The name of this plant is believed to be derived from the Greek word for the verb “to flow.”
Substances in rhubarb root known as anthraquinones (or A-factors) are responsible for the herb’s laxative effects.
These A-factors appear to work in a sort of timed release fashion, with some reaching the large intestine and others first being reabsorbed by the small intestine before being released into the large intestine later.
As a result, the effects last longer but are much smoother than other herbal laxatives, such as cascara sagrada.
Besides having laxative properties, rhubarb root is also useful as an astringent and antiseptic. It can be used externally in compresses or poultices to treat burns, wounds, carbuncles and boils.
Rhubarb root contains tannins that balance its purgative properties by preventing diarrhea when the herb is used in smaller amounts. Rhubarb root is also an ingredient in some herbal mouthwashes. In China, researchers are conducting studies to determine whether this herb has anti-cancer properties as well.
When used as a laxative, rhubarb root can be taken in capsule or tablet form. Herbal laxatives often contain rhubarb root in addition to other herbs. Tinctures of rhubarb root are also available, and the dried root can be used in bulk or prepared as a tea. This herb is intended as a treatment for acute constipation or gastrointestinal problems.
It should not be taken for a long period of time as the bowels may become dependent upon it in order to function or it may mask a more serious medical problem. If symptoms persist for more than ten days, it is very important to consult a physician in order to rule out a serious underlying medical problem.
It is important to be aware that the leaves of rhubarb plants contain high amounts of toxic substances known as oxalates. For this reason, the plant’s leaves should never be ingested. Oxalates are also present in the root, but not in concentrations high enough to be a problem for healthy people.
However, rhubarb root should not be used by people with kidney disease, including kidney stones. It should also not be taken by children under twelve years of age, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding or people who have been diagnosed with colitis or an obstruction in the intestinal tract.
Also, people who are taking any kind of blood medications, including blood thinners or other laxatives should consult with their medical provider before taking rhubarb root. Note that this herb may turn urine dark yellow or red, but this is not a cause for alarm.
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