Rhubarb is a sure signs that spring is here. If you’re missing some in your garden it’s good time to get some planted.

Pioneers carried rhubarb plants west, realizing that rhubarb made an important spring tonic. After a long winter of eating nothing but meat and stored root vegetables, rhubarb, as one of the earliest spring plants, was a chance to replenish depleted nutrients. Rhubarb contains significant amounts of phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, iron and vitamins, including vitamin C.

Rhubarb in a bowl

The key to a big, healthy rhubarb plant is in the soil preparation. Select a spot in full sun that has good drainage. Rhubarb will rot quickly if it has to sit in a soggy wet area. Dig a hole about two feet wide and about 1-½ feet deep. Mix some soil you removed with finished compost and aged cow manure (bagged stuff is fine). Set the crown of the plant in the center of the partially refilled hole and place the crowns so that the growing points are about one inch below soil level. Refill the hole completely and water in well. If you’re planting more than one plant, space them about five feet apart. Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so right after planting, and each spring, spread a layer of compost or aged manure in a circle around the plant. This mulch will do several things; keep weeds down, keep the soil moist and as you water, or when it rains, nutrients will leach down and feed the rhubarb plant. Fertilize the plant after the harvest is finished. Cut out any flower stalks that appear.

Let two growing seasons pass before harvesting. Harvest the rhubarb stalks by gently pulling and twisting, not cutting. End harvest when the stalks become slender. Don’t use the leaves. They contain so much oxalic acid they are poisonous.

Whether you choose green or red stalks, the taste will be very similar. The stems are acidic and require a lot of sugar for balance. Rhubarb and strawberries make a yummy combination and can’t be beat when it comes to pie. In fact, in colonial times, another name for rhubarb was ‘pie plant.’

It’s a gorgeous plant that will look great in your garden. If you’re not growing any, buy some and try a spring tonic. It’s good for what ails you.

Spring Tonic

  • 1 lb of rhubarb cut into 1-inch pieces

Put in a saucepan and sprinkle with about ½ to ¾ cup of sugar, or to taste (brown sugar can be used for a caramel taste). No need to add water, rhubarb is full of water. Cook on low heat. In about two or three minutes, the liquid will cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to simmer. Cook until desired tenderness. Puree by stirring and mashing with a wooden spoon. If you want it to remain chunky, don’t stir but shake the pan to mix. You can eat warm, chilled or topped with cream or used as an ice cream topping.

 

 

 

 

 

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