Forage Wild Rhubarb – Canaigre

Wild rhubarb in the Southwest is in a genus called Rumex.  This tasty wild plant that only shows its leaves in late winter in the Southwest.   Jacqueline Soule here today to talk about about Rumex hymenosepalus, commonly called wild rhubarb, canaigre, hierba colorada, Arizona dock, tanners dock, or ganagra.

Rumex Family Ties

Although the leaves appear only after the winter rains, the plant is a perennial plant.  It is technically alive all year – it just waits out the heat of summer, and the cold of winter, underground – in a state of dormancy.

Rhubarb is a cousin to Rumex. Over the centuries it has been bred for nice fat leaf stalks.

Rumex is in the buckwheat family, the Polygonaceae.    You may have guessed by the common name, but this plant family also includes rhubarb, another perennial whose leaf stalks are (IMHO) yummy! Many members of the family also have edible seeds.

Various other species of Rumex are commonly cultivated as garden vegetables.    Rumex acetosa, often simply called sorrel, common sorrel, garden sorrel, spinach dock and narrow-leaved dock.    There is also Rumex scutatus, called French sorrel or yerba mulata, has been cultivated in this area since the days of Father Kino.  You remember him?  There’s a book about him….

More Kino plants –

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today  

The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $20!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!

Forage Rumex

The entire plant can be useful – if you select the correct species.

The roots of Rumex hymenosepalus are a good source of tannin, used to tan leather.    Indeed, at one point, plants were cultivated in parts of the Southwest and sold to leather mills.    The roots also yield a warm, medium brown dye for natural fibers like wool and cotton.


Aside from the roots, the rest of the plant is edible.    Use young leaves and tender young stems in salads or cook like spinach.    Older stalks can be cooked and eaten like rhubarb.    Rumex stalk pie – yum!

Seeds can be harvested and ground to add to corn meal, or added to stew to thicken it.  Since they are seeds and not grains they are naturally gluten free.  This is despite the common name “buckwheat family.”  Any seed ground and eaten as human food was once considered “wheat.”

These stalks of seeds are not quite ready for harvest. Wait for them to turn more brown.

Cowboy Food

Growing up at the edge of Tucson, working cowboys were part of our circle of friends.    “Mr. Alex” was very patient with my countless plant questions, and told me the name for the plant was canaigre, and that it was good to chew on the cane-like stalks as you rode the range.

Rumex hymenosepalus are generally found in grasslands, like the Tucson valley used to be.    Now you can find it on the eastern and southern edges of Tucson around Vail and Sahuarita, as well as other southern Arizona grassland areas.    It is also found in most of the other western US states, including California, Nevada, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.  I have seen Rumex in the mountains of Sonora, But I am not certain of the species (says the Botany nerd).

To read more about tasty ways to prepare the plant – here’s our Using Wild Rhubarb.


A quick note about the common name sorrel.    In the Caribbean “sorrel” refers to Hibiscus sabdariffa, used to make a tea.    In other parts of the world, sorrel refers to a members of the genus Oxalis, whose leaves have a tart flavor and are also used in a number of ways.    This just highlights the reason I rely on scientific names when discussing plants that may be harvested in the wild.    You want to be certain of your identification.


Canaigre Caution

Rumex contains oxalic acid.    Before you freak out about “acid” – we all eat acid all the time.    Citrus contains citric acid, apples contain acetic acid, even leafy greens like amaranth contain acids.   Vinegar is acetic acid.  Acid is not the issue.    The oxalate crystals formed after excessive consumption of oxalic acid are. Remember – all – ALL – foods in moderation.

Editors Note.   Here is our post about oxalic acid – on our site under the “Savor Safely” tab on the site menu.

And Here’s Our Cookbook!

savor-honey-bookMay we suggest our dandy little cookbook?

Using Honey in New and Savory Ways offers 36 pages of tips for using honey in your cooking, as well as in all manner of dishes. A steal at only $6!

We hope you will help support some local Southwest folks!
From the review:
“Honey is for more than desserts and this book can help! Using honey in cooking savory dishes helps engage all your taste buds and adds a layer of added flavor to everyday dishes – plus holiday fare.”

Beekeeper?  We offer volume discounts – because if you sell honey in local markets you might want to offer some of these books as well.

About the Author:

Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D. is an Ethnobotanist, Associate Researcher at the University of Arizona Herbarium, and Chair of the Desert Legume Program (DELEP) Advisory Board. She is author of 15 books, countless articles, and is a popular public speaker.    She researches traditional uses of plants by local peoples and writes about growing and using plants of the Sonoran Desert for two sites
here at

*Award: Notable Southwest Book 2011.


© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt – but you must give proper credit to Savor the Southwest.    You must include a link to the original post on this site. No stealing photos.


The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.


2 thoughts on “Forage Wild Rhubarb – Canaigre

  1. I live in SW New Mexico and want to grow some Rumex hymenosepalus, but cannot find a source either for seeds or plants. I’m hoping someone might read this and be able to help me out.

    1. Hi Pamela,
      In 2017, found some growing in the sandy soils on the road to Rockhound State Park. Also – I do know that before covid they did have a native plant sale at the Visitors Center there one April. Perhaps someone at the visitors center can put you in contact with the native plant club near you. It is a perennial, so once you get some started, if it is in well drained soil it should last for years.

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