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Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

Although largely regarded as a fruit, rhubarb is in fact a vegetable - the unusual point being that it"s generally eaten with sugar.

It was popular with the ancient Greeks - its name coming from their name for the river Volga, where it grew. It was also cultivated from the 3rd millennium BC by the Chinese for the sake of its root, a powerful purgative In Tudor times the plant became a staple of British medicinal herb gardens. But by 1830 the stalks were a common vegetable around London, the plants being forced in the same way as seakale.

Only the stalks are edible - the leaves containing calcium oxalate, which is poisonous.

Most "forced" rhubarb in Britain is produced in heated, candle-lit sheds, in the Wakefield area of Yorkshire; and between January and March there are guided tours of these growing sheds - for information phone Wakefield Council on 01924-305841.

Outdoor rhubarb starts to reach the shops during March.

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