Why plant

It's the first fruit of the year; try forcing and you could be harvesting in January. And if there's any doubt, think about rhubarb crumble, rhubarb jam... need I say more?

Rhubarb is hardy and frost resistant, needs little attention once established and the large leaves look almost tropical. Once established plants will happily go on producing season after season for 10 to 15 years.

Interesting uses

* Difficult stains or burnt food on your pots and pans? Try applying rhubarb to bring back the shine.

* How about an effective organic insecticide to combat leaf eating pests such as cabbage caterpillars, aphids and peach/cherry slugs? Just put some rhubarb leaves in a bucket, place a brick on to keep down and cover with water. After two weeks use the liquid as a spray. Bit smelly but is effective. Wash vegetables before eating.

* Rhubarb leaves in your compost bin aids decomposition.

* And of course the word 'rhubarb' is used by film extras to create a murmur in the background.


The Chinese have used rhubarb medicinally for thousands of years. It first came to Europe in the 14th century along the Silk Road. The cost of transportation meant rhubarb was an expensive commodity, more expensive than opium, cinnamon and saffron.

It continued to be used as a medicine in Europe as well, the first recording of it being used for food is in the late 16th century. In fact it was first cultivated in Europe at Banbury in Oxfordshire using seeds sent from Russia. Widespread consumption as a dessert and for wine started in Britain in the 19th century.

Health benefits

CAREFUL! Rhubarb leaves are poisonous.

Rhubarb is low in calories and an excellent source of Vitamin C, which is important to help support a healthy immune system. It is high in dietary fibre so helps to maintain a regular digestive system... in fact it's been used for thousands of years as a natural laxative.

Besides being a good source of calcium, rhubarb is low in sodium and saturated fat which makes it a very good food to help prevent heart related diseases.  It is also high in Vitamin K, which is, amongst other benefits, thought to help prevent diabetes.


* Ace of Hearts... good choice for small gardens

* Champagne... an old variety that's reliable and easy to grow

* Mammoth red... grows up to five feet tall!

* Timperley Early... great flavour with early stalks

* Victoria... very popular


The best time to plant new sets is when they're dormant, any time between October and March. Avoid planting if the ground is frozen. Select an open sunny site with occasional shade in fertile soil that doesn't get waterlogged in winter.

Mix in plenty of well rotted manure with the soil so you create a slight mound. Plant with the bud just above soil level and leave from 2 feet (60cm) to 3 feet (90cm) between plants depending on the variety.

You can raise from seed but it takes a while. Much better to buy or scrounge a rootstock set.


Remove any flowering stalks and keep moist. The rhubarb season finishes towards July. In autumn remove dead foliage and mulch with well rotted manure or compost. Leave the crowns exposed over winter since the plant benefits from frost to awake from dormancy.

After about five years you may have to thin your rhubarb if the crown looks crowded and the stems are getting inceasingly thinner. Dig around the crown and reduce to five buds. The excess buds with roots attached can be used to produce additional plants, or give to friends.


You can force rhubarb to produce tender stalks as early as January. Just cover the crown with a pot containing straw and after about four weeks the stalks will be ready to pick.

Don't remove any stems in the first year. Allow the plant to get established and gather strength. Being patient will pay you dividends.

Always pull stems away from the crown with a twisting motion... never cut away.


Rhubarb crumble

Rhubarb and custard cake

Roast rhubarb

Rhubarb jam easy recipe

Rhubarb fool trifle

Common problems

In the right conditions rhubarb should be trouble free. If you plant in an area that's too moist, besides the plant not flourishing as it should, there's a risk the crown will rot.

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