Rhubarb - PlantRheum rhabarbarum
Enjoy this old-fashioned delicacy!
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) plants can grow very old. These plants are vigorous growers producing beautiful red edible stalks that can be harvested up to 3 times a year, from April onwards. Rhubarb can be eaten as a relish or as a dessert, in crumbles and preserves. Also ideal for making jam and juice. .Show more
Show moreRhubarb grows in any well-drained, fertile, weed-free soil, but when the soil is extremely wet in winter, it is best to plant the rhubarb in ridges of soil. Prepare a large planting hole and loosen the soil, which can be improved with organic fertiliser. Place the rhubarb rhizomes carefully in the hole about 80 cm apart with the top of the plant just slightly below the surface of the soil. Fill the hole with soil, press gently and water well. Rhubarb grows best in full sunlight.
Pale RhubarbIn England, growing rhubarb is very popular. When rhubarb is grown in the dark (called ‘forcing’) it has very pale pink stems. It can be grown in complete darkness, in dark sheds, at normal temperatures. You can even experiment with this growing method by covering the plant with a large pot turned upside down.
Show moreRhubarb will need fertilising. In early spring (March), apply organic manure. Give extra water in dry periods. When the leaves begin to emerge cut back the flower heads which will stop it from bolting and going to seed. After the harvesting, repeat with the fertilising and after the leaves have died back cover with a layer of compost, the plant can then store strength for the following season.
Harvesting RhubarbHarvesting of the rhubarb leaf stalks can be done during April to June after one year's growth but best results usually occur from the third year. The stalks are ready for picking when the leaf has completely unfolded, twist the stalk gently and pull from the plant. Always leave at least three mature leaves on the plant so that it can store enough energy to generate new leaves. If you cut the stalks from the plant, there is more chance of developing rot and therefore the whole plant could be lost.
Show moreRhubarb has been cultivated for many, many years. Around 5000 years ago, the Tibetans, Mongols and western China cultivated rhubarb for medicinal purposes. Whether it was brought to Western Europe by Marco Polo or to Russia by the Tartar and Huns it is not clear. It is only since the 17th century when rhubarb was introduced as a vegetable by John Gerard a botanist at the British court, when he found that the thick stalks were excellent for eating. Previously rhubarb had only been used as a medicine.
Rhubarb contains oxalic acidThe sour taste of the rhubarb is caused by the oxalic acid. Rhubarb is very tart and refreshing and can temporarily leave a rough feeling on the tooth enamel. This can be prevented by adding lime when cooking rhubarb. By adding lots of sugar the flavour is delicious. It is important to harvest as early as possible by picking the younger stalks as they contain less oxalic acid. Therefore the best time to harvest is when the rhubarb is between 2 to 4 weeks old.