Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), is vegetable like spinach with long reddish stalks and large heart shaped leaves. While the leaves of this plant are not edible, but stalks of rhubarb are used in various recipes and offer various medicinal benefits. Rhubarb is native to Siberia and now popular in China, parts of Europe and North America. Some of you might know it as pie plant, as it is used to offer tart flavor in pies.
If you may have guessed, just like other red foods like tomato, carrots or beet, rhubarb stalk contains carotenoids and gets converted to Vitamin A in our body. When rhubarb stalks are matured, they turn more red and sweeter. The stem can be eaten raw and also used in various desserts. Raw rhubarb crisp along with honey is a popular snack. Rhubarb leaves are toxic and often used as natural insecticide. Let’s look at rhubarb nutritional facts.
Nutritional Value of Rhubarb
Majority of fresh rhubarbe stalk is fibers and water. Carbohydrates form around 5% of rhubarb stalk weight. Majority of this is fibers and sugars. Red color of rhubarb stalks is mainly due to presence of caretenoids like like β-carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein which have Vitamin A activity. Vitamin C in rhubarb offer sour flavor and is present in ample quantity. What makes rhubarb nutritious is ample supply of Vitamin K; a serving of 100 gram of raw rhubarb would meet nearly one third of daily needs of Vitamin K. It also supplies body with range of Vitamin B complex. It also contains mineras like manganese, magnesium and potassium. Calcium though present in rhubarb is not in bio-available form but in form of oxalates. It also contains various phytonutrients like anthraquinones, lycopene and anthocyanins which add up to the health benefits.
Health benefits of rhubarb
Rhubarb has been used by traditional Chinese medicines for curing various diseases. History of rhubarb health benefits is nearly 4000 years. Some of the health benefits of rhubarb are discussed here.
Rhubarb supply dietary fiber
We keep on hearing about benefits of dietary fibers and whole grains all the time. It is because of the health benefits which fibers offer, any food which supply body with fibers is considered good and is what makes vegan diet popular. Fibers in rhubarb helps movement of bowels and relieves constipation. Fibers also reduce metabolism of sugar in body, thus influences blood glucose levels. It also prevents absorption of cholesterols and other toxins in body. A fiber rich diet also reduces risk of various health disorders.
Rhubarb and weight loss
Raw rhubarb crisp is one of the low calorie, stomach filling, fiber rich and healthy diet food for weight loss. It offers large amount of water and fibers which makes your stomach fill and reduces food cravings. Rhubarb is believed to enhance metabolism and thus aids weight loss.
Rhubarb as antioxidants
The rhubarb contains phytonutrients like caretenoids, lycopene and anthocyanins which are potent antioxidant. It helps protect body organs from harmful free radicals. Vitamin C present in rhubarb is also one of the strongest antioxidants in body. Research has also reported antioxidant activity of rhubarb root extract along with stem. An animal study found that rhubarb extract prevented release of oxygen radicals from mitochondria of intestinal cells and exerts protective effect on intestinal lining.
Rhuburb and eye health
Rhubarb protects eye from oxidative stress and ultra violet light. This property is attributed to presence ample amount of lutein in rhubarb, which is required for healthy eye. Though rhubarb is not the best food source for rhubarb, Lutein offers protective effect against Macular degeneration and cataracts. Regular consumption of rhubarb can help improve vision and prevent various eye diseases.
Rhubarb and Alzheimer’s disease
Ancient Chinese medicine practice used rhubarb in improvement of memory. A study with rhubarb extract was found effective to treat patients with severe cerebral injury. While specific components responsible for this benefits is yet to be confirmed, it is believed that vitamin K plays important role in health of brain and nervous system. It protects brain cells from oxidative stress which may lead to Alzheimer’s disesase.
Rhubarb as natural laxative
Rhubarb contains sennosides which offers laxative effect. It has been used traditionally as laxative in treating constipation. Rhubarb extract or rhubarb capsule is often used as laxative. Rhubarb also contains emodin and other anthraquinones which are helpful in mobility in gastrointestinal tract. A study with patients of gastrointestinal tract infections found that rhubarb extract supplementation increased excretion of bacteria and toxins.
Rhubarb good for heart
Heart is central of body’s blood circulatory system and important organ in body. Rhubarb offers wide range of benefits to heart. It offers body supply of fibers which helps in reduction of blood lipids and bad cholesterol in body. Clinical studies have confirmed such hypocholesterolemic properties of rhubarb. Another mechanism in which rhubarb lowers cholesterol is through inhibiting enzyme which limits cholesterol synthesis in body. Rhubarb by itself is low in fats and cholesterol. Antioxidant properties of rhubarb are useful in protecting heart from oxidative stress.
