Whose Mouth First Puckered?

Rhubarb

This photo was taken last year, but I was talking to Dad about Rhubarb yesterday and it got me thinking. Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated with wild edible foods. I learned what I could eat, what I wanted to eat (not always the same thing!) and how to safely identify those plants. In my Dad’s Air Force Survival Manual, I read about the techniques you can use to identify unfamiliar wild plants. They read something along the lines of taking a bite and holding it in your mouth, then spitting it out and waiting to see if your mouth went numb or tingly. So now I want to know… who, confronted with a lush, lovely rhubarb plant, tasted the stems and decided it would be just yummy cooked with lots of sugar?

The leaves and roots of rhubarb are not at all edible, and I’d be willing to bet a bite of oxalic-acid loaded rhubarb leaf would most emphatically make your mouth both numb and tingly. Only the stems are edible, and eaten raw out of hand will make you pucker like few other substances. Yet they have become a beloved part of our spring ‘fruit’ line-up. I personally make rhubarb jams, pies, and cakes every spring. We have a 60 foot long bed of rhubarb in the garden. I have found old farms that have no standing buildings by the still -thriving clumps of “pie plant” that always grew near the kitchen door. So far as I know there are no records of who first tried rhubarb, or what the results were. Too bad – I’ll bet it was a fascinating tale!

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