Rhubarb: Nothing Barbarian About It

Rhubarb: Nothing Barbarian About It

It’s in season and here are some random facts about rhubarb I’ll bet you didn’t know—and one you’ll wish I didn’t give you.

Rhubarb, the word likely evolving out of the word for “barbarian,” is a perennial herb that is a member of the buckwheat family.

It’s tart and sour and plays at being a fruit, even though it isn’t. Apparently, there was even a court case in New York some 70 years ago around the issue.

Possibly brought to the west from the banks of the Volga River thousands of years ago, rhubarb originally was thought to be an unimportant food. When it was considered valuable, it was so only for its medicinal purposes.

But a couple of hundred years ago, cooks started using it in baking when fruit was out of season. Some people today refer to it as “pie plant.”

The acidity in rhubarb and its tang go extremely well in pies and tarts especially when combined with the wonderful early summer freshness of strawberries. It’s also nice when combined with ginger.

Although it grows well forced in greenhouses year round, the best rhubarb is coming out of the ground now. Some rhubarb plants, like those at Barrie’s Asparagus in Cambridge can be 50 years old.

According to the lexicographical folks at Oxford, the oxalic acid (no relation) contained in rhubarb leaves is poisonous to humans and has caused death.

Though that is important, it isn’t the part you may not care to know; rather, it’s about those medicinal purposes: rhubarb is considered a laxative.

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