Is It Safe To Eat Rhubarb Leaves?

Of all the seasonal fruits and vegetables that make their way into our kitchens, rhubarb just might be one of the most special. A springtime vegetable known for its bright pink color and its sour flavor, rhubarb grows in long, celery-like stalks that turn their pink hue when ripe, and is actually a member of the buckwheat family (via Food Network). Truly a seasonal item, rhubarb is only available from about late March to the beginning of June, when chefs and home cooks work it into all manner of desserts (with a lot of sugar added, to tame the sour flavor), preserves, and even savory dishes such as braised skillet chicken.

Lots of folks are familiar with rhubarb stalks showing up in pastries such as custard tarts and strawberry rhubarb crisps. But what about the abundant, dark green leaves that grow at the end of each stalk, much like chard: Are those edible? Read on to find out.

Rhubarb leaves are highly toxic

Those more familiar with rhubarb might know that there is often confusion about whether or not the plant contains dangerous toxins. According to Healthline, rhubarb stalks are fine to eat, but their leaves are highly toxic, and are not safe to eat under any circumstances. Although the dark green, frilly leaves look a lot like chard and other leafy greens one would eat, they are loaded with oxalic acid, a natural substance found in plants that can lead to the formation of kidney stones and even kidney failure. While rhubarb stalks contain a small amount of oxalic acid, their leaves contain high concentrations in a range of 570–1,900 milligrams of oxalate per 100 grams, per the outlet.

The symptoms of rhubarb leaf poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and difficulty swallowing, according to MedlinePlus. Since a person would have to consume several pounds of the leaves, however, to ingest a potentially lethal dose of oxalate, deaths attributable to rhubarb leaf poisoning are exceedingly rare. Regardless, the next time you're in the kitchen whipping up a rhubarb recipe, remember to discard the leaves pronto. Keep them far away from animals as well.