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Rheum webbianum royle: A potential medicinal


plant from trans-himalayan cold deserts of
Ladakh, India
Article October 2012

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Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New D

National Botanical Research Institute - India

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Raj Kumar

Pankti R. Bhatt

DIHAR (DRDO)

University of Pennsylvania

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Retrieved on: 24 June 2016

Plant Archives Vol. 12 No. 2, 2012 pp. 603-606

ISSN 0972-5210

Review Article

RHEUM WEBBIANUM ROYLE : A POTENTIAL MEDICINAL PLANT


FROM TRANS-HIMALAYAN COLD DESERTS OF LADAKH, INDIA
A. Tayade, P. Dhar, B. Ballabh1, Raj Kumar, O.P. Chaurasia*, R.P. Bhatt2, R.B. Srivastava
Defence Institute of High Altitude Research, Defence R. & D. Organization, Leh-Ladakh - 901 205, India.
Defence Institute of Bio-Energy Research, Defence R. & D. Organization, Goraparao, PO-Arjunpur, Haldwani, India.
2
Directorate of Life Sciences, Defence R. & D. Organization, DRDO Head Quarter, New Delhi, India.

Abstract
In recent years, a numerous studies had been conducted in all over the world to explore the traditional medicinal system as
a resource of complementary and alternative medicine. The Indian indigenous drugs from the medicinal plants also have
great importance, both professional and economical point of view. Rheum webbianum Royle commonly known as Rhubarb,
is an important medicinal plant, belonging to the family Polygonaceae. It is commonly used for the management of renal
function disorders, hyperlipidemia, cancer and improves the memory in senile patients. R. webbianum, R. speciformae, R.
tibetana and R. orcroftianum are the commonly found species in cold arid zones of India. The Rheum species contains a
number of anthraquinone derivatives. The free anthraquinones viz. rhein, emodin, aloe-emodin, physcion, and chrysophamol
are present in nearly all species. Stilbene glycosides, including rhaponticin and the metabolite rhapontigenin, have been
identified in the root. Tannins, sennosides, catechins, gallic acid, and cinnaminic acid have been identified. Keeping in view
the utility of this plant in certain herbal products and traditional medicine, conservation and sustainable utilization of this rare
species is the urgent need of present hour. This will not only provide raw material but also provide resource generation for
economic development for the local population in the cold arid high altitude regions of Ladakh Himalaya.
Key words : Rheum webbianum, Trans-Himalaya, anthraquinones, renal function disorder, hyperlipidemia, anti-inflammatory
action, cancer and dry wool.

Introduction
Rheum webbianum Royle is an important medicinal
plant belonging to the family Polygonaceae. It is commonly
known as Himalayan Rhubarb in English, Ravanchini
in Hindi, xu mi da huang in Chinese, Chotal in Pakistan
and Lachhu or Chu-rtsa in Ladakh. It is native to
Asia-Temperate to Asia-Tropical, from China to India,
Nepal and Pakistan. In India, it is found in Himachal
Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh. In Jammu
and Kashmir, it is grown on open slopes and shrubberies
in Kashmir, Leh and Zansker valley between 3,105- 3,920
m above mean sea level (Chaurasia et al., 2007; http://
www.ars-grin.gov).
R. webbianum is a large herb, 0.5-1.5 m tall. Stem
stout, hollow, finely sulcate, glabrous or papilliferous on
upper part. Petiole of basal leaf shorter than blade, stout,
papilliferous. Radical leaves with 30-45 cm long petiole;
leathery, orbicular to reniform, cordate, obtuse or
subacute, entire, 5-7-nerved, papillose or glabrous, 10-50

