Rhubarb has many uses. The most common is medicinal. Rhubarb has been used in medicines and folk healing for centuries.
Cleaning pots and pans Use Rhubarb to clean your pots and pans (no joke!) If your pots and pans are burnt, fear not! An application of rhubarb over the afflicted area will bring back the shine in next to no time. Environmentally friendly too!
Hair Color This is a fairly strong dye that can create a more golden hair color for persons whose hair is blond or light brown. Simmer 3 tbsp. of rhubarb root in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes, set aside overnight, and strain. Test on a few strands to determine the effect, then pour through the hair for a rinse.
Insecticide Rhubarb leaves can be used to make an effective organic insecticide for any of the leaf eating insects (cabbage caterpillars, aphids, peach and cherry slug etc).
Basically you boil up a few pounds of rhubarb leaves in a few pints of water for about 15 or 20 minutes,
allow to cool,
then strain the liquid into a suitable container.
Dissolve some soap flakes in this liquid and use it to spray against aphids.
So, next time you pick some rhubarb stems to eat, you can put the leaves to good use rather than just composting them (which isn't in itself such a bad use, I guess).
Rhubarb inspired art
James Grainger, is a British artist who specializes in oil paintings of Vicars and Morris Dancers in curious and surreal situations. Many of his paintings include rhubarb, as can be seen in the sample to the right. Be sure to visit his web page: James Grainger's Gallery (link is external)
The January 19 issue of SCIENCE Magazine reported that scientists have discovered a way to convert environmentally damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) such as Freon into four harmless components: sodium chloride (table salt), sodium fluoride (an ingredient used in toothpaste), carbon, and carbon dioxide. CFCs have been historically hard to destroy, because they are relatively inert. Professor Robert Crabtree and graduate student Juan Burdeniuc used sodium oxalate that is found in rhubarb leaves to destroy CFCs. (The article didn't mention if the researches actually got the sodium oxalate from rhubarb leaves or not but did mention that is where it is found).
Apparently the fiber in rhubarb is a nice additive to handmade papers. I have found several craft-folk selling or mentioning rhubarb-paper.
Many consider rhubarb a fruit due to the dominance of rhubarb dessert recipes. However, rhubarb is botanically a vegetable. More surprisingly, rhubarb's role in history has been medicinal rather than culinary. Indeed, widespread culinary uses began only two centuries ago. Rhubarb's medicinal uses began at least 5000 years ago, to when Chinese used the dried roots as a laxative. The first documented uses in western civilization are 2100 years ago
when rhubarb roots were an ingredient in numerous Greek and Roman medicines. Dried rhubarb roots are also astringent. The astringent effects closely follow the cathartic impact, which made rhubarb roots a popular laxative in days of old. Though uncommoon, dried rhubarb root is still sold as a laxative. Therefore, it is noteworthy that the medical efficacy of rhubarb roots varies significantly by variety. The original Chinese variety remaining the most efficacious while some varieties have no laxative value whatsoever.
There is no record of common culinary rhubarb prior to the 1800s. Widespread consumption of rhubarb stalks began in Britain in the early 19th century with its popular adoption as an ingredient in desserts and wine making. Since then rhubarb’s popularity grew to a peak just before World War II in what Foust1 called “rhubarb mania.” It was always more popular in Britain and the U.S. than elsewhere but rhubarb also achieved noteworthy popularity in Australia and New Zealand. Culinary uses also spread to northern Europe. At its most popular commercial quantities of rhubarb were grown outdoors as well as in greenhouses and dark cellars. Culinary use dropped dramatically during WWII, possibly as a direct result of the depravations of war, most notably the rationing of sugar.
The word rhubarb is of Latin origin. The ancient Romans imported rhubarb roots from unknown, barbarian lands. The lands were beyond the Vogue river, sometimes known as the Rha River. Rha was first adopted to mean rhubarb. Imported from barbarians across the Rha the plant became Rha barbarum and eventually rhabarbarum, Latin for rhubarb plant. The modern English word rhubarb derives from rhabarbarum.
Since WWII rhubarb production has rebounded but to only a fraction of pre-war levels. Today’s U.S. rhubarb production is almost exclusively outdoors with relatively little commercial forcing. There are about 1300 acres devoted to rhubarb production, 60% in Washington State with Oregon and California next. Rhubarb production also resumed in England after the war but, as in the U.S., not at "mania" levels. Forcing, however, is still popular in England with Yorkshire the English leader in rhubarb production.
Rhubarb stalks are highly nutritious, containing loads of calcium, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and a whole host of antioxidants.
Wash the stalks well and trim off the dry ends and leaves, and store in loose plastic in the crisper drawer. If your stalks have leaves on them, you may choose to store them with some/all of the leaves intact, as it will keep the stalk from wilting right away. However, rhubarb leaves are TOXIC, so it is essential to trim and discard them before consuming.
Two things happen to rhubarb when it's cooked: its juices thicken, and it falls apart into fraying shreds of translucent fibers. Heavily cooked rhubarb has the perfect jellied consistency for jams, chutneys, and compotes, but isn't so attractive when stir-fried or arranged on a tart. Quick heat yields tender but cohesive rhubarb pieces with rich flavor and a natural, glossy sheen.
Makes about 8 ounces
4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is soft and the liquid has thickened slightly, about 20 minutes.
Set a fine-mesh strainer (or a coarse strainer lined with cheesecloth) over a large bowl. Pour the rhubarb through the strainer until most of the liquid is in the bowl. Press the solids a little with the back of a spoon to extract more syrup.
Carefully pour the syrup into a clean bottle/jar. Cover or cork the bottle and refrigerate. It should keep for quite some time in the fridge.
The leftover rhubarb solids also make a nice rough jam, so if you want you can put them in a clean jar and keep them in your refrigerator for a week or so. It's great on toast!
Rhubarb Custard Pie
Yields 1 pie
- 1 sheet refrigerated pie dough (from a 14.1-ounce package)
- 1 1/4 pounds rhubarb (about 6 medium stems), trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 1/2 cups)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, preferably Valencia
- 2 tablespoons orange juice, preferably Valencia
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- Confectioners' sugar, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Fit the pie dough into a 9-inch pie plate, fluting the edges, and chill until set, about 15 minutes. Prick the bottom and sides with a fork, and then line the crust with aluminum foil. Fill with pie weights or dried beans and bake until the edges of the crust are just golden, 20 minutes. Remove the foil with the pie weights and continue to bake until the bottom of the crust is dry and lightly browned, another 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely.
Toss the rhubarb with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and the orange zest and juice until well combined. Transfer to the crust and spread to form an even layer. Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet. Whisk the eggs with the cream, flour and remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar until smooth, and then pour over the rhubarb. Bake until the pie is lightly browned, puffed and no longer wet in the center, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Before serving, lightly dust with confectioners' sugar.
TIP: You can make this pie the day before and chill overnight in the fridge.