Edible leaves: Don’t throw away the healthy bits

The edible leaves of veggies are often discarded, while they could be used to add flavour and nutritional punch to salads and other dishes

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Visiting farms and chatting with food growers, I am always surprised and happy to learn about the wonder of vegetables. Like finding out about parts of the vegetable that are edible that we don’t normally bother to use and just throw away! Discovering this is discovering what abundance really is.

Edible vegetable leaves are what has us excited these days. While some plant leaves are toxic – like tomato leaves – there are a good number that aren’t. Today we give much-deserved recognition to some. Enjoy!

Broccoli leaves

Previously used to cultivate the soil, broccoli leaves are now recognised as a great winter substitute for leafy greens like spinach, kale, and other warmer season leafy greens. What is extra special is their nutrient-rich quality – a good source of protein and very low in cholesterol. In winter, as most varieties of swiss chard struggle with growth, these edible leaves make a wonderful and tasty alternative. Consume them as you would cabbage or juice them instead of kale. The leaves are sweeter than the usually bitter kale and have a high water content.

ALSO READ: Indigenous vegetables ‘are not poor people’s food’

Beetroot leaves

In winter, our beets do not grow as big as the ones you normally see in supermarkets all year round, but you can enjoy their leaves as an added bonus. The green leaves and the stems are both edible and very nutritious. You can enjoy the beet greens raw in a salad or add the stems and have them steamed, braised, or sautéed. The stems can also be finely shredded to add in a coleslaw.

autumn crops beetroot edible leaves
Beetroot has delicious and very versatile edible leaves. Photo: Supplied

Carrot leaves

Who would have thought that the green tops of carrots would make such a great herby seasoning in salads? We picked up this hack from one of our customers. Carrot leaves are an excellent substitute for parsley, with an earthy flavour and a sweet (when blanched) delicious taste. They are also packed with nutrients. Raw the leaves can be bitter, which brings a nice balance to a salad. When cooked they almost taste like carrots, making them great companions to soups or home-made vegetable stock.

Pumpkin leaves 

This vegetable has it all. From the seeds to the skin, stem, flowers and leaves, it is all edible. In KwaZulu-Natal-Natal, pumpkin leaves make up the popular dish imfino, which is the same as morogo in Johannesburg. The edible leaves of pumpkin are best cooked and eaten when still young and tender. When it comes to the stems, remember to remove the skin for a delicious nutty flavour. With the varieties currently available, we are spoiled for choice. While in season you can enjoy all the other bits and save the flesh for when out of season. Cook pumpkins into a puree or soup and freeze to enjoy later.

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If you are lucky enough to grow your own food, do yourself a favour and try these edible leaves. If you know where your food is grown, simply ask that your veggies get delivered with the leaves still attached. Maybe supermarkets will one day present you with all this healthy deliciousness too.

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