RHUBARB ( RHEUM BARBARUM): HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF RHUBARB: HOW TO MAKE RHUBARB FOOL
Rhubarb has been around for centuries but not to eat. It has been used as medicine in Asia and Europe but was not used for culinary purposes until the 1800s when it gained in popularity to become one of the US and Britain’s favourite pie fillings.
There are several varieties of rhubarb and the ones used for medicinal purposes were Rheum palmatum from China, and Rheum rhaponticum which grew along the river Volga in Russia. Rha is the ancient name of the Volga and barbarum, barbarian; it is believed that rhabarbarum was the Latin name from which rhubarb came.
In 1777 in the UK one apothecary in Banbury, Oxfordshire, Mr. Hayward, began to cultivate rhubarb for its medicinal properties - it is a mild purgative and laxative which can remove obstructions in the bowels with no side effects such as constipation later. The seeds he sowed were from Russia, and later his rhubarb plantation became the home of the Rheum officinale, the rhubarb officially recognized for medicinal purposes.
Rheum rhaponticum probably originated in Siberia or Mongolia, and it is from this variety that we have garden rhubarb in Britain. It was introduced into Europe by Prosper Alpinus in 1608 to be used medicinally as a substitute for the Chinese rhubarb which had bee imported from China into the Mediterranean along the Silk Road. The Romans imported rhubarb for medicinal purposes, so it has a long European history and an even older one in Asia, where both Indian and Chinese rhubarbs have been used in traditional medicine. Rheum webbianum grows in India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Benjamin Franklin introduced rhubarb seeds to the East coast of the US in 1772 and it had become a popular fruit (although botanically speaking it is a vegetable) in the 1830s both in the US and Britain. In the late 1800s Russians took rhubarb to Alaska for protection against scurvy.
Rhubarb leaves are toxic, containing oxalic acid. In 1901 one death was reported in Britain with the cause of death being cited as “Accidental death, caused by eating rhubarb-leaves.”
Culpeper, the 17th century English herbalist, advocated slicing rhubarb finely and letting it steep overnight in white wine, then straining it and drinking the wine in the morning for a purgative effect.
A decoction of rhubarb seeds is used for stomach pain and to increase the appetite. The leaves were used as a pot herb instead of sorrel (it is a close relative of garden sorrel) for a time, but this was not advisable, and so discontinued. However the flowers can be cooked in a cheese sauce, instead of broccoli without any ill effects.
Rhubarb contains vitamins A, C, E, K and some of the B-complex vitamins, folate and the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc manganese and selenium, plus Omega-6 fatty acids and fibre. It is believed that rhubarb might help lower cholesterol levels, and it is known to have potent antioxidant properties, thus helping to lower blood pressure and reduce the risks of cancer. In vitro it has been shown to have anti-microbial properties, and its anti-inflammatory effects have been recorded. The chemical lindleyin found in rhubarb may have oestrogenic properties and emodin also present in it may help in liver regeneration.
Traditionally the Chinese have used rhubarb for kidney complaints but this has not been verified in clinical trials as yet. It has also been used to reduce fevers and against plague. Other uses for it have been as a hair dye, and to clean pots. Apparently it is also a useful insecticide. When you cook it you should be sure to use a pan that is non-corrosive.
Rhubarb is to be avoided if you suffer from gout or cystitis or other urinary problems. It is, however good with strawberries in jams and preserves as well as in fools, crumbles and pies. You can also substitute orange juice for a little of the water necessary to poach rhubarb. You can use vanilla sugar to poach rhubarb with and you make this by immersing a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar, and leaving it for a few weeks. You can use vanilla pods, then wash and dry them and put them in sugar.
Rhubarb is eaten with custard in Britain and there was a children’s cartoon featuring a cat called Rhubarb and a dog called Custard, so it is firmly entrenched in British culture. Actors on stage were directed to say “rhubarb, rhubarb” in crowd scenes and this has come to mean “empty talk” or “rubbish”: also it can mean a quarrel or heated discussion as actors repeated the word “rhubarb” to indicate a general feeling of discontent.
1 lb rhubarb, trimmed and cut into medium-sized chunks
150 gr sugar
3 tbsps cointreau or freshly squeezed orange juice
250 ml double (thick) cream
1 vanilla pod
Put the rhubarb chunks into a non-corrosive pan with 2 tbsps of water, 4 tbsps sugar and the vanilla pod. (You can simply use vanilla sugar if you have any instead of the sugar plus the pod.)Cook over a low heat for 15 minutes.
Add the rest of the sugar if necessary to taste and leave until cold.
Add the cointreau to the cream and whisk into soft peaks. Strain the juice from the rhubarb into the cream, fold in with a metal spoon and whisk to thicken.
Finally fold in the rhubarb and pour into glasses. Chill and serve when you want to.
This has Taste and is a Treat.