Food & Nutrition

Are Rhubarb Leaves Really Toxic?

The answer is more complicated than you think.

Rhubarbnatalia bulatova/Shutterstock

Like most people in the Midwest, I really look forward to spring. After all, there’s a lot to love: warm temperatures, blooming plants, and—my personal favorite—spring produce.

One of the most iconic spring fruits (well, technically it’s a vegetable, but we use it as a fruit) is rhubarb. The pretty pink stalks are a delicious addition to pies, muffins, jams, and more. (These rhubarb recipes are ready for spring!)

However, rhubarb has a little bit of a shady side. I was always warned to stay away from rhubarb leaves because they’re poisonous. But is the rumor true? Here’s what we found.

Is rhubarb poisonous?

Yes and no. The stalks are totally safe to eat. You can even enjoy them raw—but be warned, they’re very tart!

The leaves are a different story. They contain a chemical called oxalic acid which, when consumed in large quantities, can be fatal. According to National Geographic, oxalic acid binds to calcium ions in your blood and makes them ineffective. This process can lead to kidney problems or even death. Now that you know about some of the potential dangers, here are some surprising foods that could give you food poisoning.

The verdict

As scary as this process sounds, don’t panic. You would have to eat several pounds of rhubarb leaves to reach a toxic level—so don’t feel like you need to toss the whole batch if tiny leaf scraps end up in your rhubarb muffins. But do avoid eating the leaves whole—even a few can make you feel sick.

And, if you grow rhubarb in the garden, keep Fido away from the patch. Most pets are a lot smaller than humans, so it takes very few rhubarb leaves to do damage. Give your pup one of these dog-friendly foods instead. Want to learn more about foods that could be toxic? Find out about the most dangerous foods on the planet.

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