Rhubarb Leaf is Poisonous (or what PINE can teach you)

In Outdoor Education, P.I.N.E by Carol

I have a pretty big (for a small urban lot) garden, but have never grown rhubarb. But when a neighbour up the street offered up a few stalks last month, I said sure. She tore off three stalks, each topped with a large, billowing leaf, and I handed one to each of my boys. We were late for lunch and I thought my two year old must be hungry as he munched away on his rhubarb leaf.

In retrospect, I’m pretty my seven year old said what he later claimed to say, which was that his brother should not eat the leaf. But I kind of didn’t hear it; somehow the warning just didn’t register. But it may have contributed to my coagulating thoughts as I walked the half block to our house, watching the babe make his way through the better part of the leaf. Why was it that I had never heard of anyone eating the leaf of rhubarb, but only the stalk?

When we arrived home, the kids played in the yard while I headed upstairs to the computer. I typed in something like “is rhubarb leaf edible” and quickly discovered that it isn’t. On to a call with the Ontario Poison Centre, whose nurse called me back after consulting a toxicologist.  Verdict:  hospital emergency, now.

When I told my seven year old what we needed to do and why, he said, “I told you he shouldn’t eat the leaf.” It turns out that he had learned it during a PINE excursion. I can tell you that I wished I had paid more attention to him.

The hospital took all precautions, we were there for 10 hours, but everything was fine.  My two year old showed no symptoms at all.  But it was a potentially very serious situation:  rhubarb leaf ingestion can lead to kidney, heart, and brain malfunction (and other bad things) in significant doses.  Even moderate ingestion can cause renal failure.

Many people have since told me that they didn’t know rhubarb leaf was poisonous, which is one of the reasons I’m mentioning it here.  There is still plenty of rhubarb growing in Toronto yards, and I’m spreading the word.

The other reason I’m posting here is to let you know, if you sometimes wonder, what exactly it is our kids are learning in this holistic alternative school.  As it turns out, they’re acquiring some pretty important life skills and knowledge.

Finally, in case you are not familiar with it, rhubarb leaf looks like this.  It can grow bigger than your desktop screen.  Please avoid.  Mostly because of the facts, but also because our cheeky but well-informed seven year olds are telling us so.

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