The Forager's Path - School of Botanical Studies

Plant Profile: Desert Rhubarb

Botanical Name: Canaigre, Desert rhubarb, Rumex hymenosepalus
Rumex hymenosepalus


Common Names:
Red Dock, Desert Rhubarb, Wild Rhubarb

Part Used for Medicine:

Habitat in Which it is Found/ Harvesting Season/ Special Considerations:
It is found in sandy areas between 3,000’ and 6,000’.
Common in the Verde Valley and the many sandy areas around Page, Arizona.
The farthest north I have encountered it is near Moab, Utah.

This is a plant that is out of sight for much of the year, surviving the heat of summer by retreating underground into its moist tubers. In northern Arizona, it grows above ground in March and April and dies back soon after blooming and setting seeds. It is usually not seen beyond mid-May. On rare occasions, I have seen it have a late autumn growth spurt if the rains and warmth come together.

Energy & Tastes:
The stem and petiole are sour. The tubers are very drying (astringent)

The tuber is very high in tannin
The leaves are high in oxalic acid and should not be eaten.

Therapeutic Uses:
I find the tannin content of the tubers too strong to use internally unless highly diluted. They are best used as an external wash or soak when an astringent is called for. This may include poison ivy, mosquito bites or other skin inflammation.The tightening effect of astringents can also act as a hemostatic.

This astringent water extract can also be used as a gargle for sore throat or an oral rinse to tighten gums. It is not meant to be swallowed.

Preferred Method of Preparation:
The flexible stem and petiole are eaten fresh and can be nibbled on in the field or added to any vegetable dish. They taste like traditional garden rhubarb and can be used in similar ways.

The tubers are thinly sliced while still fresh, then allowed to dry. They can then be added to water for a topical astringent preparation or used in a dry powdered mix, depending on the desired end result.

Safety Issues & Contraindications:
The only edible parts of the plant are the main stem and the petiole (stem of the leaf) Do not eat the leaves as they are high in oxalic acid.

The Plant Profiles are brief materia medica summaries of plants encountered during plant walks or introduced during class on our longer programs. They are presented here to help students organize plant info on an ongoing basis. Although the Profiles are not meant to be comprehensive, they are offered here to the public in the hope that others find these pages useful.



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