Agnia Losina-Losinskaja proposed classifying it in the section Palmata in the Flora SSSR in 1936. In the 1998 Flora Republicae popularis Sinicae A. R. Li maintains this classification for this species.
Its lobed leaves are large, jagged and hand-shaped, growing in width to two feet. Chinese rhubarb has thick, deep roots.
Rheum tanguticum, R. rhabarbarum and R. officinale and a few others, are all harvested for their roots, which are used as a herbal medicine. This became one of the most prominent items traded along the Silk Road. Imported roots of various rhubarb species were widely used in Europe for hundreds of years before the identity of the plant was eventually discovered. Some of the common names associated with Rheum palmatum—"Russian rhubarb", "Turkey rhubarb", and "Indian rhubarb"—are directly affiliated with the trade routes for rhubarb from China.
The root is known for its purported purging effects and suppressing fever. In ancient China, rhubarb root was taken to try to cure stomach ailments and as a "cathartic" (an agent used to relieve constipation), and used as a poultice for "fevers and edema" (swelling caused by fluid retention in the body tissues). It was given its Latin name by Carolus Linnaeus in the year 1759 and first grown in Britain around 1762.
Pregnant women should avoid all intake of the plant since it may cause uterine stimulation. If taken for an extended amount of time, adverse effects include: "hypertrophy of the liver, thyroid, and stomach, as well as nausea, griping, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea."
Though the root of the Chinese rhubarb is a key facet of herbal medicine, its leaves can actually be poisonous if consumed in large amounts due to the oxalic acid content. Patients with "arthritis, kidney problems, inflammatory bowel disease, or intestinal obstruction" should refrain from consumption.
With its large palmate leaves and tall panicles of pink flowers, Rheum palmatum is a bold statement plant for the temperate garden, that grows up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) tall and broad. It is hardy down to −20 °C (−4 °F). It is propagated by seed in the spring, or by root division in spring or autumn. It grows best in full sunlight in well-drained soil.
- ’Ace of Hearts’ - compact cultivar to 1.5 m (4.9 ft)
- ’Bowles’s Crimson’
- ’Hadspen Crimson’
Farming as medicinal herb
Since it is the roots and rhizome which serve as this plant's source of medicinal usage, special care is taken in their preparation. When 6–10 years old, the rhizomes of these plants are removed from the ground in the autumn when both its stems and leaves changed to yellow wild. Furthermore, the removal of the lateral rootlets and the crown are removed, leaving only the root. Any debris around the root is cleaned off, the coarse exterior bark removed, and the root cut and divided into cube-like pieces to increase its surface area, thereby decreasing the time needed for drying.
- "Rheum palmatum". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
- Eisenreich, Dan (1996–2010). "Rhubarb Botanical Information". The Rhubarb Compendium. Retrieved 2011-02-07.CS1 maint: date format (link)
- "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- Лозина-Лозинская, Агния Сергеевна (1936). "Rheum". In Комаро́в, Влади́мир Лео́нтьевич (ed.). Flora SSSR, Vol. 5 (in Russian). Moscow: Издателство Академии Наук СССР. p. 500-501.
- Ruirui, Liu; Wang, Ailan; Tian, Xinmin; Wang, Dongshi; Liu, Jianquan (2010). "Uniformity of karyotypes in Rheum (Polygonaceae), a species-rich genus in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau and adjacent regions". Caryologia Firenze. 63 (1): 82–90. doi:10.1080/00087114.2010.10589711. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
- Foster, Steven. Desk Reference to Nature's Medicine. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. pp. 104–105. ISBN 0-7922-3666-1.
- Chevallier, Andrew (2000). Natural Health: Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York, New York 10016: Dorling Kindersley. pp. 127. ISBN 0-7894-6783-6.CS1 maint: location (link)
- "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum palmatum". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
- "AGM Plants - Ornamental" (PDF). Royal Horticultural Society. July 2017. p. 84. Retrieved 27 September 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum 'Ace of Hearts'". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum palmatum 'Bowles's Crimson". Retrieved 23 September 2018.
- "RHS Plantfinder - Rheum palmatum 'Hadspen Crimson'". Retrieved 23 September 2018.