A few decades ago, more than 90% of the world’s forced rhubarb crop was grown in this small area of less than 10 square miles.
Grown in forcing sheds while it is still winter and picked in February and March, its juicy crimson stems provided a welcome addition to the winter diet at a time when fruits and berries were in short supply.
And there the story would have begun and ended were it not for new research that has revealed that baking British garden rhubarb for 20 minutes dramatically increases its levels of anti-cancerous chemicals.
These chemicals, called polyphenols, have been shown to selectively kill or prevent the growth of cancer cells, and could be used to develop new, less toxic, treatments for the disease, even in cases where cancers have proven resistant to other treatments.
Academics are now hoping to use the results to study the effect of rhubarb’s polyphenols on leukaemia. They aim to discover the best combination of polyphenols and chemotherapy agents to kill leukaemia cells, even those previously resistant to treatment.
It is the first time the benefits of British garden rhubarb have been studied and previous research has focussed on Oriental medicinal rhubarb, which has been recognised for its health benefits and used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Dr Nikki Jordan-Mahy, from Sheffield Hallam University’s Biomedical Research Centre, said: “Our research has shown that British rhubarb is a potential source of pharmacological agents that may be used to develop new anti-cancerous drugs”.
“Current treatments are not effective in all cancers and resistance is a common problem. Cancer affects one in three individuals in the UK so it’s very important to discover novel, less toxic, treatments, which can overcome resistance.”
Source: Sheffield Hallam University