also vitamins.

In particular, the presence of vitamin C stands out, which is involved in numerous metabolic processes and protects cells from oxidative stress. On the other hand, the typical flavor of rhubarb is determined by fruit acids, such as citric and malic acids, also present in apples.

However, what characterizes this plant are precisely the phytocompounds of which it is rich and which play a beneficial role for some organic functions.

Properties of rhubarb per 100 g

Water80.83 g
Energy71 kcal
Protein0.81 g
Lipids0.22 g
Carbohydrates17.45 g
Fibre1.6 g
Sugars14.4 g
Soccer73 mg
Ferro0.2 mg
Magnesium11 mg
Phosphorus13 mg
Potassium233 mg
Sodium4 mg
Selenium1.1 µg
Vitamin C5.7 µg
folate4 µg
Hill5.5 µg
Vitamin A4 µg
Beta carotene46 µg
Lutein + zeaxanthin129 µg
Vitamin K26.3 µg

What rhubarb is good for: properties and benefits

To prepare phytotherapeutic remedies or drugs, rhubarb roots and the rhizome, the underground part of the stem, are used, since they contain molecules with potentially pharmacological and therapeutic action.

These are molecules with a laxative effect (sennosides) and which act on the intestine by increasing its motility (hemodic). Rhubarb also contains active ingredients that exert an antimicrobial action, have a positive effect on cholesterol levels and promote the health of the intestinal mucosa.

Let’s find out the main benefits of rhubarb.

Natural remedy to regulate the intestine

Rhubarb is mainly used to treat occasional constipation. However, the remedy should only be used for short periods of time.

The Asian plant acts, similarly to other laxatives, through a dual mechanism. On the one hand, sennosides and reinosides stimulate intestinal motility by accelerating the transit of faeces. On the other hand, there is an increase in cell permeability which helps to increase the concentration of water within the large intestine.

Furthermore, due to the presence of tannins in the chemical composition of rhubarb, the purgative action is followed by an astringent effect.

The phytopreparations based on the medicinal plant fall into the class of occasional laxatives, therefore, they should not be used in the treatment of chronic constipation.

The effects are not expressed before six hours after administration. Sometimes you have to wait up to 24 hours for the remedy to take effect. The active ingredients present in rhubarb, once absorbed, color the urine with a shade ranging from yellowish-brown to purplish-red.

Friend of the liver and blood circulation

The anthraquinones and tannins present in rhubarb exert a dual action on the liver, not only for protection but also for repairing damage.

The effect of anthraquinones on the liver, according to some studies, has shown a marked improvement in liver fibrosis and in the treatment of problems affecting this organ which is so important for health.

Rhubarb also affects hemostasis, stopping bleeding. It also greatly improves plasma viscosity and hematocrit.

The action on haemostasis is mainly exerted by chrysophanol and tannins. Chrysophanol accelerates clotting times, increases the number of platelets and promotes local vasoconstriction.

Hypolipidemic action

The Asian plant is able to reduce the high concentration of lipids present in the blood. It also lowers levels of “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, resulting from a high-fat diet.

Rhein and emodin manage to regulate the presence of lipids, block the formation of hyperlipidemia and prevent the onset of diseases affecting the cardiovascular system such as atherosclerosis.

Rhubarb protects the bladder

The Chinese plant exerts an effective protective action on the kidneys. This property is due to the coexistence of different pharmacological activities attributable to the medicinal plant. Fundamental are:

  • Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory activity.
  • Strengthening of immunization.
  • Diuretic effect.
  • Metabolism regulation.

Respiratory function and anti-inflammatory action

Rhubarb is used in the treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome, as it improves oxygenation. Some research has then found some interesting therapeutic effects in the treatment of other pathologies that cause respiratory failure.

The Asian plant also exerts an interesting anti-inflammatory action and is used to treat inflammation of various kinds and entities. The anti-inflammatory effect is exerted by emodin, rhein and aloe emodin. Specifically, emodin is able to interfere with the cytokines that cause inflammation, reducing them.

Excellent antibacterial

Scientific studies show that the anthraquinones present in rhubarb have a powerful antibacterial activity against various bacterial strains. Rhubarb exerts this property by modifying the permeability of the membrane, blocking the synthesis of proteins and affecting the respiratory metabolism.

In addition, emodin is capable of destroying the cytomembrane structure of the bacterium staphylococcus aureus.


Rhubarb therefore possesses some medicinal properties which make it useful in different treatments. However, it is important to highlight that most of the research on rhubarb’s health effects is still in the preliminary stages and more studies are needed to confirm its potential benefits.

Among the possible …