cm across; upper leaves smaller. Inflorescence diffusely


branched, mostly axillary, less commonly terminal, up to
1 m tall panicle. Flowers 2.0-2.5 mm across, ebracteate,
pedicel 3-5 mm long, filiform, pale yellowish. Fruit broadly
oblong or orbicular, 8-10 mm across, winged, notched on
both sides. Seeds narrowly ovoid-ellipsoid. Its
chromosome number is 2n = 44. It flowers between JuneSeptember (http://www.efloras.org).
The genus is represented by about 60 extant species
(Wang et al., 2005). Commonly found species in cold
arid zones of India are Rheum webbianum, R.
Speciformae, R. tibetana and R. morcroftianum.
Another species, the Sikkim Rhubarb (R. nobile) is
limited to the Eastern Himalayas. Rheum species have
been recorded as larval food plants for some Lepidoptera
species including brown-tail, buff ermine, cabbage moth,
large yellow underwing, and nutmeg moth.
The stalks, which are petioles, can be cooked in a
variety of ways. Stewed, they yield a tart sauce that can

*Author for correspondence- E-mail: dropchaurasiadihardrdo@gmail.com

604

a.

A. Tayade et al.

b.

c.

Fig. 1 : a. Rheum webbianum Royle plant in cultivation, b. Plants in flowering stage, c. Leaf stalks of Rheum.

be eaten with sugar and stewed fruits are used as filling


for pies, tarts and crumbles. Cooked with strawberries
or apples as a sweetener, or with stem or root ginger,
Rhubarb makes excellent jam. It can also be used to
make wine. In former days, a common and affordable
sweet for children in parts of the United Kingdom and
Sweden was a tender stick of Rhubarb, dipped in sugar
(http://www.wakefield.gov.uk).
The roots, stems, leaves and leaf-stalks are purgative
and are beneficial in treating indigestion, abdominal
diseases, astringent, boils, purgative, wounds and
flatulence. The roots are diuretic, laxative, purgative,
febrifuge; used against indigestion, wounds and gastritis
etc (Chaurasia et al., 2007). Rhubarb is extensively used
in traditional Chinese medicine. Rhubarb has been studied
for the management of gastrointestinal (GI) and renal
function disorders, and for the treatment of hyperlipidemia
and cancer. Dried Rhubarb extract 20 to 50 mg/kg daily
has been used in clinical trials (Srinivas et al., 2007 and
Huang et al., 2007). Traditional Chinese medicine
suggests Rhubarb improves the memory in senile patients
(Tian et al., 1997). Roots of this plant give a yellow color
and also contain a number of derivatives and are used to
dye wool and silk fibres. The main colouring component
is chrysophanic acid, when extracted found to be
associated with a number of compounds (http://
www.fibre2fashion.com).
The Rheum species contains a number of
anthraquinone derivatives. The free anthraquinones viz.
rhein, emodin, aloe-emodin, physcion and chrysophamol
are present in nearly all species. Stilbene glycosides,
including rhaponticin and the metabolite rhapontigenin,
have been identified in the root. Tannins, sennosides,
catechins, gallic acid and cinnaminic acid have been
identified (Peigen et al., 1984; Li et al., 2000; Zhu et al.,
2005 and Misiti et al., 2006). Lindleyin, a phytochemical
with estrogenic activity, has also been described (Usui et
al., 2002). Oxalic acid, as well as 2-methylbutanol and 4methylhexanol are present in the leaf blades (Lust, 1974;

