What plant is more beautiful and versatile than rhubarb? We grow five different varieties in our garden. One of the firsts plants in spring to make an appearance and also one of the first to harvest. We grow several traditional garden rhubarb for eating as well as two varieties often described as ornamental, although they have great medicinal and culinary values as well.
Rheum Palmatum, sometimes called Chinese or Turkish rhubarb have been used for millennia to treat a range of conditions and health problems. The name derives from the shape of the leaves, rather like a hand with fingers outstretched. The root is the most powerful part of this plant. The leaves, as all rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Our Palmatums are two years old now and are really starting to settle in. The leaves can grow very big, close to a metre across and the whole plant can grow to around three meters. It is very ornamental and looks great close to our wildlife pond. We put it into slightly boggy ground and built a small mound for each plant and they seem to like those conditions very much. Every year we put on well rotted manure and some straw for mulch. All rhubarbs also benefit from having their cut-off leaves put down around the plant as mulch that slowly rots and nourishes and protects the crown. When we planned our garden we wanted to put in some Gunnera but as one variety of this is liking Irish conditions a bit too well and has become a problem and is very difficult to eradicate, we did not want to risk planting any varieties of this beautiful plant. We did a bit of research and read about Rheum Palmatum and now we could not be happier with our choice. It is a magnificent plant in every way, even more beautiful than the Gunnera.
Rheum Australe, Himalayan rhubarb is very pretty with rounded reddish leaves. We only planted ours last year so they are still small. We are looking forward to see how big they will get this year.
Our eating rhubarbs are Timperly early, Victoria and a lovely unknown variety we were given by a friend. We like using our rhubarb for pies, cordials, chutneys and simply stewed. When harvesting it is important to pull the stems and twist slightly as cutting the stems with a knife leaves a stump that can rot and damage the crown. We love using other flavours to enhance the rhubarb. For pies and cordials try strawberries as combined with the rhubarb it is simply delicious. The cordial, especially turns out lovely like this and is a good alternative to most shop-bought versions, full of additives and artificial sweeteners. For stewing, jam and chutney try grated fresh ginger for a nice zing. Vanilla and almond also work well. Try making a sponge cake with vanilla and scatter it with chopped rhubarb and slivered almonds before baking.
Other good uses for rhubarb are as shady hiding places for all our frogs and toads and for making leaf concrete casts. We will give it a go in the summer when the leaves are nice and big. Rhubarb is such a beautiful and useful plant. We think every garden should have at least one.