“I have found that if you love life, life will love you back.”

—Arthur Rubenstein

With all there is to love about springtime, conscious cooks have much to satisfy the body and soul. The world is blooming with brightness and there are fantastic flavors to explore. One particularly invigorating spring ingredient, growing large and lush in local gardens, is rhubarb.

Rhubarb is quite robust, and not for the faint of heart. Its tart astringency needs to be tempered with substantial sweetness for some palates. Then there are the stalwart New Englanders who stride out to their long established rhubarb beds, snap off a stalk and proceed to chew away, relishing the sour intensity. The lavish leaves are toxic however, so be sure not to ingest them!

Rhubarb is actually considered to be a vegetable and can be utilized in savory treatments, such as salsa, relishes or sauces, as well as sugary selections such as pies, bars, cobblers, muffins, breads and cakes. Rhubarb lends a luscious layer of unusual flavor to lemonade, syrups and punches as well.

Strawberries and rhubarb are a marvelous combination, the sweet and tart flavors playing perfectly off each other, most especially in the enduring classic: strawberry rhubarb pie. But blueberries and raspberries may also be used with equal effectiveness and apples and rhubarb can be a compelling combo as well. Rhubarb may be stewed to an applesauce like consistency and draped over good vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, or oatmeal.

With such pronounced flavor, it stands to reason that rhubarb would also deliver powerful health benefits. An outstanding source of calcium, rhubarb may help strengthen teeth and bones. Rich in vitamin C and A, rhubarb can help bolster the immune system with superb antioxidant protection. The vitamin A is particularly beneficial for great looking, healthy skin and eye health. Rhubarb is full of fiber, to aid digestion, and may have cholesterol lowering ability which enhances heart health.

At the market look for rhubarb stalks that are blemish free and full of color, ranging from bright red to a paler pink red and even green. Store in your refrigerator and wash just before using. Rhubarb freezes beautifully, simply chop and store in freezer bags. When ready to use, pull out, rinse off and cook away.

When you prepare a delicious life, you will taste life loving you back.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Lemonade

Serves 4.

3 cups water

3 cups washed, chopped rhubarb

1/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest

several sprigs of fresh mint

3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 cup lemon seltzer

In a large saucepan, place the first five ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.  Reduce heat, cover the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Allow the rhubarb mixture to cool, then strain through a wire mesh strainer set over a large pitcher. Press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids. Stir the lemon juice and lemon seltzer  into the pitcher and serve right away over ice.  Garnish with more mint if desired.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP,  is a passionate food professional who is certified in holistic health counseling by the Institute for integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teacher’s College. In addition to writing extensively about healthy food and lifestyle, Robin teaches healthy cooking classes to students of all ages, emphasizing the use of natural, local, and organic ingredients and simple, delicious recipes. She also leads cooking workshops and does private parties. For more information go to www.theconsciouscook.net