Rhubarb is one of the first things to emerge in my garden. It looks prehistoric as it emerges from the ground. Only the stalks of the plant are edible. The leaves contain toxins and high concentrations of oxalic acid. The stalks themselves are fleshy, sour, and acidic. While you can eat them raw, many people prefer them cooked. Rhubarb has a long history, with roots in ancient Chinese medicine. It was also used in ancient Arab, Greek, and Roman civilizations. Today, it is popular in jams, pies, compotes, and even drinks.

Rhubarb has a long list of health benefits. It is an excellent source of vitamin K, which is an essential vitamin for bone health and blood clotting. The vitamin A in rhubarb may also help to fight free radicals that cause skin damage and premature aging, keeping your skin looking healthy and youthful. It’s also high in antioxidants, and many other important vitamins and minerals that provide a variety of health benefits.

The vitamin K content of rhubarb helps you maintain strong, healthy bones. Rhubarb is an excellent source of fiber, which helps to lower cholesterol. Studies show that rhubarb helps lower your bad cholesterol levels as well as your total cholesterol. Lower cholesterol levels reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack. The vitamin K in rhubarb may also aid in preventing the calcification of blood vessels. The antioxidants in the vegetable also provide anti-inflammatory effects, which can further help to protect your heart health.

The fiber in rhubarb helps keep things moving through your trunk tract, preventing problems such as constipation. It also contains compounds called sennosides, which act as natural laxatives. The tannins in rhubarb also provide anti-diarrheal effects.

The antioxidants in rhubarb help fight free radicals in the body, which may help protect against oxidative stress and cell damage. The free radical-fighting properties of antioxidants may reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer. The antioxidant compounds in rhubarb help to fight inflammation. These properties may be helpful to people with systemic inflammatory reaction syndrome. Another study found that the anti-inflammatory properties of rhubarb extract can help improve wound healing. Rhubarb is rich in antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins (which give it its red color) and proanthocyanins. These antioxidants have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties, which help protect you from many health-related issues such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Other nutrients in rhubarb include: calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium, folate, manganese and magnesium.

Please consider these facts about rhubarb as well. Rhubarb is high in calcium oxalate. While the substance is mainly in the leaves, it’s also found in the stalks. Too much calcium oxalate in your diet may lead to hyperoxaluria, which is the buildup of oxalate crystals in different organs. These crystals may also promote the formation of kidney stones and increase your risk of kidney failure. Rhubarb’s vitamin K content may also interfere with the blood-thinning medication warfarin. It can reduce the effectiveness of the medication, so be sure to talk with your doctor if you want to incorporate rhubarb into your diet.

How to Eat Rhubarb

You may find fresh rhubarb in your grocery store’s produce section when the vegetable is in season, which is typically from April to June.

When choosing rhubarb, look for stalks that are firm and crisp. Avoid ones that are limp or have blemishes. Look for ones with small leaves, which indicate a younger plant, but be sure to remove the leaves before cooking or eating.

Don’t cut the stalks until you’re ready to use the rhubarb, or else the vegetable may dry out. To store them, place whole stalks into a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use them within one week. If you want to preserve your rhubarb for later use, cut it and store the pieces in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.

You can eat rhubarb in a number of different ways, including raw, blended into a smoothie, or cooked into a rhubarb jam. Other ways to enjoy the vegetable include:

-Baking it into a pie or crumble
-Making rhubarb ice cream
-Adding rhubarb to fresh juices or homemade kombucha
-Blending it into a sauce for meat or poultry
-Roasting rhubarb with a drizzle of honey and tossing it in a salad

Here is a delicious and quick recipe for enjoying rhubarb. Savor this wonderful spring treat!

Rhubarb Ginger Snacking Cake

Ingredients

Rhubarb
4 cups (490g) rhubarb, washed and diced into 1/2” pieces
6 tablespoons (75g) granulated sugar

Streusel
2/3 cup (134g) granulated sugar
1 cup (120g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (113g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (60g) nuts, coarsely chopped (such as pistachios, pecans, almonds or walnuts–your choice)

Cake
3 cups (360g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (198g) granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (113g) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (170g) rhubarb juice (from above)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon zest (grated rind)
1 large egg, at room temperature
diced rhubarb (from above)

Instructions

To prepare the rhubarb: In a medium bowl, stir together the diced rhubarb and sugar. Pour the mixture into a strainer and place the strainer over a bowl. Let the rhubarb drain for 45 minutes, tossing occasionally; reserve the rhubarb and liquid separately.

To make the streusel: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. With a fork or your fingers, work in the butter until the mixture is crumbly, then stir in the nuts. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9” x 13” pan.

To make the cake: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.

Add the butter, stirring or beating gently until the mixture looks sandy.

Mix in the rhubarb juice, vanilla, and lemon zest, then beat in the egg. Scrape the bowl and mix for 30 seconds; the batter will be thick.

Stir in the drained rhubarb by hand, mixing until evenly distributed.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the streusel.

To bake the cake: Bake the cake for 47 to 50 minutes, until a paring knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and cool it on a rack before serving.

Storage information: Store the cake, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to four days; freeze for longer storage

— By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with NED” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted atjaideborah@yahoo.com.


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