When To Pick Rhubarb And How It’s Good For You

jessicamurgs/ April 29, 2017/ Health News/ 0 comments

Rhubarb has been around a long time, with records dating back thousands of years in China. Originally, only the roots were used for medicinal purposes. Today, the stalk is the most often used portion of the plant. Rhubarb can be found in the grocery store from April through June in most regions. It is also available at farmers markets when in season. For those who grow rhubarb, it is important to know when to pick it. Some may ask “how is this plant good for you?” Read on to be enlightened.

A Diverse History

Rhubarb is one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine with records dating back to 2700 BC. It’s root has been used as an herbal medicine due mostly for it’s balancing effect on the digestive system. Marco Polo took notice of the plant on his travel to China in 1271 and is credited for introducing it to Britain. However, it wasn’t until it made it to France that it was discovered that the stalks were edible.

Rhubarb was introduced in North America as a medicine. The stalks weren’t eaten until the mid-18th century, and rhubarb wasn’t a common food until the 19th century. Benjamin Franklin is credited with bringing rhubarb seeds to North America. In 1772, he sent rhubarb seeds from Scotland to his botanist friend John Bartram in Pennsylvania. However, it wasn’t until the 1800s that rhubarb became a popular ingredient in baked products such as tarts, cobblers, conserves, and the most popular, pies. In the United States, it was even nicknamed “pie plant.”

A Sweeter Rhubarb?

In 1871, a new way to cultivate rhubarb came about, resulting in a sweeter and much more tender stalk. This new discovery occurred by accident at a place called Chelsea Physic Garden. Founded in 1673 as the Apothecaries’ Garden, Chelsea Physic Garden was established to train apprentices in the identification and use of medicinal plants.

A number of rhubarb roots were accidentally covered with soil by workmen digging a trench during the winter months. Weeks later when the soil was removed, peeping through were tiny, tender shoots of rhubarb. The shoots were noticeably more tender and not near as bitter. Growers began lifting the roots from the ground and bringing t them into buildings to grow.

British farmers then began this practice of “forcing” by cultivating the rhubarb at night under controlled conditions and by torchlight. Doing so prevented photosynthesis, resulting in the most tender rhubarb. You see, when rhubarb is grown outdoor, the fibers become tough and thick when the plant carries out photosynthesis to convert energy from the sun into food.

Further north in Yorkshire, forced rhubarb now has ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status. This means the name “Yorkshire rhubarb” can only be applied to rhubarb that comes from the approved section of Yorkshire. The method of harvesting by torchlight is still followed today and attracting more and more public attention.

How Rhubarb Is Good For You

  • Digestion: Thanks to its great laxative properties, rhubarb can help you prevent and cope with constipation. It improves appetite, helps to keep your digestive system healthy and relieve stomach pain. Consuming rhubarb in moderation can also help you treat intestinal parasites.
  • Bone health: Rhubarb is a rich source of vitamin K, which stimulates bone growth and repair. Furthermore, the calcium in one cup of cooked rhubarb contains just as much as a cup of milk, and it’s much better for you.
  • Cardiovascular benefits: With it’s potent antioxidants,  rhubarb helps to reduce your risk of heart disease. In addition, the potassium found in rhubarb helps to reduce blood pressure.
  • Eye health: The vitamin A found in rhubarb is crucial for healthy eyes. It contains beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin that helps keep your vision sharp and reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration.
  • Supports a healthy immune system: Rhubarb is one of the best sources of vitamin C that helps to boost immune system. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that has been studied and shown to neutralize free radicals throughout the body. Free radicals are byproducts of cellular metabolism that can cause healthy cells to mutate or die, often resulting in cancer or other chronic diseases. Therefore, neutralizing them can be beneficial in the prevention of disease and supporting the immune system.

The Warning Everyone Needs To Know

DO NOT EAT THE RHUBARB LEAVES! Illness or even death can result in eating the leaves due to the toxic levels of oxalic acid contained within the leaves. In addition, you should avoid it if you have any type of kidney problem, as it can worsen the condition. Consult with your doctor before taking it medically if you’re pregnant or have liver problems.

When Is It Ready To Pick?

For standard rhubarb grown outdoors, the best time to pick is when the stalks of the leaves reach about 10 to 15 inches in length. This will ensure that the plant has established itself well enough to be able to tolerate being harvested. Different types of the plant produce different color. Therefore, rhubarb may not turn red, but still be ripe. The stalks may be anything from a pale green to a vibrant red color.

Cut the stalk close to the ground or pull at the base with your hand, just be sure the roots do not come with it. Also, leave at least 1/3 of the stalks on the plant to ensure it continues to grow and thrive throughout the season.

Rhubarb can technically be harvested until fall, but it is not recommended. The plant needs to store energy to survive the winter. Stop harvesting or greatly decrease the amount harvested in late June or early July.

Thinking Outside of the Pie

Rhubarb can be added to recipes you may already be making. Smoothies, pancakes, muffins, quiche or juiced with a combination of fruits and vegetables are all examples. Of course, it can also be added to other fruit pies, with strawberry- rhubarb being a popular variation.

Final Thoughts

Rhubarb is a nutrient rich food with a remarkably long and rich history. For centuries, only the root was used for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until it made it to Europe that it’s stalks were noted to be edible. The stalk has numerous health benefits, including digestive health and immune support. Harvest the crop when it is at least 10 inches in length and only to late June or early July. This will assure it’s survival throughout the harsh winter months and into it’s next harvest season. As stated above, never eat the leaves as their high level oxalic acid is toxic and cause sickness or even death.



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