Rhubarb, rhubarb.... as Spike Millgan said:
"On the UK absurdist comedy radio series The Goon Show, Spike Milligan would distinctly mutter "rhubarb, rhubarb" during crowd scenes."
Harvesting my autumn rhubard before it get too cold, as rhubarb damaged by severe cold should not be eaten: it may be high in oxalic acid, which migrates from the leaves and can cause illness.
Rhubarb stems. Note the wide range of colours, all edible!
Edited extract from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a herbaceous perennial growing from short, thick rhizomes. It produces large poisonous leaves with long fleshy edible stalks.
The color of rhubarb stalks can vary from the commonly associated crimson red, through speckled light pink, to simply light green. Rhubarb stalks are poetically described as "crimson stalks". The color results from the presence of anthocyanins, and varies according to both rhubarb variety and production technique. The color is not related to its suitability for cooking. The green-stalked rhubarb is more robust and has a higher yield, but the red-coloured stalks are much more popular with consumers. Hothouse rhubarb is usually brighter red, more tender and sweeter-tasting than outdoors rhubarb.
Commonly, it is stewed with sugar or used in pies and desserts, but it can also be put into savory dishes or pickled.
For cooking, the stalks are often cut into small pieces and stewed (boiled in water) with added sugar, until soft. Little water is added, as rhubarb stalks already contain a great deal of water. Rhubarb should be processed and stored in containers which are unaffected by residual acid content, such as glass or stainless steel. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger are sometimes added. Stewed rhubarb or rhubarb sauce, like applesauce, is usually eaten cold. Pectin, or sugar with pectin, can be added to the mixture to make jams.
The use of rhubarb stems as food is a relatively recent innovation. This usage was first recorded in 17th-century England after affordable sugar became available to common people, and reached a peak between the 20th century's two world wars.
Medicinal use and toxicity
Rhubarb root has been used for medical purposes by the Chinese for thousands of years, and appears in The Divine Farmer's Herb-Root Classic which is thought to have been compiled about 2,700 years ago.
In traditional Chinese medicine, rhubarb roots have been used as a laxative for several millennia. Rhubarb also appears in medieval Arabic and European prescriptions. It was one of the first Chinese medicines to be imported to the West from China.
Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous substances, including oxalic acid, which is a nephrotoxic and corrosive acid that is present in many plants. Humans have been poisoned after ingesting the leaves, a particular problem during World War I when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source in Britain. The toxic rhubarb leaves have been used in flavoring extracts, after the oxalic acid is removed by treatment with precipitated chalk.
The leaves are believed to also contain an additional, unidentified toxin, which might be an anthraquinone glycoside (also known as senna glycosides).
It was imported along the Silk Road, reaching Europe in the 14th century through Aleppo and Smyrna, where it became known as "Turkish rhubarb". Later, when the usual route lay through Russia, "Russian rhubarb" became the familiar term.
The cost of transportation across Asia made rhubarb expensive in medieval Europe. It was several times the price of other valuable herbs and spices such as cinnamon, opium, and saffron. The merchant explorer Marco Polo therefore searched for the place where the plant was grown and harvested, discovering that it was cultivated in the mountains of Tangut province. The value of rhubarb can be seen in Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo's report of his embassy in 1403–05 to Timur in Samarkand: "The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb..."
The term "rhubarb" is a combination of the Ancient Greek rha and barbarum; rha refers both to the plant and to the River Volga.