Health Library Home>Natural & Alternative Treatments>Herbs & Supplements>Article



Rhubarb is a plant that is used in cooking and baking. The root has been used to ease digestion and improve organ function. Its leaves are poisonous and should not be eaten. Rhubarb can be taken as a juice or syrup. It can also be taken as a pill, powder, or extract. The root can also be made into a tea. The root can also be applied as a cream and has been used to ease cold sores.


There are no advised doses for rhubarb.

What Research Shows

Likely Effective

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) —likely to improve function when used with standard treatment A1
  • Pancreatitis —likely to improve symptoms when used with standard treatment F1- F3
  • System inflammation reaction syndrome (SIRS) —likely to ease inflammation when used with standard treatment I1
  • Weed killer poisoning —likely to improve prognosis when used with standard treatment J1, J2

May Be Effective

  • Herpes —may be as effective as standard care when combined with sage C1
  • Mouth sores —may help speed healing E1
  • Shigellosis —may ease diarrhea in children H1

Not Enough Data to Assess

  • Dysmenorrhea B1
  • High Cholesterol D1

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Safety Notes

It is likely safe to put rhubarb on the skin and to take rhubarb in small doses for a short time. You may have a change in urine color. Not enough studies have been done to say whether it is safe to use for a long period. Rhubarb may not be safe for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.G1


Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some can interfere with treatment or make conditions worse.



A. Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)

A1. Yang TZ, Liu Y, et al. The use of rheum palmatum L. in the treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2017;14(2):334-347.

B. Dysmenorrhea

B1. Rehman H, Begum W, et al. Effect of rhubarb (Rheum emodi) in primary dysmenorrhoea: a single-blind randomized controlled trial. J Complement Integr Med. 2015 Mar;12(1):61-69.

C. Herpes

C1. Saller R, Büechi S, et al. Combined herbal preparation for topical treatment of Herpes labialis. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2001 Dec;8(6):373-382.

D. High Cholesterol

D1. Goel V, Ooraikul B, et al. Cholesterol lowering effects of rhubarb stalk fiber in hypercholesterolemic men. J Am Coll Nutr. 1997 Dec;16(6):600-604.

E. Mouth Sores

E1. Rodríguez-Archilla A, Raissouni T. Randomized clinical trial of the effectiveness of complementary therapies for recurrent aphthous stomatitis. Med Clin (Barc). 2017 Jul 21;149(2):55-60.

F. Pancreatitis

F1. Wan B, Fu H, et al. Efficacy of rhubarb combined with early enteral nutrition for the treatment of severe acute pancreatitis: a randomized controlled trial. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2014;49(11):1375-1384.

F2. Zhou Y, Wang L, et al. Add-on effect of crude rhubarb to somatostatin for acute pancreatitis: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Ethnopharmacol. 2016;194:495-505.

F3. Hu J, Li P, et al. Rhubarb combined with trypsin inhibitor for severe acute pancreatitis: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytother Res. 2018;32(8):1450-1458.

G. Safety

G1. Samavati R, Ducza E, et al. Herbal laxatives and antiemetics in pregnancy. Reprod Toxicol. 2017 Sep;72:153-158.

H. Shigellosis

H1. Khiveh A, Hashempur MH, et al. Effects of rhubarb (Rheum ribes L.) syrup on dysenteric diarrhea in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Integr Med. 2017 Sep;15(5):365-372.

I. System inflammation reaction syndrome (SIRS)

I1. Zhang L, Chen J, et al. Adjuvant treatment with crude rhubarb for patients with systematic inflammation reaction syndrome/sepsis: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Crit Care. 2015;30(2):282-289.

J. Weed killer poisoning

J1. Wang L, Pan S. Adjuvant treatment with crude rhubarb for patients with acute organophosphorus pesticide poisoning: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complement Ther Med. 2015;23(6):794-801.

J2. Wang W, Li J, et al. [Effect of rhubarb as the main composition of sequential treatment in patients with acute paraquat poisoning: a prospective clinical research]. Zhonghua Wei Zhong Bing Ji Jiu Yi Xue. 2015;27(4):254-258.

Last reviewed July 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC  Last Updated: 3/30/2020