Many vegetables and fruits produce leaves that are not only edible, but very, very, good for you. Others, such as tomatoes, potatoes and rhubarb produce leaves that are toxic and should never be ingested. A good rule of thumb is if in doubt, leave it out.
Here are a dozen vegetables with leaves you should definitely not leave alone. Not only are they ridiculously good for you, they add variety to your harvest and allow you to get more groceries out of your garden.
1. Broccoli – the leaves on a broccoli plant are too often ignored or discarded. Instead add them to your salads, stir fries or if there are some on the stems of your florets when you are putting them on a fresh veggie tray, leave them there for an added nutritional boost.
2. Beets – Aren’t beet leaves gorgeous? Imagine how striking they would look in a salad. While the beet root has a wonderful, earthy taste (especially roasted) you can get more from your beet patch if you harvest the beet greens for salads before harvesting the roots. Just be sure to leave enough leaves on each beet to sustain healthy growth. If you pick a single leaf from each beet and work your way through the patch you will have more than enough greens without hurting the future main harvest. That said, you will want to harvest your beet roots before they get too big for optimum flavor.
3. Carrots – Back in the early 1800’s women often tucked carrot tops into their hats in lieu of feathers. Not sure why I focussed on that when this article is supposed to be about edible leaves. Now I am imagining the dance partner dipping the carrot festooned lady and nibbling on her hat adornment. And he could, because the tops can also be eaten. Try adding sprigs to open faced sandwiches, hats, appetizers or soups for decoration instead of parsley…or feathers.
4. Cauliflower – while not as abundant as broccoli or cabbage, all members of the brassica family produce tasty, edible leaves including the cauliflower.
5. Celery – the leafy tips of celery is another too often overlooked source of greens. Lovely in salads or sandwiches, they can also be used as a parsley replacement. Simply work your way down the row snipping a little here and there off the tops.
6. Kohlrabi – This fun looking vegetable produces tasty tentacles and leaves that go great in salads or stir fries. As with beets they do need the leaves to provide nourishment for the bulbous part, so don’t leave them bald.
7. Peas – the young leaves are really nice in salads and sandwiches, as anyone who is into sprouting can attest to. But you don’t have to sprout pea seeds when you can just clip them off the vine.
8. Radishes – The leaves pack the same spice we associate with radishes and are a wonderfully creative way to add a bit zing to your salads, sandwiches or garnishes.
9. Strawberries – The next time you eat a strawberry, eat it leaf and all. The leaf caps on the strawberry are packed full of nutrition. Tea made with the dried leaves is traditionally used for relieving arthritis and gastronomic upsets and is an excellent source of iron and Vitamin C. So put that leaf pincher gadget away and eat those leaves. At the very least, stop removing the leaves before throwing whole strawberries into the blender for a smoothie. You won’t even notice they’re in there and your body will thank you later.
10. Sweet Potatoes – while the regular spud has poisonous leaves, those on the sweet potato are perfectly edible and even have a history of being life sustaining in hard times due to their prolific nature in warm climates. They are flavorful and packed with antioxidants, fibre and all kinds of nutrition. Serve them up raw or cooked the same way you would spinach greens.
11. Swiss chard – obviously the leaves are edible, since that is basically all there is to this plant, but did you know you can remove the centre ribs of the leaves and cook them up like asparagus? You can also use the ribs raw on vegetable trays. They are a real treat and if you plant some of the rainbow blends out there, they will look as good as they taste.
12. Turnips – The greens from a turnip are an acquired taste, but once you have it you will look forward to the greens as much as the roots. The greens contain four times the calcium content of other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower. As with all root vegetables, turnips do need the leaves in order to grow healthy roots, so pick a few leaves here and there rather than denuding a single plant. Although some people crave the greens more than the roots, so if that is the case pluck to your heart’s content. It’s your garden after all!
From left to right…Ruby Red Swiss Chard, Red Russian Kale (with a few garlic cloves beside it), Bloomsdale Spinach, Celery, Blue Curled Scotch Kale, Flamingo Pink Swiss Chard.
With a snip, snip here and snip, snip there you will be amazed how quickly you can fill a salad bowl with garden fresh, antioxidant rich leaves without looking as if you even touched your garden. If you have some herbs be sure to throw a few leaves from those in as well. Add some edible flowers for a finishing touch and you will have a blend that cannot be duplicated by any plastic boxed offering in a grocery store. Some people even make up their own specialty, trademark blends that family and friends look forward to with great anticipation. So grab your bowl, go out to your garden and grow wild.
And if you come across a dandelion growing in your vegetable patch, throw its leaves in your bowl as well. It probably has more antioxidants than all the “tame” leaves put together. See our earlier post on What are dandelions good for? Absolutely Everything!
And now I must leave you. Wishing you an abundant, leafy harvest.