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The stalk of the intensely flavored rhubarb plant has been used in European cooking since the 17th century. Prior to that, rhubarb species were utilized medicinally in Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine . Traditional uses include treatment of constipation, diarrhea, fever, menstrual problems, jaundice, sores (when applied topically), ulcers, and burns.
Although there are many species of rhubarb, the one most studied is Rheum rhaponticum.
Rhubarb root contains lindleyin, a substance with estrogen-like properties. On this basis, extracts of rhubarb have been tried for control of menopausal symptoms. In a 12-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 109 women with menopause-related problems, use of a standardized Rheum rhaponticum extract significantly improved symptoms as compared to placebo. Improvements were particularly seen in rate and severity of hot flashes. While this is meaningful supporting evidence, additional independent trials will be necessary to establish this rhubarb extract as a safe and effective treatment for menopause.
One human trial purportedly found evidence that rhubarb could reduce the impairment of lung function that may occur when people with lung cancer receive [radiation...
As a widely consumed food, rhubarb is thought to be relatively safe if consumed in moderation. However, the plant contains high levels of oxalic acid, and rhubarb consumption can markedly increase oxalic acid levels in the urine. 1 2 3 This could lead to increased risk of kidney stones , as well as other problems. Rhubarb leaf contains the highest oxalic acid content. The roots and stems contain less oxalic acid, but higher levels of anthraquinones, laxative substances similar to those found in senna or cascara. It is safest to use rhubarb standardized extracts processed to removed oxalic acid.