Are Rhubarb Leaves Really Toxic?

The answer is more complicated than you think.

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, rhubarb is a vegetable, but we use it like a fruit) is rhubarb. The pretty pink stalks are a delicious addition to pies, muffins, jams and other rhubarb recipes.

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.

Did you know you should never eat these foods raw?

Is Rhubarb Poisonous?

The stalks of a rhubarb plant are safe to eat. You can even eat them raw—but be warned, they’re very tart!

However, the large, smooth, heart-shaped leaves are toxic. “Rhubarb leaves are considered poisonous to humans and animals due to high concentrations of oxalic acid,” says Dr. Barbara Ingham, a professor of food science at the University of Wisconsin. This oxalic acid can cause difficulty breathing, nausea and even kidney stones.

It’s safe to put rhubarb leaves in your home compost, though.  Oxalic acid isn’t readily absorbed by the roots of plants, so compost containing decomposed rhubarb leaves can be safely worked into the soil of your garden, according to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

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 learn how to 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.

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Katie Bandurski
Katie is an Associate Editor for Taste of Home, specializing in writing and email newsletters. When she’s out of the office, you’ll find her exploring Wisconsin, trying out new vegetarian recipes and combing through antique shops.