Rhubarb is a tell-tale sign of spring. You may recognize the plant by its large, green triangular leaves. The leaves of the plant contain toxic substances including oxalic acid and are inedible. However, the plant’s vibrant green, pink, or red stalks are rich in vitamins C, K, and potassium, and have been used as medicinal plants in China for thousands of years.
In the Garden
You don’t need to have a green thumb to successfully grow rhubarb. It’s a hardy perennial that will keep coming back year after year, despite Montana’s harsh winters and dry climate. Rhubarb plants are heavy feeders and grow best in well-drained soils that are high in organic matter. Plant your rhubarb seeds or crowns in full sun, 3 feet apart. Mix topsoil with compost or manure and plant your crowns with the buds facing upward 3-4 inches below the soil surface.
Remove seed stalks as soon as they appear. Allowing them to form fully will drain energy from the plant. Harvest begins the second year after planting and will last 4-6 weeks. Harvest stalks when they are 12-18 inches tall, always leaving a minimum of 2 stalks per plant.
In the Kitchen
So what does rhubarb actually taste like? Eaten raw, rhubarb is quite sour and tastes like a cross between a lemon, green apple, and celery. While you can cook with any variety of rhubarb, red stalks generally have a sweeter and stronger flavor than green stalks.
To balance out the tartness, it is often cooked with sugar and can be found in desserts, jams, and even beverages.
This Rhubarb Fizz is light, refreshing, and best enjoyed outside on a warm spring or summer day. It requires only a few simple ingredients and will have friends believing that you are the best bartender west of the Mississippi. Omit the vodka for a very tasty take on a pink lemonade.
Tracee Hume is a Bozeman-based Communications Coordinator for Abundant Montana. She loves making a mess in her kitchen, but doesn’t love cleaning it up. Send her your favorite recipes at [email protected]!