AskDefine | Define rhubarb

Dictionary Definition



1 long pinkish sour leafstalks usually eaten cooked and sweetened [syn: pieplant]
2 plants having long green or reddish acidic leafstalks growing in basal clumps; stems (and only the stems) are edible when cooked; leaves are poisonous [syn: rhubarb plant]

User Contributed Dictionary



, rubarbe, from and reubarbarum perhaps the | + |


  • a UK /ˈɹʊuˌbɑː(ɹ)b/ /"ru:%bA:(r)b/


  1. Any plant of the genus Rheum, especially R. Rharbarbarum, having large leaves and long green or reddish acidic leafstalks; the stems are edible, in particular when cooked (although the leaves are mildly poisonous).
    • 1716: J. (John) Mortimer, The Whole Art of Husbandry: Or, the Way of Managing and Improving of Land.
      Rhubarb is of several sorts, which are raised all by Seed, or by parting of the Tops.
    • 2006: Cappy Hall Rearick, Simply Southern Ease: More Humor, Insights and Fun from a Good Old Southern Gal
      "Are you talking homemade rhubarb pie from scratch, with you rolling out the dough instead of using a ready-made pie crust."
    • 2006: L M Dougherty, The Concertmaster: Lure of the Stringed Siren
      I'm thinking about planting a row of rhubarb this year. What do you think? You always used to love my rhubarb bread."
  2. The dried rhizome and roots of R. Palmatum or R. Officinale, from China, used as a laxative and purgative.
    • 1744: Alexander Hamilton, ''A New Account of the East Indies: Giving an Exact and Copious Description of the Situation, Product, Manufactures, Laws, Customs, Religion, Trade, &c. of all the Countries and Islands, which lie between the Cape of Good Hope, and the Island of Japon...In Two Volumes. Volume I. [full title stretches to 108 words]
      On the Mountains of Zensi, near the famous Wall that divides China from Tartary, grows abundance of that useful and valuable Root Rhubarb, whoes Use is so well known in Europe.
    • 2006:Bharat B Aggarwall, Shishir Shishodia (editors), Resveratrol in Health And Disease
      Isolation and characterization of stilbene glucosides from Chinese rhubarb.
    • 2006: John Mann, Murder, Magic and Medicine
      Long before this, the Emperor Shennung (c2700 BC) was recommending the use of rhubarb.
  1. A word repeated softly to emulate background conversation. (see rhubarb rhubarb).
    • 1992:John Matthias, Reading Old Friends: Essays, Reviews, and Poems on Poetics, 1975-1990''
      What he stuffed into the mouths of those National Theatre actors, then, was something intended to open their mouths, slow down their delivery, and make them hear and speak each word as a barbed rebarbative thing of rhubarb syllables.
    • 1992: Brenda Murphy, Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan: A Collaboration in the Theatre
      He also disapproved of the way the “Winchell bit” was being delivered, noting that it didn't come across as a news broadcast because it was lost in “the rhubarb” of the fiesta and that the news commentator did not have the proper air of mystery about him.
    • 2002: Oliver Taplin, Greek Tragedy in Action
      Such often introduced in some kind of ‘dumb show', either in silence or accompanied by music or indecipherable stage noise (‘rhubarb, etc.).
  2. An excited, angry exchange of words, especially at a sporting event.
    • 1993: Thomas G Aylesworth, Kids' World Almanac of Baseball
      When the pitcher, catcher and umpire get into an argument, baseball anouncers call it a rhubarb. The word comes from a sound effects technique used in early radio dramas.
    • 2003: The Columbian, September 15, 2003
    • "Bonds, who had been watching the game on television earlier, sprung out of the dugout for an animated rhubarb."
    • 2006: David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game
      Two days later, the ball play resulted in a rhubarb: "The day was so bad and so much labor going on, that we had no exercise, but some ball play — at which some dispute arose among the officers, but was quelled without rising high".
    • 2006: Mary Ann Meyers, Art, Education, & African-American Culture: Albert Barnes and the Science of Philanthropy
      Speaking by telephone from his desert home near Palm Springs, California, he told a reporter in Philadelphia: "I don't want to be around when there's a rhubarb going on.
  3. A brawl.
    • 1992: Dom Forker, Big League Baseball Puzzlers
      The umpire will call the runner out, but it will probably create a rhubarb. Rule 7.08 c. At least it did the day umpire Beans Reardon called Charlie Pick of the Cubs out on the play...when the Bruin outfielder responded too physically, Reardon “punched him out.”
    • 1997: James Reston, Collision at Home Plate: The Lives of Pete Rose and Bart Giamatti
      He got into a rhubarb with Elmo Plaskett, the catcher from the other team. Plaskett hauled off and hit Bristol in the face with his catcher's mask.
    • 2005: Larry Dierker, This Ain't Brain Surgery: How to Win the Pennant Without Losing Your Mind
      “I'm the umpire you threw on the ground at Chatsworth back when you were in high school.”...Arguing with umpires is still a part of the attraction in baseball. A good rhubarb offers just a trace of the outrageous behavior that has vaulted the World Wrestling Entertainment into prominence in recent years.
    • 2006: Timothy J. Gay, Tris Speaker: The Rough-And-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend
      Spoke relished confrontations with umpires, never backing down from a rhubarb. Teammates marveled at his capacity to yell so hard his face would turn blue.

