Rhubarb is a perennial plant that grows from thick short rhizomes, comprising the genus Rheum. This genus is in the family Polygonaceae, along with dock, sorrel, knotweeds, knotgrasses and buckwheat. Rhubarb is a vegetable with a unique taste that makes it a favourite in many pies and desserts. It originated in Asia over 2,000 years ago. It was initially cultivated for its medicinal qualities; it was not until the 18th century that rhubarb was grown for culinary purposes in Britain and America. Rhubarb is often commonly mistaken to be a fruit but rhubarb is actually a close relative of garden sorrel, and is therefore a member of the vegetable family. Rhubarb is rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Most people think that eating vegetables raw is better for you. Not so in this case. The anti-cancer benefits of rhubarb are enhanced by baking it in the oven for twenty minutes. Researchers are hoping the polyphenols in baked rhubarb are powerful enough to stop the growth of leukaemia cells so that new drugs can be developed in the fight against this deadly form of cancer.
Chinese medicine doctors have prescribed rhubarb for their patients who are constipated for many years. Rhubarb is a good source of compounds called anthraquinones that have natural laxative properties. Rhubarb is even available in an extract and as a capsule at many health food stores to be taken as a laxative. There are also claims of additional health benefits, such as anti-cancer properties, aiding indigestion, lowering blood pressure, diminishing hot flashes, lowering cholesterol, and reports of anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergy properties. Rhubarb is one of the least calorie vegetables.
Its stalks also contain healthy levels of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. However, most of these minerals do not absorb into the body as they are subject to chelating into insoluble complexes by oxalic acid, and excreted out from the body.