Rhubarb as source of Vitamin K
Though it doesn’t supply as much Vitamin K as Kale or spinach, rhubarb offers body with ample source of Vitamin K; around 250 grams of raw rhubarb is sufficient to meet daily need of Vitamin K. Kitamin K is essential for regulating blood clotting. It ensures health of brain, nervous system and bones. It is essential nutrient required during pregnancy. All this put together makes rhubarb a nutritious and healthy food.
Anti-cancer properties of rhubarb
Bioactive anthraquinones in rhubarb have been found having potential in treating cancer. Antioxidant property of rhubarb led by phytonutrients, Vitamin C and vitamin A prevents oxidation of body cells which can cause cancer.
Antimicrobial properties of rhubarb
Phytochemicals in rhubarb offer antibacterial property on wide spectrum of gram negative and grampostive bacteria as confirmed by lab studies. As topical treatment, of rhubarb stalk paste can be used in treatment of cuts and injuries. A study with extracts of about 178 Chinese herbs was done for their antibacterial property. Rhubarb root extract offered best activity against Bacteroides fragilis, a common microbe found in human gut.
Rhubarb protects liver and kidney
It is used traditionally in treatment of jaundice and chronic renal failure. Animal studies shows emodin present in rhubarb reduced bilirubin in body and improved liver function. Another study with anthraquinone derivatives of rhubarb were found to be useful in treating chronic renal failure. Another study confirms protective impact of rhubarb extract on renal fibrosis. Animal studies reveal that Rhubarb has curative effect on pancreatitis.
Skin Benefits of Rhubarb
Rhubarb supplies with essential nutrients required for the development and health of skin. Vitamin C is required for collagen and development of skin tissue. Antioxidants in Rhubarb including Vitamin A, Vitamin C and minerals protect skin from oxidative stress of pollutants. It prevents aging of skin and formation of wrinkles. As antimicrobial agent, it protects skin from infections. Moist and sticky Rhubarb paste is often used externally over skin to treat wounds or cuts. With enough moisture and fibers it is good moisturizer. It works well over cold sores.
Benefits of Rhubarb for hair
Rhubarb offers compounds like oxalic acid which results in pigmentation of hair. It is believed to render light brown shade to your hair. Rhubarb root powder is used as natural hair dye.
Rhubarb for sensitive teeth
Rhubarb stalk contains calcium oxalate which makes it good dental desensitizer. It deposits in teeth and prevents sensitive teeth.
Rhubarb benefits for women
Rhubarb phytochemcials include some which represent female hormone estrogen. It is used in relieving menopausal symptoms like hot flashes.
Benefits of rhubarb root tea
Roots of rhubarb are also used for medicinal purpose. It works as astringent for digestive tract and a mild laxative. Compounds have been identified from rhubarb root and rhizome which are useful in reducing blood glucose. Rhubarb root tea is best way of enjoying its benefits. It also has positive effects in functioning of digestive system and kidney.
Side effects of Rhubarb
Rhubarb leaves are toxic in nature and should be avoided. Rhubarb leaves also high amount of calcium oxalates which increases risk of kidney stones. Amount of calcium oxalate in stalks is low; still it should be avoided by people with kidney disorders or kidney stone susceptibility
Culinary uses of Rhubarb
When rhubarb is cooked, the juice thickens and fibrous matter falls apart. More cooking will result in jelly like texture good for jams and sauces. Rhubarb offers a sweet tart flavor to food. The taste goes well with strawberry, which is the reason why you would find recipes like strawberry rhubarb crumble, strawberry rhubarb pie, strawberry rhubarb jam or strawberry rhubarb muffins. The stalks are used in making pies, jams and jellies. Recipes like rhubarb custard pie, rhubarb jam, rhubarb chutney or rhubarb sauce. Not only rhubarb desserts are common, but baked recipes like rhubarb bread, rhubarb cake or rhubarb muffins are equally good. Rhubarb tart makes good rhubarb wine. Stewed rhubarb or frozen rhubarb are some alternative to use of rhubarb as vegetable. Simplest way is to dip rhubarb pieces with sugar or honey.
Try out this healthy Rhubarb pie recipe.
Rhubarb Strawberry Pie
Rhubarb is best remembered for pies, which makes it pie plant. Its taste goes well with apple, oranges, custard and strawberry. Place pie dough in a pie pan. Mix 2 cups of rhubarb stalks dices, some peeled cut apples and a cup of cut strawberry. Add to this ½ tsp of cinnamon and 1 tsp of grated orange zest. Arrange this mixture over the pie shell. Cover pie with pie dough or lattice, and bake for 30-40 minutes till it is golden brown.Image Credits: Wikimedia - Foodista, Wikimeida - Hayford Peirce