Plant-Powered Beauty: Spotlight on Rhubarb

Plant-Powered Beauty: Spotlight on Rhubarb

Nutrition is one of the most important foundations of holistic health.

What we put in our body literally impacts everything - our mood and energy, immune function, gut function, heart function, brain, skin, and everything in between. And eating an abundance of nutrient-rich plants is one of the most important tools we have to shape our own wellbeing. 

Did you know rhubarb is a powerhouse of nutrition

Read on to learn more about this culinary AND medicinal plant - and one of my favorite hallmarks of spring in my Midwest garden! 

One of the 2 year-old rhubarb starts in my garden ... 20 plants and counting!

About the Plant

Rhubarb (scientific name: Rheum rhabarbarum) is actually native to Asia, including China, Mongolia, and Siberia, even though it’s a common garden plant across cooler climates in the US and Europe. It dies back each winter and comes up each spring, making it an herbaceous perennial. And it’s actually classified as a vegetable, even though it's commonly used like a fruit in sweet desserts and has the nickname ‘pie plant’.

It’s not related to celery (that’s in a different plant family), despite the similar appearance of its fibrous stalks! And it's the stalks that are edible - the leaves are toxic due to their high oxalic acid content.

More Than Just Dessert

Historically, rhubarb has been used as medicine far longer than it’s been used as dessert. It’s been part of traditional Chinese medicine for at least 5,000 years - dating as far back as 2800 BC - which primarily used the roots and rhizome for gastrointestinal and liver issues. 

In Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India about 3,000 years ago, rhubarb is used similarly for treating digestive concerns. It’s categorized as a bitter herb with detoxifying properties that support the liver and gallbladder.

    Trade Route to America

    Due to its valuable medicinal properties, the trade route known as the Silk Road spread rhubarb roots through Turkey, Europe and beyond. By the 1500s in France, rhubarb was reportedly ten times more expensive than cinnamon and four times more expensive than saffron. 

    In North America, there are records of rhubarb being grown both for medicinal and culinary uses in the early 1700s, though it wasn’t until 1828 that rhubarb first appeared in US seed catalogs. And according to author John Forti, in the late 1800s “its rise in popularity coincided with the falling price of sugar, which made the tart rhubarb more palatable to the masses.” 

    A harvest from one of my well established rhubarb plants this spring.

    Why Eating Rhubarb is Good for the Body and Skin

    Rhubarb is packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that support our health. Here are just a few properties to note about its edible stalks:

    • High in antioxidants, which help fight free-radicals in the body (important anti-cancer properties)

    • High in vitamin K, which is critical for bone health and wound healing

    • High in fiber, which is helpful for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, heart health, and gut health

    • Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, with an especially significant impact on the gut microbiome

    • Rich in phytochemicals like anthocyanins and lycopene - which help support the immune system, help prevent cancer, protect the brain, and support heart health

    When working with rhubarb, remember:

    🚫 Leaves = toxic (do not ingest) 
    ✅ Stalks = edible and nutritious
    ✅ Roots/rhizomes = used in traditional medicine

    My Favorite Easy-to-Make Rhubarb Recipe

    With an abundance of rhubarb in my garden, I look for recipes that are easy and quick to make AND pack a punch in terms of health benefits. My favorite lately is Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote served over Chia Pudding. This combo is packed with fiber, protein, healthy fat, and numerous beneficial nutrients.

    🥄 Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote

    2 cups chopped strawberries
    2 cups chopped rhubarb stalks
    1/3 cup sugar

    1. Stir all ingredients together in a saucepan, and then let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes (juices will start to release).
    2. Bring mixture to a light boil over medium heat. Once it starts to boil, reduce and simmer for about 20 minutes and stir every few minutes. The mixture will break down and thicken as it cooks, and it'll thicken a little more once it cools. Store in a sealed container in the fridge for about a week (if it lasts that long!). 

    Chopped and ready for the saucepan.

    🥄 Chia Pudding

    2 tablespoons chia seeds
    1/2 cup milk (I always use coconut milk)
    a sprinkle of cinnamon


    1. Stir ingredients together in a lidded glass container, being sure to break up any clumps of chia seeds.
    2. Let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but ideally overnight.
    3. Top with rhubarb compote or your favorites berries and enjoy! 

    I make several containers of this at once, so they're ready to eat throughout the week. 

    The final product: compote over chia pudding. Makes a gorgeous breakfast!

    Other ideas for using this beautiful spring vegetable:

    • Roast or grill rhubarb with a drizzle of honey
    • Add to smoothies or juices 
    • Create a tangy sauce to accompany meat
    • Simmer into a compote with other fruit and berries
    • Bake into pies, crumbles, crisps, cakes, or muffins  (though watch the sugar levels!)

    A quick search through Pinterest will pull up a wide range of interesting recipes to experiment with. Keep in mind that refined sugar can negate many of the health benefits of rhubarb, so minimize the sweets for optimal nutrition.  

    Further Reading:

    Growing Rhubarb
    What We Already Know About Rhubarb: A Comprehensive Review
    What Are Phytochemicals? 


      I believe in keeping things simple, yet sophisticated. Using beautifully effective, natural ingredients, I create luxurious skincare and wellness goods for everyday rituals. In every small batch of Pure Luxe Apothecary products, you'll find a fusion of pure, plant-based ingredients, thoughtfulness, and intention. These modern and minimalist remedies are rooted in holistic health to support your entire being - mind, body, and spirit.

      Cheers to good health and happy skin!

      Pure Luxe Apothecary blog about image

      I'm Leslie, founder and maker behind Pure Luxe Apothecary. I formulate luxurious, clean skincare products to help you live your healthiest, most vibrant life. I believe simplicity is sexy and health is holistic. Join me in exploring the beauty of living well. 
      Holistic Health / Skincare / Ingredients
      Nature / Travel / Joy / Connection
      Minimalist Style / Design / Beauty

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