Have you noticed the large red celery-like stalks in the produce aisle of your local market in early spring? Wondering what it might be?
Rhubarb is a quintessential seasonal food that’s available only when it is fresh and in season (early spring).
Rhubarb resembles a celery stalk with unusually large green leaves. It has been used historically as a medicinal herb, only recently finding its way to our plates. The stalk of the rhubarb plant is tart, and likely this tartness became edible with the invention of sugar.
Rhubarb is popularly eaten cooked not raw. It is especially delicious in desserts – pies, muffins, tarts and crisps. Or simmered, to be used as a jam or spread. I’ve also seen rhubarb sorbet, ice cream and even rhubarb punch. Typically, sugar is used superfluously to balance out the tart flavor. In my favorite rhubarb recipe – Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble – I’ve replaced white sugar with a healthy alternative – maple sugar; and reduced the total sugar significantly without sacrificing taste.
Although often paired with sweet foods and fruits, rhubarb is actually a vegetable belonging to the buckwheat (not wheat) family.
The Many Health Benefits of Rhubarb Include:
- Excellent detoxification properties
- Supportive for the liver
- High in vitamins, C, A, potassium
- High in lutein which is health-supportive for the skin and eyes
- Calcium rich
- Improves blood circulation
- High in antioxidants
- Improves symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes
- Reduces symptoms of PMS, including painful menstruation
Suffer from intestinal ulcers? Studies have found that rhubarb and aloe preparations are extremely effective at stopping bleeding from gastrointestinal or duodenal ulcers. The presence of anthraquinones and flavanoids are responsible, acting as astringents in the body.
Rhubarb is a high fiber vegetable, which supports regular elimination and the alleviation of constipation. It belongs to a class of bitters used to stimulate digestion, bile production, fat breakdown, and reduce bloating in addition to its role in promoting regularity. My favorite bitters is a brand called Swedish Bitters, which contains a mixture of digestive supportive ingredients. The best time to use bitters is right before a meal.
Rhubarb extract has been found in studies to support women’s health, specifically with regard to symptoms of PMS, painful menstruation, and peri-menopausal and menopaual symptoms like hot flashes. A clinical trial of 109 peri-menopausal women exhibiting symptoms of menopause found rhubarb extract to be a safe, long term treatment for hot flashes. Another clinical trial found evidence that rhubarb extract decreases overall anxiety and improves overall well-being in the same population group.
Oxalates and Health
Rhubarb is high in oxalic acid. It’s a great food to eat in moderation, and enjoyed seasonally at its peak harvest. High oxalate foods are not recommended for people with oxalate sensitivities, calcium oxalate kidney stones, or those with the inability to properly absorb calcium.
What are oxalates? Oxalates are naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and humans. Within our bodies,our cells naturally convert substances like vitamin C into oxalates. In addition to the naturally occurring oxalates in our bodies, oxalates are found in foods. Both plant and animal foods naturally contain them, but they are especially high in spinach, beets, swiss chard, rhubarb, wheat germ, nuts, and nut butter. Some of the foods highest in oxalates, like dark green leafies, are also high in calcium. And the benefits of calcium far outweigh any considerations regarding oxalates. Unless you have a condition that requires restriction, oxalate foods are often nutrient-rich foods to include in a healthy diet. Cooking does not reduce oxalate content in food.
Selecting and Storing:
For the best flavor and nutrient density, buy rhubarb stalks in early spring. The sweetest stalks tend to be smaller and brighter in color. Refrigerate the stalks in a plastic bag. They will last a few days.
When preparing rhubarb, rinse with room temperature water and remove the leaves. Unlike leafy veggies, rhubarb leaves are not safe for consumption and should be removed prior to cooking.
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Your Simple Action Plan:
Check your local market this week for rhubarb. Rhubarb stalks are a seasonal find! If you see it, be sure to purchase a few stalks and enjoy this seasonal gem.