I'll admit it, I'm lucky–my neighbors have cultivated a huge patch of rhubarb since before I can remember, and each year they invite my family to pick as much as we'd like. This means that when it comes to desserts, I pretty much grew up on fresh rhubarb sauce, rhubarb cakes and rhubarb crumbles.

sauce, meat, vegetable, tomato
Judy Holtz

I realize, however, that this is not most folks' childhood, and that many have never seen harvested rhubarb, let alone a patch of it. So in the spirit of education, let's look at how to pick this obscure plant:

1. Find your patch

vegetable, pasture, lettuce, cabbage, burdock
Camille Balhorn

Confirm that the stalks aren't going to seed yet, as this means it's too late to harvest.

2. Locate the end of the stalk

vegetable, pasture
Camille Balhorn

This is where you'll want to grip from as you pull. Depending on the heat of the season, the stalk may have become dried out and hollow, so try to test this with your fingers before you pull. 

3. Pull the stalk

vegetable, pasture, cabbage, lettuce
Camille Balhorn

Be gentle, yet firm enough to pull through the bottom.

4. Repeat

pasture, vegetable
Camille Balhorn

Look at the height of that stalk!

5. Cut off all the leaves

vegetable, pasture, herb, burdock, grass
Camille Balhorn

Be careful with the knife of course!

The final step is the most important – the leaf of the rhubarb plant actually contains toxic oxalic acid, which can lead to renal failure or metabolic diseases. For this same reason, it is advisable to stay within the April-June window for harvest, as after this time the proportion of oxalic acid is even higher.

I hope that you learned something new from this brief crash course in picking rhubarb. Whether you visit a farm someday or plant a patch in your own backyard, you now have the means to execute harvest like a pro. Just remember, don't eat the leaves!