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Rhubarb:Old World or New

Poster: "BARY E. SEARS" <besears@erols.com>

My Good Lord William,

  Old World for certes.  Interestingly (considering some of 
the more recent threads on culinary predilictions) it may have
have originated in Mongolia...Waverly Root sites its origen
as definitely northern Asia, but is unwilling to commit beyond
that.  It is mentioned in a Chinese work, the Pen-king herbal,
believed to be dated circa 2700 B.C.  It was considered a 
medicinal plant.

  By the beginning of the Christian era rhubarb had reached the
Western world where both Pliny and Dioscorides mention it,
though it wasn't considered an important plant.  

  Thoughout our most of our period, it was considered a 
medicinal plant, its roots used as a purgative (read laxative)
when it was used at all.  As late as 1578 it was referred to
as "a strange plant cultivated in the gardens of some herborists
out of curiosity."  Again, according to Waverly Root, the 
earliest mention of rhubarb as a food may have been in 1597,
though it could have been as late as 1636.  Unfortunately,
people thought that the leaves where edible and could be eaten
like spinach.  After a false start, and the identification of
the stalk as the edible portion, rhubarb entered the market 
garden as a food stuff.  

  Note:  there is a hint that rhubarb stalks were known to 
be edible earlier and were part of the cuisine of Syria and
Persia (there is a reference in Waverly attributed to Ibn-el
Beithar -thirteenth century-) to that affect.  

  Rhubarb is a member of the same family as sorrel and 
buckwheat (both of which contain oxalic acid, though in far
lower concentrations).  

  Hope this helps

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