The rhubarb plant is originally from Asia and it has been suggested that the plant was often used by the Mongolians. The plant has grown wild along the banks of the Volga for centuries; it may have been brought there by Eurasian tribes, such as the Scythians, Huns, Magyars or Mongols.
Varieties of rhubarb have a long history as medicinal plants in traditional Chinese medicine, but the use of rhubarb as food is a relatively recent innovation, first recorded in 17th century England, after affordable sugar became available to common people.
Rhubarb is now grown in many areas, primarily for its fleshy petioles, commonly known as rhubarb sticks or stalks. In temperate climates rhubarb is one of the first food plants to be ready for harvest, usually in mid to late Spring (April/May in the Northern Hemisphere, October/November in the Southern).
The stalks can be cooked in a variety of ways. Stewed, they yield a tart sauce that can be eaten with sugar and other stewed fruit or used as filling for pies, tarts, and crumbles. This common use led to the slang term for rhubarb, "pie plant". In Germany, this slang term is also used; the common name being Rhabarber in German. Cooked with strawberries as a sweetener, rhubarb makes excellent jam. It can also be used to make wine. Recently, it has been used in cake.
In warm climates, rhubarb will grow all year round, but in colder climates the parts of the plant above the ground disappear completely during winter, and begin to grow again from the root in early spring. It can be forced, that is, encouraged to grow early, by raising the local temperature. This is commonly done by placing an upturned bucket over the shoots as they come up.
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