Not everyone is familiar with this springy spring springer, but that doesn’t mean we won’t jump on the rhubarb express along with a large population of Europeans & Americans! Rhubarb is technically a vegetable, but is legally considered a fruit. Not confused enough? Trying it doesn’t help much. It’s sold at markets & grocery stores by the stalk, like celery, and are famous for their bright pink color, but can also be light pink or green. Don’t be fooled, though…color is not an indication of ripeness or sweetness.
Rhubarb is naturally tart – REALLY tart. No one really eats it in its raw state and when it’s cooked or baked, it’s done with a considered amount of sugar. It’s also usually paired with strawberries, which sort of makes it better for those of us who aren’t really big fans of these long fleshy edible stalks. In the northwestern states of Oregon & Washington, rhubarb is grown almost year-round in special heated greenhouses. In the United Kingdom & the rest of the northern European countries, the first rhubarb of the year is harvested around the end of spring and since it’s a seasonal plant, it’s harder to obtain in colder climates, such as Ireland & Russia.
The Chinese have actually used rhubarb for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. During the Islamic times, it was imported along the Silk Road, reaching Europe in the 14th century through the ports of Aleppo and Smyma, where it became known as Turkish rhubarb. Later it began to arrive via Russia, and this so-called Russian rhubarb was the most valued, probably because of the rhubarb-specific quality control system maintained by the Russian empire.
The cost of transportation across Asia made rhubarb expensive in medieval Europe, as was the case with cinnamon, opium, and saffron. Marco Polo even made an expedition to search for the place where the plant was grown & harvested! Uses for the plant are usually limited to pies & crumbles, but it can also be used to make a fruit wine or compote. Being a bit sour, it’s very refreshing and can be a great option for the hot summer days!
The health benefits of rhubarb include its ability to promote weight loss, improve digestion, prevent Alzheimer’s disease, stimulate bone growth, among so many others! Although juice from this celery-looking vegetable might sound a little bizarre, it’s really easy and the added benefits are really worth it. Even as an addition to homemade iced tea, it’s similar to lemonade in that way! My daughter says they have rhubarb juice often at school during lunch, here in Germany they make it with sparkling water, which adds a little fizz to the tang!
For the Rhubarb Juice
- 1 pound of rhubarb
- 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence
- Enough water to cover in a pot
- 1/4 cup of sugar
Making the juice couldn’t be simpler! Chop up the rhubarb and add to a deep pot. Add the vanilla & sugar, and mix well. Add enough water to the pot to cover the rhubarb. Boil until the rhubarb is soft – literally only about 5 minutes! Strain out the bright pink juice and you’re ready to go! Add some lemon juice & frozen berries for an even more refreshing taste!