Usage notes

  1. Definition three is attributed to the practice by Charles Kean's theatre company c1852 at Princess Theatre, London of actors supposed to be talking together inaudibly, repetitively saying the word rhubarb, which was chosen because it does not have any harsh-sounding consonants or clear vowels. The usage has since broadened as noted at rhubarb rhubarb.
  2. Definition four is attributed to baseball commentator Red Barber c1940. He claimed to have based the usage on the practice in "early radio dramas" (presumably in the US c1930) of actors repetitively voicing "rhubarb". However, unlike the UK usage, he felt the practice applied to muttering by an angry mob, so applied the word to arguments on the baseball field where he could not distinguish the words.
  3. Definition five appears to have developed by extension from definition 4, since it has no relevance to the original stage usage on either continent.


any plant of the genus Rheum

Extensive Definition

Rheum is a genus of perennial plants that grow from thick short rhizomes. The genus is in the family Polygonaceae, and includes the vegetable rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum or Rheum x hybridum.) The plants have large leaves that are somewhat triangular shaped with long fleshy petioles. The flowers are small, greenish-white to rose-red, and grouped in large compound leafy inflorescences. A number of varieties of rhubarb have been domesticated both as medicinal plants and for human consumption. While the leaves are toxic, the stalks are used in pies and other foods for their tart flavor.


The genus is represented by about 60 extant species. Among species found in the wild, those most commonly used in cooking are the Garden Rhubarb (R. rhabarbarum) and R. rhaponticum, which, though a true rhubarb, bears the common name False Rhubarb. The many varieties of cultivated rhubarb more usually grown for eating are recognised as Rheum x hybridum in the Royal Horticultural Societies list of recognised plant names. The drug rheum is prepared from the rhizomes and roots of another species, R. officinale or Medicinal Rhubarb. This species is also native to Asia, as is the Turkey Rhubarb (R. palmatum). Another species, the Sikkim Rhubarb (R. nobile), is limited to the Himalayas.
Rheum species have been recorded as larval food plants for some Lepidoptera species including Brown-tail, Buff Ermine, Cabbage Moth, Large Yellow Underwing, The Nutmeg, Setaceous Hebrew Character and Turnip Moth.


Rheum species are herbaceous perennials with hermaphrodite flowers, consisting of a colored perianth, composed of six to nine segments, arranged in two rows. The flowers have nine stamina inserted on the torus at the base of the peranthium, they are free or subconnatent at their base. The ovary is simple and triangular shaped with three styles. The fruits are a three-sided caryopsis with winged sides, the seeds are albuminous and have straight embryos.

