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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about -- rhubarb, first introduced to the U.S. one hundred thirty years ago.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: One hundred and thirty years ago, rhubarb was shipped to the United States for the first time. Now, rhubarb is a vegetable, but its tart red stalks are most often used like fruit to make pies and liqueurs, and some varieties of the plant have medicinal properties. In fact, the Chinese used rhubarb as a digestive aid as early as 2700 BC. But also like many medicines, rhubarb can be toxic. The leaves are to be avoided, although you'd have to eat more than ten pounds of them at once to get really sick. Rhubarb's acidity also makes it handy for removing burn marks from pans, dyeing hair, even killing off leaf-eating insects. And according to Science magazine, chlorofluorocarbons like Freon, which put holes in the ozone layer, can be neutralized by the acid found in rhubarb. The late sportscaster Red Barber used the word rhubarb as slang to describe a particularly heated argument on the ballfield. And we like this limerick found on the Web and attributed only to a Peter W.:

Rhubarb when raw is so tough
And its leaves contain poisonous stuff.
But when cleaned and de-soiled,
Dipped in sugar and boiled,
Then the stalks are quite tasty enough.
And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac. And pass the rhubarb pie, please.



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