Medicinal Rhubarb (Da Huang)
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Michael Whynot
Posted on: March 13, 2002

In your 2002 catalogue you offer Chinese Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum) in dried root form but not the seeds, although you do offer Roundleaf Da Huang seeds. Is it possible to get the seeds for this herb?

We are conducting trials on various medicinal rhubarbs from China and Tibet. We hope to be able to offer seeds or plants of the true da huang within a year or two. But true da huang is proving to be very difficult to source. Part of the problem is that the Chinese themselves are imprecise about what botanical species is meant by "da huang". For sure, we know that several different species are used as "da huang". Every supposedly authentic seed lot from China that we have tried to date has proved not to conform with the Rheum palmatum or R. tanguticum forms (with palmate leaves).

As Clifford Foust wrote in his book, "Rhubarb: The Wondrous Drug" (Princeton University Press, 1992) there has been a 300 year history of trying to hide the true source of medicinal rhubarb. Even the name ‘Turkey rhubarb’ is an obfuscation by traders because the herb does not grow in Turkey, it just passed through there to Europe from Asia.

We have grown R. palmatum from European sources that does have the correct leaf form and does appear be the correct species, but we suspect that European material is not right, and we have similar doubts about seeds and plants that are currently offered in the trade in North America. Typically seeds of the European material is sold for ornamental purposes which is an indication that it is not the true medicinal form.

We have a full time Chinese medicinal herbs specialist working on this problem and we are hopeful that we will eventually source seeds of the true variety from the same regions where the dried root is obtained.

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