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Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Wednesday, 3rd December 2008


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THERE’S A BIT of a break in the supply of rhubarb at the moment. Small quantities are beginning to come in from abroad (from the Netherlands) but it’s quite expensive.


The rootstocks of locally grown rhubarb are currently being exposed to the cold. Garden rhubarb, Rheum rhaponticum, apparently originated in Siberia and Mongolia. It needs to be dormant and go through a cold spell to encourage it to put out tender new shoots. When the rootstocks have had a sufficient degree of exposure, which will vary according to the severity of the weather, they are brought in to long, low, dark but warm forcing sheds. There’s no stopping it then; they say that you can actually hear rhubarb growing. I’m told there’s a soft rustling as the leaves unfurl.


In January the tender new shoots will be harvested, traditionally by candlelight so that the leaves remain blanched and yellowish. Perhaps the carbon dioxide given off by the candles gives a boost to growth.


In The Self-Sufficient Gardener, John Seymour remembers that, before imported fruit became widely available, rhubarb filled the gap between the last of the stored apples and the first of the summer raspberries. He says that you can bottle rhubarb, as you would fruit, but, he suggests, ‘the best thing that you can do with it is to make wine.’

RHUBARB (CULINARY, or TART.)-(Rheum Rhaponticum.)


Descrip.--This has a large root, thick at the head, and divided into many branches, of a dark brown on the outside, and a deep yellow colour within, of a bitterish taste. From the root arise several large, somewhat crumpled, green leaves; roundish, but pointed at the end, of a sourish taste, growing on reddish footstalks, from among these arises a thick stalk three or four feet high, having small leaves, and a numerous company of white staminous six-leaved flowers, suceeded by large, shining, triangular, brown seed.

Place.-It is a native of Scythia, but grows in our gardens.

Time.-It flowers in the middle of summer.

Government and Virtues.--It is under the dominion. of Mars. As to its purgative quality, it is much weaker than Rhubarb [R. Palmatum], but is more astringent, and good in fluxes, and weakness of the stomach, spitting of blood, and making bloody urine. It is good against venomous bites.


Culpepper’s British Herbal