Rumex hymenosepalus Torr.
- Wild Pieplant
- Wild Rhubarb
In recent times, canaigre, which is basically the root of the plant Rumex hymenosepalus Torr., has been sold commercially under contemporary period brand names such as wild red desert ginseng or the wild red American ginseng. Rumex hymenosepalus belongs to the plant family Polygonaceae that is indigenous to the deserts located in the south-western regions of the United States and Mexico. However, it needs to be noted that this herb does not have any type of relation either in the active elements enclosed by it or botanically to ginseng – which actually is a member of an entirely different family known as the Araliaceae.
Canaigre bears flowers that are in thick bunch appearing in straight, slender and terminal panicles. The separate blooms are minute, each having six tepals (three internal and three external). The internal three tepals develop into the form of airborne, three-sided, pale pink and heart-shaped fruits. The leaves of the herb have stipules akin to sheath and are plump and deep green, while their form varies from lance-shaped to the shape of a heart. Canaigre leaves usually grow up to a length of one foot or 30 cm and are mainly basal or are present in the lower part of the short stems of the herb. The stems of this herb have distended joints which are also plump, straight and generally having a shade of red. The roots of canaigre resemble tubers, contain rich amounts of tannin and may be employed to manufacture dyes for coloring fabric.
Text promoting canaigre suggests that the old herbals recommended this herbal medicine for treating a host of maladies that varied from deficiency of energy to leprosy. It is really unfortunate that the authors who wrote these reports in some manner failed to take account of references and, hence, an assessment of herbal literature does not corroborate such claims. For instance, J. M. Nickell made a wide-ranging listing of about 2,500 herbal medications in 1911, but this listing does not make any mention of canaigre whatsoever. Moreover, an all-embracing compilation of approximately 2,172 intimately written pages on herbal remedies, King’s American Dispensatory (compiled in 1900) only dedicates eight lines to canaigre, saying that owing to the high tannin content of the plant, the Native American Indians primarily used this herb for the purpose of tanning leather as well as coloring woollen garments. Strangely enough, this compilation does not make even the slightest mention regarding the therapeutic attributes of the plant or its use for medicinal purpose.
Nevertheless, in 1876, a chemist of the Royal Agricultural Society of England John Christopher Augustus Voelcker (1822-1884), talked about the fact that the indigenous people of Mexico employed the root of canaigre in the form of an astringent. What is, however, clear is that the recent endeavours by a section of herbalists to promote canaigre in the form of an American ginseng is basically a misleading exercise. This is possibly owing to the high cost of ginseng in the present market. In effect, canaigre does not enclose any active saponin glycosides akin to panaxoside that is accountable for the physiological actions of ginseng. Nevertheless, canaigre encloses about 18 to 25 per cent additional tannin and a little amount of anthraquinones, in addition to other elements like resin and starch.
Identifying such an endeavour to replace a very valuable commodity by a comparatively common, basically valueless plant, in 1979, the Herb Trade Association has approved a policy declaration that any herbal product enclosing Rumex hymenosepalus either wholly or partially ought to be branded as enclosing ‘ginseng’.
Nonetheless, the synonym of canaigre or red American ginseng continues to exist in the 1970s’ and 1980s’ herbal literature and may make the simple reader confuse it with the genuine red ginseng or also the American ginseng. However, they are not comparable in any manner. While canaigre might be of use for tanning leather or coloring wool, it does not have any place in herbal therapy. However, owing to the high amount of tannin enclosed by canaigre, the root of this herb might possess substantial carcinogenic (any substance that has the propensity to produce cancer) possibilities. People who are prudent will, therefore, stay away from using this plant or any of its products, such as extracts or capsules.
Traditionally, practitioners of herbal medicine have depended on canaigre in the form of an astringent. They have employed the fleshy tuberous root of the herb to prepare an herbal tea to treat diarrhea as well as a gargle for providing relief from sore throat. According to an herbalist, the simmered extract of canaigre roots may be used to impede bleeding from cuts or trivial scrapes. The roots of canaigre have also been employed by the Native American Indians inhabiting the western regions of the United States as a natural dye source. Similarly, the Navajos prefer the roots of this herb particularly because they yield a yellow colorant, which is used to dye woollen garments. The stalks of canaigre are a wonderful substitute for rhubarb – a fact that elucidates the other common names of the herb, such as wild pieplant and wild rhubarb.
The leaves as well as the stems, which resemble rhubarb (edible fleshy leafstalk), of canaigre can be consumed after cooking, which helps to get rid of some of the oxalic acid enclosed by the herb. Since these plants contain high amounts of soluble oxalates, they ought to be consumed only in restricted quantities.
Habitat and cultivation
As aforementioned, canaigre is indigenous to the western parts of the United States and is found growing over a vast region extending from Wyoming and Utah in the south to Mexico and from Texas and Oklahoma in the west to California. People in the south-western regions of the United States have also cultivated canaigre since the roots of the herb are an excellent resource of tannin, which is used in tanning leather. In addition, the herb also yields a mustard hued dye.
Canaigre has the ability to adjust to extreme arid conditions. As the leaf of this herb is waxy and creased, water from light foggy rain collects on the length of its central vein and subsequently passes down all the way to the taproot. In effect, scientists have described this process as ‘self-irrigating’ by the plant.
Canaigre root encloses high amount of tannin – as much as 25 per cent. Chemical analysis of this herb has revealed that it also contains little quantities of anthraquinones (approximately one per cent), in addition to some amounts of resin and starch. In addition, scientists have been successful in isolating numerous compounds from canaigre, such as physcion, anthraquinoids emodin, and chrysophanol, in addition to beta-sitosterol. It has also been found that canaigre encloses anthocyanins like leucopelargonidin and leucodelphinidin. However, there is not proof that canaigre encloses any saponin glycosides akin to panaxoside that are accountable for the pharmacologic actions of ginseng. In earlier times, people also used canaigre to make rhubarb powders impure.
Side effects and cautions
As canaigre encloses high amounts of tannin, it is advisable that people using this herb should do so with caution. This herb should never be used by women during pregnancy or nursing mothers. People who are taking any other prescription or over-the-counter medications need to essentially talk to their physician prior to using this herb for any of their health conditions. The safety of using the herb by people enduring acute liver or kidney ailments or by infants is yet to be ascertained.