The Rhubarb Triangle is an area of West Yorkshire bounded by Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford famous for its rhubarb.. The Triangle’s plants spend two years in the open, absorbing energy from the sun and are then transferred to sheds where they are kept in darkness and heated. They are thus 'forced' to grow longer, sweeter stalks, rather than producing leaves to absorb sunlight. In the sheds, the silence is so complete you can actually hear the rhubarb growing; the air is filled with the ripping sounds of buds opening up and developing into stalks. The technique was developed in the late 19th century and in its heyday there were 200 growers in the Rhubarb Triangle, which produced 90% of the world's winter rhubarb.
Rhubarb is enjoying a revival in the UK, following a 40-year slump as other fruits became available. Botanically speaking, it is a vegetable and in Poland it is eaten as one and served with potatoes and herbs. In Iran and Afghanistan it is commonly cooked with spinach. The US classified it as a fruit in 1947, on the grounds that it was eaten as fruit. The EU classifies it as a fruit if used in jam making.
Never rub another man's rhubarb.
Rhubarb leaves are toxic. They can cause a burning mouth, breathing difficulty and seizures.
The Greeks ground up dried rhubarb root and used it as a laxative.
Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a native of Siberia. The Greek historian Ammianus Marcellinus (ad320-390) credited it to the city of Rha on the Volga, hence the name rhabarbarum ‘the barbarian Rha stuff’. Alternatively, the word may be a contraction of rheum-barbarum, from the Greek rheuma, ‘that which flows’. This word was used for rivers, lava, or bodily discharges, hence Linnaeus’ botanical name Rheum, since rhubarb was used from ancient times as a laxative. This fact almost led to a diplomatic crisis during the Opium Wars (1839-42).
Until The Rhubarb Triangle started in the 1870s, most rhubarb came from China. In 1839, the imperial Chinese commissioner Lin Zexu wrote a letter to Queen Victoria warning that, unless the British stopped supplying opium to China, he would cut off rhubarb supplies to Britain, killing everyone through mass constipation. It seems that the Queen never had the letter translated, and so remained unaware of the danger. In the event, the British sent an army from India to force the Chinese to accept British opium imports.
Powder made from rhubarb used to be used to soften leather and colour hair.
The word ‘rhubarb’ as used by actors dates from 1934.
Named after River Rha (Scythian word for the Volga), where it was originally grown, and the Greek word barbarum, meaning 'foreigner', because it came to Europe from Asia.