Cultivation and consumption

The plant is indigenous to Asia, and many suggest that it was often used by the Mongolians; particularly, the Tatars tribes of the Gobi. The plant has grown wild along the banks of the Volga for centuries; it may have been brought there by Eurasian tribes, such as the Scythians, Huns, Magyars or Mongols. The term rhubarb is a combination of Greek rha and barbarum; rha being a term that referred both to the plant and to the Volga River. Varieties of rhubarb have a long history as medicinal plants in traditional Chinese medicine, but the use of rhubarb as food is a relatively recent innovation, first recorded in 17th century England, after affordable sugar became available to common people, and reaching a peak between the two world wars. Rhubarb first came to America in the 1820s, entering the country in Maine and Massachusetts and moving west with the settlers.
Rhubarb is now grown in many areas and thanks to greenhouse production is available throughout much of the year. Grown primarily for its fleshy petioles, commonly known as rhubarb sticks or stalks rhubarb is a vegetable that plays at being a fruit. In temperate climates rhubarb is one of the first food plants to be ready for harvest, usually in mid to late Spring (April/May in the Northern Hemisphere, October/November in the Southern), and the season for field-grown plants lasts until September. In the Northwest there are typically two harvests: one from late April through May and another from late June and into July. Rhubarb is ready to be consumed as soon as it is harvested, and freshly cut stalks will be firm and glossy.
The color of the Rhubarb stalks can vary from the commonly associated deep red, through speckled pink, to simply green. The color results from the presence of anthocyanins, and varies according to both rhubarb variety and production technique. The color is not related to its suitability for cooking. The green-stalked rhubarb is more robust and has a higher yield, and the red-colored stalks are more popular with consumers.
The stalks, which are petioles, can be cooked in a variety of ways. Stewed, they yield a tart sauce that can be eaten with sugar and other stewed fruit or used as filling for pies (see rhubarb pie), tarts, and crumbles. This common use led to the slang term for rhubarb, "pie plant". Cooked with strawberries or apples as a sweetener, or with stem or root ginger, rhubarb makes excellent jam. It can also be used to make wine and as an ingredient in baked goods.
In former days, a common and affordable sweet for children in parts of the United Kingdom and Sweden was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in sugar. In the UK the first rhubarb of the year is grown by candlelight in dark sheds dotted around the noted "Rhubarb Triangle" of Wakefield, Leeds and Morley, a practice that produces a sweeter, more tender stalk. In warm climates, rhubarb will grow all year round, but in colder climates the parts of the plant above the ground disappear completely during winter, and begin to grow again from the root in early spring. It can be forced, that is, encouraged to grow early, by raising the local temperature. This is commonly done by placing an upturned bucket over the shoots as they come up.
Rhubarb can successfully be planted in containers, so long as the container is large enough to accommodate a season's growth.
Rhubarb is used as a strong laxative and for its astringent effect on the mucous membranes of the mouth and the nasal cavity.

Toxic effects

Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous substances. Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, a corrosive and nephrotoxic acid that is present in many plants. The (median lethal dose) for pure oxalic acid is predicted to be about 375 mg/kg body weight, or about 25 g for a 65 kg (~140 lb) human. While the oxalic acid content of rhubarb leaves can vary, a typical value is about 0.5%, so a rather unlikely five kilograms of the extremely sour leaves would have to be consumed to reach an dose of oxalic acid. However, the leaves are believed to also contain an additional, unidentified toxin. In the petioles, the amount of oxalic acid is much lower, only about 2-2.5% of the total acidity, especially when harvested before mid-June (in the northern hemisphere), but it is still enough to cause slightly rough teeth.
The roots have been used as strong laxative for over 5,000 years. The roots and stems are rich in anthraquinones, such as emodin and rhein. These substances are cathartic and laxative, which explains the sporadic abuse of Rhubarb as a slimming agent. Anthraquinones are yellow or orange and may colour the urine.

