Rhubarb Lemonade

Phew! The day was a hot one! And on days like this, there is nothing better than sitting back with a cold drink in hand – and one that is fitting for a day like this is Rhubarb Lemonade.

Now that it’s warmed up for a few days, it’s time to harvest the Rhubarb. This year’s batch is huge and it can be a challenge to find ways to use it so that it’s not wasted. (Rhubarb Fast Facts can be found near the end of this column.)

Rhubarb harvest

The leaves (which are HUGE) and ends will be composted, and the rest will be cooked into a syrup that is really yummy and can be used for any number of occasions. I first had this delicious drink when we moved to town and attended the first of many Junior League Fort Collins Annual Terrace & Garden Tours.

It can be served as a tasty non-alcoholic punch that’s perfect for showers, children’s birthday parties, etc. For more mature gatherings, I’ve found that vodka pairs beautifully with this lemonade, but take care – it goes down very smoothly and the tartness of the rhubarb masks the *gasp* factor of the vodka.

If you need a less sweet by version, you can substitute sparkling water or club soda for the lemon-lime that is specified.

Rhubarb Lemonade

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Cooling time: 2 hours Note that the prep and cook time does not include 2 hour chilling time.

10 C diced rhubarb, the redder the better
2 – 12 oz cans frozen lemonade concentrate
9 C water
1-1/2 C sugar
1 liter chilled carbonated lemon-lime beverage

Put rhubarb, lemonade concentrate, water and sugar into a large, nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat to low; cover and cook until rhubarb is very soft, about 20 minutes.

Press mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher; discard pulp.

Refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.

When you are ready to serve, pour the rhubarb mixture over ice in a small punch bowl; slowly pour in an equal amount of lemon-lime soda and serve immediately.

The concentrate makes enough for 12 servings and can be frozen for up to three months.


Rhubarb Fast Facts:

  • Scientific Name: Rheum rhabarbarum L., Rheum x hybridum
  • Country of Origin: China
  • History in the US: It’s reported that around 1800,  an individual in Maine was the first to bring Rhubarb to the United States. From there it spread from grower to grower through Massachusetts, and by 1822 it was popular enough that it was a staple at farmers markets.
  • Type: Herbaceous Perennial
  • Uses:
    • Medicinal: Used for centuries in China as a laxative
    • Culinary: Base ingredient for many desserts, categorized as a fruit though it’s technically a vegetable
  • Noted Nutrients: Vitamin K, Vitamin C
  • Growing Conditions: Prefers full sun, though mine have grown in partial shade for decades without harm. Needs a well drained soil so that the roots and crowns don’t decompose.
  • To Harvest: Cut stalks that are 10-inches or longer, leaving the smaller ones to feed the plant. Cut off and compost the leaves, leaving the stems for your use.
  • Cautions: Do not eat the leaves. They contain high levels of oxalic acid, a compound known to cause kidney failure. Do not harvest or use rhubarb stalks that have been exposed to freezing temperatures. The plant will transport the oxalic acid into the stems as a preservation measure, resulting in levels that are too high for human consumption.

Rhubarb Flower Spike

Pictured: Rhubarb flower spike. Be sure to remove as soon as you see them as they drain a lot of the plant’s resources.

If you are interested in learning more about Rhubarb, I found the The Rhubarb Compendium to have, as it claims, “More than you ever wanted to know about rhubarb”.

If you have a favorite plant, fruit, or vegetable that you’d like to know more about, send me an email and I’ll dig into it for you.

Until next time, may your knees be green, and your spirit light.




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