Medicinal Rhubarb Edible? II
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Justin Nichols
Posted on: June 20, 2007

I read your posting on Rheum palmatum from May 2002 and the response by Lu Rongsen. I have never spoken with anyone who tried eating the chinese garden ornamental, though I know the root is commonly used as a laxative. Nonetheless, I tried it out this weekend in a strawberry-rhubarb compote.

Incidentally we made the same thing with standard rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) a few days prior, and this was harvested and prepared in the same manner.

Of the Rheum palmatum compote, I ate about a cup. I felt a bit odd shortly thereafter, and it made me quite ill about 5 hours later. There was a burning in my stomach and I had diarrhoea for 2 days. My thought, based purely on my single experience, is that there is a higher level of something, maybe oxalic acid or maybe something else; poison control told me there were higher levels of (she may have called them) anthocyanins in the petiole of Rheum palmatum than Rheum rhabarbarum, but that I should be fine after it cleared my system.

In short, my experience of this week tends to support not eating the plant.

Thank you for sharing this.

I am not surprised that Rheum palmatum proved to be inedible for you. You will note that we do not say it is edible in our catalogue.

I must say that I was always skeptical of Lu Rongsen’s claim that medicinal rhubarb was used as food by Tibetans. If it is edible it does not make sense to me that the Chinese people did not adopt the plant as a food plant. If the plant is edible then it most assuredly would have been tried during famines because it has been well known to the Chinese as a medicinal plant for centuries.

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