Thank Heavens! That horrid “hungry gap” over the winter appears to be over, and one of my favourite foods is making a welcome return to the shop shelves and the garden as well. Hello lovely pink, lip puckeringly tart, rhubarb. I really love the natural sourness of it, and I really adore it when it has been topped with a crumble and smothered in custard, but it also a really useful addition to the garden.
Healthwise, rhubarb is used in Chinese Medicine as an effective aid to digestion. It certainly contains lots of lovely fibre, and in addition it is highly nutritious containing loads of calcium, manganese, vitamin C and Vitamin K. It also has a whole host of those lovely antioxidants.
If you are eating rhubarb, you need to take off the leaves of the magenta, celery like stalk. The leaves can be used though – so reserve them to one side. You then chop up the rhubarb, add sweetener to taste (I don’t add too much myself, I prefer the tartness) and then cooking it. You can either boil it in a pan, in which case you will end up with a heap of fraying shreds of translucent fibre, perfect for jams, chutneys and compotes. Or, you can put it on a baking tray and put it in a hot oven. Quick heat results in tender and cohesive rhubarb pieces. Delightful!
So, what do you do with those leaves? You can make a garden spray. It is great for controlling aphids and other sucking insects. You do have to be careful with it though, as it can also kill beneficial insects like bees, if you are not careful. Only use it if you have an aphid problem on your roses. It works, by suffocating the little blighters, and to be honest, that is fine by me. Get off me roses you nasty beasts.
You will need 1 kg of rhubarb leaves and 2 litres of water. Place the rhubarb in a large pot. Try and use one that is not a metal pot because the acid in the rhubarb leaves will react with the metal in the pot. Bring the mixture to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes to half an hour. Strain off the leaves and then dilute the solution 1 part to 9 parts water. You need to use this mix as soon as you can and certainly within 24 hours. If you use this on plants for consumption, make sure you leave at least 48 hours and obviously wash the items very well as the rhubarb leaves are potentially very toxic to humans.
I can’t wait to get into my own garden and grow some of my own rhubarb. I think I might forgo the rhubarb crumble and make some rhubarb and ginger jam. Yummy. I might even let some of my friends have some!