Eat your greens, from surprising sources

Still choosing the plants for your garden this year?  Keeping nutrition in mind as you do?  We all know that greens are good for you, but most of the greens we’re used to eating grow best in the cool spring weather, and then when it’s summer, there’s so much more we like to grow that we may not want to spare the space for the few leafy plants that like the heat.

But how about if some of your garden plants did double duty?  You can actually eat the leaves of a number of plants better known for their fruits, pods, roots or other parts.  Some of these need to be cooked to be healthy and palatable, so always check reliable sources for instructions.

Hyacinth bean, Lablab purpureus

I started thinking about this when I ordered cowpea seeds for this year’s garden and saw in the description that the leaves are edible along with the more usually eaten seeds.  Many other legumes have edible leaves, including peas, common beans, winged beans, and hyacinth beans.

You can eat carrot leaves – and radish leaves as well.  We all know about kale, collards, and cabbage, but when you grow other brassica family plants known for other parts, such as broccoli and kohlrabi, eat the leaves too – they’re just as good.  (Also, if your collard plants bolt and go to flower, eat the flower buds – they taste like broccoli.)

The young leaves of squash can be eaten, though watch out for the prickles on older leaves.  Edible gourd plants also frequently have edible leaves:  luffa is one example.

Luffa, fruit and leaves

Salsify and scorzonera, known for their roots, also produce grass-like foliage that can be eaten.  Taro, Colocasia esculenta, often grown as an ornamental, has edible leaves and roots.  Then there’s my very favorite, sweet potato!  Delicious, nutritious tubers under the ground; attractive, nutritious leaves spreading out above.  And a number of mallow family plants including okra and some kinds of hibiscus apparently have edible leaves, though I can’t say I’ve tried them.

Now, there are plenty of garden plants whose leaves you really don’t want to eat, so don’t go sampling randomly without checking first.  Rhubarb is probably the best known of these – don’t eat rhubarb leaves!

According to this list, you can eat the leaves of some plants in the nightshade family, but please be very careful and do lots of research if you do.  Tomato leaves are less poisonous than many people think – you’d need to eat about a pound to get seriously sick from the toxic alkaloid – but I can’t imagine wanting to swallow even one, though apparently some chefs like to use them for seasoning according to this New York Times article.

Which unexpected leaves do you eat from your garden?  And which healthy greens are you planning to grow this year?

2 Comments on “Eat your greens, from surprising sources

  1. Hey Becky! Good thought – we think of the seeds but the leaves of quinoa and relatives were a big part of Native American diets. Same with amaranth.

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