Rhubarb: A healthy, great spring treat

Rhubarb is a much awaited spring treat. Here are some fun facts on growing, eating and cooking with rhubarb.

Rhubarb (Rheum sp.), also known as the “pie plant,” is a much awaited spring treat. It is a vegetable, but in the United States it is eaten as a fruit. Rhubarb belongs to the buckwheat family Polygonaceae, and is closely related to garden sorrel.

Scientifically, it is an herbaceous perennial with leaves growing off the top of a thick rhizome. The leaf stalks (petioles) are actually the most commonly used parts of rhubarb, usually as a dessert or an ingredient in sweet dishes.

Folklore credits Benjamin Franklin with bringing rhubarb to America in the late 1700s. However, it wasn’t until the late 18th or early 19th century that Great Britain and the United States started using it for culinary purposes. Prior to that, it had been cultivated in Asia for over 5,000 years and used for medicinal purposes.

Medicinal value of rhubarb

  • There are over 40 polyphenol compounds in rhubarb including anthocyanins, the disease-fighting compound in blueberries.
  • Cooking rhubarb increases its polyphenol content and overall antioxidant capacity.
  • Research suggests there are beneficial compounds in rhubarb that may fight cancer, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and protect eye and brain health.

Nutritional value of rhubarb

  • Packed with minerals and vitamins
  • High in fiber
  • Low in calories, only 15 calories per 1/2 cup
  • Low in cholesterol
  • Sodium free

Growing rhubarb

  • Each plant can take up to a 3-foot by 3-foot area in the garden.
  • Grows in full sun.
  • Can be grown from seed, but is most often started by division.
  • Needs well-drained soil.

Eating rhubarb

  • The redder the stalks, the sweeter it tastes.
  • Rhubarb leaves are toxic—they contain high levels of oxalic acid.
  • Only the long, thick leaf petioles, “stalks,” are edible.

Loree’s Rhubarb Nut Coffee Cake recipe

Here is a recipe from A Farmgirl's Dabbles that is delicious and easy to make.

Ingredients for the cake

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cup cut rhubarb, about 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, whatever kind you prefer (I like to use pecans)

Ingredients for the creamy buttery yum

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.

For the cake, cream together butter and sugar, then beat in egg. Stir in buttermilk. Add flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon, mixing gently until combined. Stir in vanilla. Fold in the rhubarb and pour into your prepared pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with all of the brown sugar and then the nuts, pressing the nuts into the cake a bit with the back of a spoon. Bake for about 55 minutes or until center of cake has firmed up. Remove from oven.

Place all of the creamy buttery yum ingredients into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the mixture comes to a boil. Stir for 1 minute to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat. Pour the warm yum evenly over the warm cake and let it soak in. Sometimes I poke small holes into the top outside perimeter of the cake to allow the yum to soak in better. Try to not let a big amount of the yum to pool onto the center of the cake or else that part of the cake will get overly saturated. You may not want to use all of the yum

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