My lovely neighbour gave me some rhubarb from her garden, which made me wonder if you knew about its interesting history...so gather round! It‘s time for Tammy’s fascinating, (but useless) fact of the day.
Rhubarb has been used for at least 5000 years...but only as a medicine. Because the leaves are poisonous, it was not considered “food” for centuries.
In Ancient China, it was used as a laxative, for reducing fever, for dying hair, and for scrubbing pots and pans.
The Ancient Romans imported rhubarb roots from Russian ports along the Volga River, received from suppliers who got it from barbarians in unknown lands.
By the 13th century, Marco Polo travelled to China and wrote about the rhubarb growing there. Because it was considered a “cure-all”, it became an expensive commodity, trading along the Silk Road at prices more expensive than cinnamon and saffron.
But...it wasn’t until the 1800’s when those crazy Victorians began to eat the stalks. And they LOVED it. The first known recipe using rhubarb in a dessert is found in “A New System of Domestic Cookery“ by Maria Eliza Rundell, 1807.
However, when the First World War began, there was a setback in rhubarb popularity. Because it had become a recommended food, the soldiers would eat the poisonous leaves, not knowing it was the stalks that were edible. Many were sickened, at least one known death.
Amazing to think that for centuries nobody in the ancient or medieval world experienced the wonderful taste of a strawberry rhubarb pie, when it was right there all along.