Here in the foothills of Colorado, we can tend to be a bit behind other parts of the country when it comes to food production; while friends in Arizona, California, and even Washington are currently enjoying peas, strawberries, and artichokes, we are just barely starting to see fresh leafy greens here. So it is extra exciting to see my friend the rhubarb pushing its way up into the garden early in april. We are on our second round of rhubarb here, hoping to hold out long enough for our first strawberries to ripen for our first seasonal cobbler out of the backyard.
Rhubarb is an interesting plant because it is one part food, one part medicine, and one part poison. The leaves are best avoided in any situation, they are simply too toxic for use. The stems are wonderful eaten raw, stewed, or baked. In Chinese medicine, rhubarb stems are said to be detoxifying and cooling to the liver, which makes it perfect for spring. Rhubarb is in the same family as spinach and beets and similar to these has high levels of oxalates. For this reason I would probably avoid rhubarb for babies under 10 months or adults with a history of kidney stones.
Rhubarb rhizomes have been used as medicine for over 4,000 years in China. Chinese rhubarb root is most commonly known for its ability to relieve constipation. It contains a class of compounds called anthroquinone glycosides. These are the same type of chemicals in other classic constipation remedies such as senna or cascara sagrada. English rhubarb rhizome, the type we commonly see in our own backyards (and sold at the grocery store) has similar action but is not as strong as its Chinese counterpart.
In our family, rhubarb stalks are actually best enjoyed by my kids sliced into sticks and dipped in a bit of sugar. That said, we also love rhubarb compote (With or without strawberries) atop pancakes on Saturday mornings. Because this is such a favorite and so simple, here’s a quick recipe for both:
1 cup brown rice flour
⅓ cup quinoa flour
3 Tbsp sweet rice flour
2 Tbsp sucanat
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 Tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups milk of your choice (we like coconut)
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup rhubarb, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 Tbsp maple syrup
For pancakes: Whisk flours, soda, sucanat and salt together. Mix butter, eggs, vanilla and milk in a separate bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry, then mix together until just combined. Cook as for normal pancakes. For compote: Mix ingredients together in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until all the fruit is broken down and it looks like sauce. Adjust sweetener if necessary. Spoon over pancakes and enjoy!
Healing with Whole Foods: Paul Pitchford
Plant Medicine in Practice: William Mitchell
Potter’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Drugs and Preparations