Don’t touch that rhubarb –yet

Across North Dakota, gardeners and non-gardeners, alike, are dreaming of warmer temps and the joy of being outside without the shivering. After the recent temperature drop and subsequent snowfall, anyone who loves rhubarb may want to take note of the following.

Posted 5/3/19

By Melissa Anderson

Growing Rhubarb is fairly easy as long as Mother Nature keeps temperatures above freezing once the leaves have emerged. That has obviously not been the case for Cavalier County, and those who grow rhubarb should not harvest their plants when the leaves are wilted and limp after a hard freeze.

The reason? Those delicious stalks can be toxic. The poison that typically is only found in the leaf of the plant, which should never be consumed, can make its way into the leaf stalk, the part that is consumed. The toxic substance that can do some major harm after being ingested is called oxalic acid.

Under a normal harvest, the leafstalk is cut at the base, and the leaf blades are trimmed off.  After a hard frost oxalic acid may move from the leaves into the leafstalk. When consumed, the oxalic acid can crystallize in the kidneys and cause permanent damage to the organs.

In addition to the potential toxicity, the rhubarb leaf stalks will be of poor texture and flavor. All rhubarb leaf stalks/petioles that have been exposed to freezing temperatures should be removed and discarded.

There is, however, some very good news for rhubarb lovers and especially those that look forward to the yearly rhubarb fest held in Langdon every summer. Once the frost damaged stalks are properly removed, the re-growth will be safe to eat. As normal harvest begins, always leave at least one-third of the petioles unharvested to ensure the plant will return next season.