Urban Foraging: Rhubarb

Thus far the summer of 2011 in Edmonton has been wet. Wet it great if you like things to be green. It is also great if you have a garden and would like to see the plants you carefully cultivate grow into something beautiful or edible. If you live in an apartment without a balcony – like I do – a garden is not an option and you have to be a little more creative in finding little spots of green in the urban environment to enjoy on the summer days when the sun does finally appear. Luckily, Edmonton has an amazing river valley so green is never very far away if you opt not to live in suburban sprawl.
While wandering through the green spaces in your city or town there is a plant to keep an eye out for in mid-late June – Rhubarb. Why a vegetable garden species? Because it will give you a glimpse into the human history of your urban environment.
Rhubarb is a plant that is dependent on humans to spread. Only when it is cultivated with care and attention does it take over your garden. Left alone it will come back every year but probably wont move far from where it was originally planted. This makes it an excellent indicator of where people kept family vegetable plots before supermarkets and urban development made the practice unnecessary.
So, the next time you are wandering around your city or town keep an eye open for the big green-leaved and purple stalks. You may be surprised how far from current homes you find rhubarb. Why not take some home with you, it is cheaper than the farmer’s market!


Rhubarb along the river in Fredericton New Brunswick, 29 May 2011

About Lauren Wheeler

A reformed history phd student working as a public historian and looking for connections between museums and environmental history from the often freezing reaches of Canada (aka Edmonton).
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