Medicinal Rhubarb History

Medicinal Rhubarb History
The various medicinal rhubarbs were native to Asia, Siberia, and Mongolia. The earliest records concerning medicinal rhubarb date to around 2700 B.C. when it was mentioned in Pen-King, a Chinese herbal. Historical sources don’t always specify which species is being used or exported.

The Greeks and Romans learned about the plant by around the third century A.D. They imported the dried roots for medicinal purposes. This appeared in the writings of Dioscorides in the 1st century A.D. He was the physician of Anthony and Cleopatra.

Arab and Jewish traders were moving the dried roots from China by caravan to faraway places, such as Baghdad by around 763 A.D. By the 10th century, this was a major export from China to western Asia. The plants were reportedly used medicinally in Iran and Syria by the 13th century.

The roots were also exported from areas of the Black Sea and Russia. However, the Chinese roots were said to be of better quality at that time.

In the Middle Ages (500 A.D.-1500 A.D.), Europeans imported rhubarb for herbal use. Marco Polo is credited with introducing medicinal rhubarb to Europe.

The East India Company was also involved in the importation of medicinal rhubarb to Europe. The roots were widely available at apothecaries in England and Europe in the 1770s.

In the 16th century, Europeans as well as the British were importing a lot of medicinal rhubarb and were paying tremendously high prices for this. Rhubarb was said to be “ten times the price of cinnamon and four times that of saffron.”

A lot of herbal rhubarb was also imported to American. Tons of the stuff arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries on the clipper ships from China.

Following trade negotiations between Russia and China in 1653, Russia was given the monopoly on the export of medicinal rhubarb. The plant was then called Russian rhubarb or crown rhubarb.

Prior to that, Europeans imported what was called East Indian rhubarb, which traveled through Alexandra. Europeans came to prefer the Russian roots and said the exports coming through the Arabs were adulterated.

Following a dispute between Russia and China in 1759, Qianlong, emperor of the Qing Dynasty, China halted all export of rhubarb to Russia.

In 1790, the emperor declared “that the western countries will have to do without tea and rhubarb.” This was apparently during the Opium Wars.

At that time, the imported rhubarb came from various countries, including Russia and China. Prior to that, some also came from Turkey and was known as Turkish rhubarb even though it wasn’t being grown in Turkey. Instead, Turkey acted as a middleman, importing the roots for resale to other countries.

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