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Rhubarb, oh so mouth watering

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

This last week I picked up my first CSA (community supported agriculture) box from Big Lick Farms – regular at the Roseburg and area farmers markets. I filled my cooler with heads of lettuce, radishes the size of golf balls, snap peas, chard, bok choy, sweet strawberries and rhubarb.

This reminded me of growing up in Eastern Oregon where it seemed every home, ranch or farm had a big patch of rhubarb, and early summer was rhubarb crisp, bars or strawberry rhubarb pie season. As a kid, I would sit on the grass by the rhubarb patch and eat raw stacks like they were candy, savoring the sharp sour tang on my tongue. So when I selected my perfectly trimmed and washed bunch of rhubarb, I started think about all the foods I could make – sad to realize I didn’t have anywhere enough to share – ohhh darn. Once I got home, I remembered this plants roots are used in Chinese medicine for individuals with severe constipation, and it is off the menu for those with gout.

A vegetable, rhubarb with its long reddish stalks and large heart-shaped leaves, is a native to Siberia and popular in China, Europe and North America. The bulk of rhubarb stalk is fiber and water. Carbohydrates form around 5% of the rhubarb stalk weight. The red color of rhubarb stalks is due to carotenoids – β-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein. Vitamin C in rhubarb offers its distinctive sour flavor. Rhubarb is packed with Vitamin K; a serving of 100 gram of raw rhubarb would meet nearly one-third of daily needs of Vitamin K.

Rhubarb provides a range of B vitamins. It also contains minerals like manganese, magnesium and potassium. Calcium though present in rhubarb is not in bio-available form but in the form of oxalates. It also contains various phytonutrients like anthraquinones, lycopene and anthocyanins

Rhubarb leaves are toxic and often used as a natural insecticide.

Rhubarb medicine
Medicinal uses of Rhubarb
According to Rhubarb Compendium an online resource:
“Rhubarb has a long history of herbal usage…. Rhubarb is one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine. Harvested in the fall from plants that are at least six years old, the roots are dried. The root used as an anti cholesterolaemic (reduces cholesterol), 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 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. It is also used internally for 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.) Rhubarb root used externally can be beneficial in the treatment of burns.

Rhubarb enhances appetite when used before meals in small amounts, promotes blood circulation and relieves pain from injury or inflammation and inhibits intestinal infections. And rhubarb reduces autoimmune reactions. The impact of the rhubarb depends on how it is prepared. Recently rhubarb root (Rheum officinale) has been useful in the treatment of Hepatitis B.”

Different twist on Chicken
Chicken Smothered In Rhubarb

3 1/2 pound free range chicken cut into pieces
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound rhubarb cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 medium onions julienned
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
Fresh thyme sprigs
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Garnish: 2 cups cooked white rice, warm, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

In a mixing bowl, toss the chickens with flour. In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, brown the chicken for 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Add the rhubarb and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Stirring constantly, wilt and brown the onions, scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen any brown particles, for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, herbs and wine, cover and reduce the heat. Stir occasionally and cook for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is tender. Stir in the parsley. Arrange the chicken on a platter and garnish with parsley and serve with rice.