"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rhubarb Ho! (Thanks, Sis!)

My sister gave me a bunch of plants the other day. Years ago, she moved into a house that previously belonged to VERY serious gardeners, and inherited beautiful perennial beds full of all sorts of useful and beautiful plants. One of them is rhubarb. At my request, she hacked me off a chunk (all you have to do to divide rhubarb is drive a shovel through the corm and replant - it's pretty hard to kill. So I hear. I might manage it - I can kill almost anything.).

People tend to either adore or despise rhubarb. I am firmly in the former camp. I love it's tart, citrusy taste. Rhubarb is one of the earliest spring crops, along with asparagus and young greens. Just when we are all dying for a taste of fresh food, rhubarb offers it's beautiful ruby stalks, bracingly astringent and delightfully healthy. Although a vegetable botanically, it is a fruit culinarily. Chopped, stewed, and heavily sweetened, it can be eaten as is or added to quickbreads, cake batters, pies (of course), or served over ice cream or stirred into yogurt.

There was a large rhubarb plant in the garden of the house I grew up in. It is a nostalgic plant for me. That garden is the setting for most of my memories of my father before the divorce, when I was seven. I remember harvesting rhubarb with him and taking it into the kitchen and giving it to Mom, who made it into strawberry-rhubarb pie.

I also love rhubarb for it's beauty, and for the fact that it is a hardy perennial. I am trying to grow as much food as possible from long-lived perennials (fruit trees, nut trees, berries, asparagus, artichokes, et cetera) because I am so very very lazy. Why break your back every year digging and hoeing and raking and mulching to raise short lived annuals when you could do the same work once and get increasing returns every year for decades? Rhubarb lives a long time.

My sister also gave me a whole bunch of raspberry canes, which I am thrilled about. Raspberries are probably my favorite fruit. But I'm not going into a lot of detail about them because everybody knows and loves raspberries. They don't need a cheerleader, whereas Rhubarb kind of does. Here is some information I dug up on the medicinal properties of rhubarb - seems like quite a handy plant, all told.

From The Rhubarb Compendium:

Rhubarb has a long history of herbal usage. The primary result of rhubarb root as an herbal medicine is a positive and balancing effect upon the digestive system. Rhubarb is one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine. Rhubarb roots are harvested in the fall from plants that are at least six years old. The roots are then dried for later use. The root is used as an anticholesterolemic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, aperient, astringent, cholagogue, demulcent, diuretic, laxative, purgative, stomachic and tonic. Rhubarb roots contain anthraquinones which have a purgative effect, and the tannins and bitters have an an effect that is opposite that of an astringent.

When taken internally in small doses, rhubarb acts as an astringent tonic to the digestive system, when taken larger doses rhubarb acts as a very mild laxative. The root can be taken internally for the treatment of chronic constipation, diarrhea, liver and gall bladder complaints, hemorrhoids, menstrual problems and skin eruptions due to an accumulation of toxins. Note that this remedy should not used by pregnant or lactating women, or patients with intestinal obstruction. Used externally, rhubarb root can be used in the treatment of burns.

People have further claimed that Rhubarb enhances the appetite when it is taken before meals in small amounts, that it also promotes blood circulation and relieves pain in cases of injury or inflammation, inhibits intestinal infections. and can also reduce autoimmune reactions. The impact of the rhubarb depends on how it is prepared. More recently there have been claims that rhubarb root (Rheum officinale) can be useful in treatment of Hepatitis B.

Laxative Tea

Psyllium Seed 3 parts
Licorice Root 3 parts
Rhubarb Root 2 parts
Senna Pods (crushed) 2 parts
Angelica Root 2 parts

Drink as a simple infusion in evening.

Colon Tonic

Cascara Sagrada 2 parts
Oregon Grape 2 parts
Cayenne 1 part
Ginger Root 1 part
Lobelia 1 part
Rhubarb Root 1 pt.

Stimulates peristalsis for chronic constipation of long duration. 2 "00" caps with water, morning and evening. When feces soften up go to 1 capsule twice a day.


Olive said...

A few years ago I was given a few rhubarb crowns to add to my rhubarb bed, far too much for us to eat, but I love it, both to eat and to watch it growing. It doesn't really die back here where we live in Oz. However it is a plant that devours HEAPS of composted animal manure, but with our own animals making plenty of that, its not a problem.
Its also a good thing to harvest and take to your local market (if you have one) We pick ours, bundle it into roughly 500 gram (1 pound) lots. It fetches somewhere between $3.50 and $5.00 per bunch here which certainly helps our budget
I have already dug some and potted it ready for the moving day (if it EVER happens) lol.

luckybunny said...

Absolutely love rhubarb! Really interesting what Olive said about selling the extra if you have it. I love cooking with it. Lucky you!

fullfreezer said...

I planted some rhubarb last year. Unfortunately, I think it died. We had such an overabundance of rain last year that I think it drowned as it wasn't in the best drained location. sigh.... I'll have to try again this year.

WeekendFarmer said...

: ) good for you. Are you going to harvest some this year? I love the way their broad leaves look over their red stalk. Mine is in 2nd year this year...not sure if I should harvest or, wait for another year.

ladybean said...

Yum! I should plant some rhubarb. That's interesting to know about all its herbal uses as well; I had no idea.
I recently had to explain to a friend what rhubarb pie is -- I was so sad for anyone who had never tasted it! But explaining made me realize what a truly strange food it is . . . a stem with a texture like celery, but tart so that when you add lots of sugar it sits in as a substitute for fruit? Odd and awesome!

The Idiot Gardener said...

Rhubarb and raspberries; that's all he fruit anyone needs. Oh, and pears.

Aimee said...

I have pears. And blueberries, sour cherries and sweet cherries, a few plums every now and then.... But not what I need, which is apples. I need mountains of apples to fuel my cider press. I've planted six apple trees but no apples yet

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