Dregus et al., 2003). The actions of emodin, aloe-emodin,


rhein, and hydroxyanthraquinones in managing cancer
have been reviewed. Cell cycle inhibition of many human
cancer lines has been observed in vitro. Apoptosis, as
well as antitumor action, has been demonstrated and
Rhubarb extract has been suggested as an adjunct to
chemotherapy. Antiangiogenic action of Rhubarb has also
been shown (Srinivas et al., 2007; Huang et al., 2007;
Wang et al., 2007; Cai et al., 2008; Cui et al., 2008 and
Lin et al., 2003). It has been used in cases of GI bleeds
to eliminate extravasated blood (Jiao et al., 1980 and
Srinivas et al., 2007). Rhubarb appears to be a potential
source of dietary fiber with a lipid-lowering effect. It has
been proposed that Rhubarb exerts its effects on
cholesterol by inhibition of squalene epoxidase (Abe et
al., 2000). This enzyme is thought to catalyze the ratelimiting step in cholesterol biogenesis. An antiinflammatory action has also been suggested (Liu et al.,
2008). The anthraquinone derivatives of Rhubarb have
been used as antifungal and molluscicidal agents. Rhein
has in vitro antimicrobial activity against a wide spectrum
of gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria (Cyong et
al., 1987; Liu et al., 1997; Agarwal et al., 2000; Tegos et
al., 2002 and Huang et al., 2007). An extract of rhubarb
stalk has been used as a dental desensitizer. Calcium
oxalate crystals form and occlude the dentinal tubules
responsible for sensitization (Sauro et al., 2006). In vitro
studies and in vivo experiments in fish show that rhubarb
extract possesses estrogenic activity, which has been
suggested to be caused by the chemical lindleyin (Usui
et al., 2002). Rheum emodi roots possess
hepatoprotective principles that can prevent and/or treat
liver damage due to paracetamol (Akhtar et al., 2009).
The bioassay-guided chemical examination of the
rhizomes of R. emodi resulted in the isolation of two new
oxanthrone esters, revandchinone-1, revandchinone-2, a
new anthraquinone ether revandchinone-3 and a new
oxanthrone ether, revandchinone-4 (Babu et al., 2003).
The in vitro efficacy of R. emodi plant extracts was

R. webbianum Royle : A Potential Medicinal Plant from Trans-Himalayan Cold Deserts of Ladakh, India

tested to control brinjal wilt pathogen Fusarium solani


(Joseph et al., 2008).
Defence Institute of High Altitude Research
(DIHAR), Leh has established an herbal garden in its
premises to cultivate the alpine medicinal plants.
Propagation methods of Rheum webbianum were
standardized through seed germination trials and root
cuttings. Mass scale cultivation of R. webbianum was
carried out in experimental fields. Roots of this plant can
be harvested at 3-4 years of maturity to achieve maximum
yield. Survivability and yield parameters were also
recorded for five subsequent harvestings. 2.5 Kg/plant
yield, 90% survivability through root cuttings and 85%
survivability through sexual propagation was achieved.
The roots were also analyzed for biochemical analysis
and it was found rich in rhein and aloin. The root powder
is already being used in the various herbal products like
Herbal Appetizer, Herbal Antioxidant Supplement etc.
developed by DIHAR. Leaf stalks contain 70-90% fresh
juice which has 2% of oxalic acid content. To neutralize
oxalic acid concentration calcium carbonate treatment
was carried out and up to 95% of the original oxalic acid
was reduced. This juice can be utilized for development
of herbal beverages and other products.

Conclusion
With the distinctive traditional medical opinions and
natural medicines mainly originated in plants, traditional
medicine offers good clinical opportunities. Still there is a
need of apposite phytochemical investigations for its roots
and leaf stalks to identify novel bio-active components
for development of new drugs and herbal products.
Keeping in view the utility of this plant in certain herbal
products and traditional medicine, conservation and
sustainable utilization of this rare species is the urgent
need of present hour. This will not only provide raw
material but also provide resource generation for
economic upliftment for the local population in the cold
arid high altitude regions of Ladakh Himalaya. With this
kind of exploration it would be easier to treat and prevent
the high altitude maladies caused by the harsh climatic
conditions and free radical mediated damages.

Acknowledgement
The authors are grateful to Defence Research &
Development Organizations for supporting the research
projects. We thank all Amchies of Leh, Ladakh, for
sharing their traditional knowledge and also thank
technical staffs who cooperated in the cultivation practices
and all fellow colleagues of the DIHAR lab to process
this venture properly, successfully for the completion of
this task.

605

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