Rhubarb: healthy or poisonous?

Whether as a tasty addition to a stew or as a sweet compote to accompany a semolina pudding, rhubarb is on everyone’s lips in the spring. But watch out! Rhubarb is really only a good choice if it is prepared properly.

The green and red stalks are often combined with fruit and berries in European cuisine to make sweet desserts, but botanically they are a vegetable. They contain up to 95% water and are correspondingly low in sugar, fat and calories, but they are rich in vital minerals (e.g. potassium) and vitamins.

Oxalic acid interferes with calcium absorption

So is rhubarb the perfect slimmer’s snack that invites self-indulgent feasting? Not quite. It is not for nothing that old folk wisdom insists rhubarb harvested after 24 June (Midsummer’s Day) is bad for you: indeed, the fruity acidic taste of rhubarb is due to a not inconsiderable oxalic acid content, which can interfere with calcium absorption, cause the formation of kidney stones and, in extreme cases, lead to poisoning if consumed in large quantities.

Young rhubarb is safe to eat

It is rather unlikely, however, that the consumption of rhubarb dishes alone will make you ill. Since most of the acid is in the skin of the rhubarb, its content also can be markedly reduced by peeling or boiling the stalks before consuming them, although this also results in water-soluble vitamins and minerals being lost.

Preference should also be given to young rhubarb, which is harvested at the start of the season, because this contains much less oxalic acid than older, more mature stalks towards the end of the season. So if you keep to the old principle of harvesting rhubarb as early in the season as possible (from beginning of April to mid-June) and not consuming it raw in significant quantities, then it is basically safe to enjoy.

Exception: expectant mothers and infants

To be on the safe side, people with an increased need for calcium, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies and infants and people predisposed to kidney stones, should only partake of rhubarb in small quantities and ideally combine it with calcium-rich foods such as yoghurt or quark in order to prevent a possible loss of calcium.



In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.