After last week’s rhubarb ruminations, I wanted another excuse to talk about one of my favorite not-really-fruits. I love introducing kids to rhubarb by telling them I’m going to let them taste a poisonous plant. It really focuses the attention of a group of excited 9 year olds when they think it’s a life-or-death situation. And it’s true, while the stems are delicious, the leaves are poisonous to humans! They are high in oxalic acid, which in large doses, can cause kidney problems, and even death. Oxalic acid is actually present in small quantities in a number of vegetables, including sorrel, spinach, and chard, but nothing close to an amount that would make you sick. Rhubarb leaves have a lot more oxalic acid, but an adult would still have to eat at least 4 kg of the leaves to reach a lethal dose, and, well, they’re just not that tasty.
Potential lethality aside, rhubarb is fun because it’s one of very few food that we treat like a fruit, but isn’t – it’s a stem! Fruits and flowers and even roots get a lot of attention, but I feel like stems don’t get the love they deserve. Stems give plants their structure and shape and carry water and nutrients up from the roots, and energy in the form of sugars down from the leaves. They are like a plant’s skeleton and circulatory system combined! So let’s hear it for the stalks, spears, vines, canes, and trunks out there, just going about their business without a lot of fanfare, bringing us all the beautiful plant life around us.
Here are five ways to explore stems this week.
Dissect a Stem
See How Stems Work
Learn a Stem’s Story
Make a Three-Stem Dessert
Stay sturdy, and drink your water!