Other uses of the word

It is or was common for a crowd of extras in acting to shout the word "rhubarb" repeatedly and out of step with each other, to cause the effect of general hubbub. As a result, the word "rhubarb" sometimes is used to mean "length of superfluous text in speaking or writing", or a general term to refer to irrelevant chatter by chorus or extra actors. The American equivalent is walla.
Possibly from this usage, possibly from a variant on "rube", or perhaps some of both, the word also denotes a loud argument. The term has been most commonly used in baseball.
The term "rhubarb" as it relates to baseball is an antiquated reference to a fight amongst many players. The iconic bench-clearing brawl is known as a "rhubarb". In the 1989 film Batman, The Joker (Jack Nicholson) tells Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) to "never rub another man's rhubarb". The term was used as a threat to Bruce Wayne warning him to leave both men's love interest Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) alone.
In the 1951 film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire, Stanley (Marlon Brando) gets into a ruckus at the bowling alley. His wife Stella (Kim Hunter) points him out to her sister Blanch (Vivien Leigh) and says, "[he's] the one that's making all the rhubarb", to describe him as the person at the center of, or instigator of, the disruption.
The phrase "out in the rhubarb patch" can be used to describe a place being in the far reaches of an area. Rhubarb is usually grown at the outer edges of the garden in the less desirable and unkept area. Wheras the leaves and roots are poisonous, the stem is not. The term also refers to a 1954 book by Red Barber and Barney Stein, The Rhubarb Patch: The Story of the Modern Brooklyn Dodgers in which "Rhubarb Patch" was used in both it's baseball and more general connotations to describe Ebbets Field, the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In Canada, the phrase "putting it in the rhubarb" describes driving a vehicle off the road, possibly into roadside vegetation.
"Donkey Rhubarb" refers to Japanese knotweed and is also the name of an EP by Aphex Twin
rhubarb in Arabic: راوند
rhubarb in Catalan: Ruibarbre
rhubarb in Welsh: Riwbob
rhubarb in Danish: Rabarber
rhubarb in German: Rhabarber (Gattung)
rhubarb in Esperanto: Rabarbo
rhubarb in Spanish: Rheum
rhubarb in Persian: ریواس
rhubarb in French: Rhubarbe
rhubarb in Italian: Rheum
rhubarb in Hebrew: ריבס
rhubarb in Kurdish: Rêwas
rhubarb in Lithuanian: Rabarbaras
rhubarb in Hungarian: Rebarbara
rhubarb in Japanese: ダイオウ属
rhubarb in Dutch: Rabarber
rhubarb in Norwegian: Rabarbraer
rhubarb in Polish: Rabarbar
rhubarb in Portuguese: Ruibarbo
rhubarb in Russian: Ревень
rhubarb in Simple English: Rhubarb
rhubarb in Finnish: Raparperi
rhubarb in Swedish: Rabarbrar
rhubarb in Ukrainian: Ревінь
rhubarb in Chinese: 大黄

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Bedlam let loose, Irish potato, Kraut, altercation, apologetics, apologia, apology, argument, argumentation, aubergine, barney, beans, bedlam, beef, bicker, bickering, blast, bobbery, brawl, brouhaha, cabbage, casuistry, charivari, chirm, clamor, clangor, clap, clatter, commotion, contention, controversy, defense, din, discord, disputation, dispute, donnybrook, drunken brawl, dustup, eggplant, falling-out, flap, flyting, fracas, free-for-all, greens, hassle, hell broke loose, howl, hubbub, hue and cry, hullabaloo, jangle, knock-down-and-drag-out, legumes, litigation, logomachy, loud noise, love apple, mad apple, noise, noise and shouting, outcry, pandemonium, paper war, passage of arms, pieplant, polemic, polemics, potato, potherbs, produce, racket, rattle, roar, row, ruckus, ruction, rumble, rumpus, run-in, scrap, set-to, shindy, shivaree, spud, tater, thunder, thunderclap, tintamarre, tomato, tumult, uproar, vegetables, verbal engagement, war of words, white potato, wrangling
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