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.1 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 standardizedRheum rhaponticum.extract significantly improved symptoms as compared to placebo.2 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.

Other potential uses of rhubarb lack reliable supporting evidence.

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 therapy.16 However, this study suffered from a number of significant flaws, and its results cannot be regarded as reliable.

In another human trial, this one using a cream containing sage and rhubarb, researchers failed to find more than modest benefits at most for the treatment of herpes.3

Additional proposed uses of rhubarb are supported only by test tube studies. For example, various rhubarb species have shown hints of potential value for treatment ofdiabetes,4kidney disease,5liver disease6,7, allergies,8and pancreatitis.9 However, the vast majority of effects seen in test tube studies do not pan out when human trials are conducted.