The Rhubarb Index

Rheum rhabarbarum, Rhubarb is a close relative of garden sorrel. It is high in vitamin C and dietary fibre.

May 14, 2011 | | Food


n. a large-leaved plant of the dock family which produces thick reddish or green leaf stalks; the cooked leaf stalks of this plant, eaten as a dessert
Oxford English Dictionary
Rheum Rhabarbarum

Rheum rhabarbarum, Rhubarb is a close relative of garden sorrel. It is high in vitamin C and dietary fibre.


Rhubarb was first referred to in China in 2700 B.C. It was grown for centuries in Russia along the River Volga and was more valuable in Medieval Europe than cinnamon, opium or saffron.

Its dried and powdered root has been used in medicine for at least 5,000 years and is highly effective as a laxative and can be used as a dieting aid.

In 1921, a British colonial doctor, Dr. Burkitt, reported in The Lancet that he knew of “no other remedy in medicine which has such a magical effect” as powdered rhubarb in the treatment of acute dysentery.

It wasn’t used as a food until sugar became affordable to common people in 17th century England.

The Iranians use it in stews; the Italians use it to make a low-alcohol apéritif; the Polish as a tart accompaniment to potatoes.

Settlers brought rhubarb to North America in the 1820s.

Rhubarb is also known as “pie plant.” Author Laura Ingalls Wilder refers to rhubarb as pie plant in her novella The First Four Years.

The leaves are toxic, containing high concentrations of oxalic acid salts and should never be eaten by man nor beast.

Rhubarb is one of the first foods ready for harvest, usually early May in Ontario.

Green-stalked rhubarb is more robust and has a higher yield, but red stalks are more popular with consumers.

animal vegetable mineral
Although it is used as a fruit, rhubarb is actually a vegetable.

Lennox Farm near Shelburne produces about 240,000 pounds of rhubarb a year, making it one of the largest producers in Ontario.

About the Author More by Cecily Ross

Cecily Ross is an author and freelance writer who lives in Creemore.

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