Is the Chinese Rhubarb, Rheum palmatum ‘Atrosanguineum’, Medicinal?
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Chris A. Pappas
Posted on: May 14, 2007

My understanding is that Rheum officinale and Rheum palmatum are both considered as medicinal species. My concern is whether or not varietals of these are also medicinal or merely ornamental. While I have found sources that claim that all palmatum are considered equally medicinal, I can find no direct referrence to Atrosanguineus (black and red) to being a medicinal variety. Any direct referrence to Atrosanguineus that I have read only refers to it as an ornamental. I would greatly appreciate your assistance and in this matter.

Although this form of rhubarb is sometimes known by the varietal name ‘Atrosanguineus’ the correct spelling is with an "n" as in ‘Atrosanguineum’. The name ‘Atropurpurem’ is also used in the trade for this variety.

Centuries ago when medicinal rhubarb was a highly sought after medicine, the Europeans were eager to find the source of the roots. The best roots came from China and Tibet but in an apparent attempt to obscure the true origin of the herb traders called the roots "Turkey rhubarb". Still the Europeans persisted in tracking down the plant and over the years a number of candidate plants were brought back to Europe for cultivation. The trouble was that all of the various species and varieties brought back failed to produce roots of quality to match the best of the Chinese and Tibetan material. Whether the plantings failed because of the different environmental conditions or because of cultivation practices or because the wrong plant material was grown, is not clear. But European gardeners took a liking to the beautiful exotic-looking foliage and the majestic displays of flowers and the plant was adopted as an ornamental plant. The lovely ‘Atrosanguineum’ form persists in cultivation today.

It is possible that ‘Atrosanguineum’ is good medicinally. But if you want to be sure it may be better to start with a variety that you know is grown for the medicinal herbs industry. Richters has tried to find what we believe to be the correct form of medicinal rhubarb. Our ‘Gansu Strain’ seeds come from a commercial rhubarb farm Gansu Province in China. Parts of Gansu include traditional Tibetan areas which once belonged to Tibet. For more information, please see:

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