I am spending the week in Maine with Ed’s parents, because I had a wedding here last weekend and another next weekend. Not a bad place to be parked for the week! Last night, I helped Ed’s mother make a strawberry rhubarb pie. I had never cooked with rhubarb before (although, I’ve enjoyed many rhubarb pies in my lifetime). As is the case with most foods, now that I've cooked with rhubarb once it is much less intimidating to me.
The pie turned out perfectly. But, I became curious about the health benefits of rhubarb. It looks like celery but has more flavor and color, and since celery is extremely healthy then rhubarb must be off the charts, right?
Rhubarb is a vegetable that actually comes from Tibet. The leaves of the plant are usually poisonous, and the stems can even be toxic if eaten raw in large amounts, so rhubarb should always be cooked. A small amount of raw rhubarb is okay to eat though, and is sometimes used for its bitter flavor. Rhubarb is very high in fiber, phytonutrients, calcium and other minerals. Raw rhubarb is naturally high in vitamin C, although much of that is lost when the rhubarb is cooked. Traditionally, dried rhubarb was used as a remedy for a wide range of illnesses, including vomiting and nausea.
Some studies have shown rhubarb to have anti-tumor properties. Apparently there are certain chemical components of the vegetable that have anti-cell proliferation abilities and that increase the number of white blood cells (which fight disease) inside our bodies. The dietary fiber in rhubarb is beneficial for those suffering from indigestion. Rhubarb root can be taken in therapeutic amounts to relieve constipation, indigestion, and to support colon health. The antibacterial and antimicrobial properties of rhubarb make it a good vegetable to apply topically to cuts or burns.
In addition to all of these health benefits, rhubarb has antioxidant properties, helps those with allergies, is an anti-inflammatory, and can benefit those with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. And for women going through menopause, rhubarb is a great food because it is high in calcium so can help prevent osteoporosis, and also helps reduce hot flashes.
When choosing rhubarb, choose stalks that are flat, not curled. The redder the stalk, the sweeter and richer-tasting it will be. I haven’t tried growing rhubarb, but I found a great website for those of us in Colorado who want to give it a try. If you’re interested, go here to read more about growing rhubarb in high altitudes.
So, rhubarb is definitely a health food and now I will be much more inclined to buy some next year and use it in sauces and pies!