Food waste is a major issue in today’s world. And many people inadvertently throw out or compost parts of common vegetables and fruits that you can actually eat. If you are trying to eat healthily, especially if you are growing your own, it is important to make the most of all the parts of plants. Don’t just look to the primary yield of each crop. Consider the other edible parts of each common vegetable too.
If you are going to the effort of growing your own, it is important to make the most of all the produce you grow in your garden. Of course you should compost food scraps and other compostable garden waste at home to garden in an eco-friendly way. But before you do so, make sure you have eaten all you can from your plants.
Here are some parts of common fruits and common vegetables many people don’t know they can eat:
Don’t just send carrot tops to the compost. These leafy fronds make a great pot herb which you can use to flavour a range of soups and stews etc..They can add flavour to your cooked meals in much the same way as parsley or other common herbs, and make a great addition to your home grown diet.
Beetroots are of course primarily grown for their earthy bulbous roots. But what you might not realise is that beetroot leaves can also be a delicious addition to the diet. They are high in a number of vitamins and minerals, and can be used in exactly the same was as chard, or other leafy greens.
Radish Leaves, Flowers and Pods
Radishes are great value plants to grow in the garden. Every part of the radish plant is edible. As well as eating the spicy roots, you can also eat the leaves, flowers and flowering stems. Leave a few radishes in the ground to go to seed and you will also be rewarded with an abundance of fresh and mildly spicy radish seed pods.
Outer Leaves from Calabrese Broccoli, Cauliflower Etc.
Many people discard the outer leaves from headed broccoli or cauliflower. But this is a waste, since these greens are just as good as any other brassica green – just like cabbage, kale, or turnip greens. You can also eat kohlrabi leaves, and the tops from Brussels sprouts, for example. All brassica leaves are edible. Speaking of brassicas, you can also eat the budding flowering heads from kale, Asian brassicas etc – not just from broccoli etc.. These small shoots can be great in a stir fry if your plants begin to go to seed. Brassicas are some of the most common vegetables, and offer far more than many people think.
Squash, Courgette and Pumpkin Leaves
In Africa and other parts of the world, it is common to boil and eat the large and sometimes spiky leaves of squash, courgettes and pumpkins. But in the UK this is far less common, and less well known. Fresh leaves from younger plants are best, as the spikiness and toughness will disappear and the leaves will become tender when cooked. With larger, more mature leaves, the spiky outer coat of the leaves can be removed before cooking. You can eat these leaves as you would other leafy green vegetables like kale etc..
You can also eat the flowers which will not turn into fruits (these can be good stuffed). And, of course, can roast and eat pumpkin seeds too.
Pea Shoots and Pea Flowers
Tender young pea shoots and pea flowers are also an additional yield to consider. While, of course, you will want to leave most of the peas to produce pods or shelling peas, you can also nip off the odd shoot here and there. They make a delicious addition to fresh spring salads, and have their own delicate, mildly pea-like flavour.
Broad Bean Growing Tips
Once broad beans have flowered and pods are forming, it is a good idea to nip off the growing tips of the plants to encourage them to focus on maturing the pods and the beans inside. Nipping off the growing tips also helps to prevent issues with blackflies on the beans in your garden. But the tips that you remove from the plants should not be discarded. These can be cooked and eaten as an additional yield from your garden. Leaves (cooked) from other beans can also be eaten in moderation.
Onion/ Garlic/Chive Greens, Scapes and Flowers
You can also eat the green shoots from the alliums you grow in your garden. Bulbing onion greens, garlic and chive greens and scapes and flowers are all additional yields to consider for their mild oniony or garlicky flavour. Don’t throw away leek tops (the green parts) either. These are also perfectly good to eat.
Sweet Potato Stems and Leaves
If you manage to grow sweet potatoes, remember that you cannot just eat the tubers that form below the ground. You can also eat the stems and leaves, which wilt down just like spinach and can be a delicious green vegetable. This is one of the common vegetables in some parts of the world, but less well known here.
Most of us are used to cutting or nipping the green calyx (crown of green leaves) on the top of the strawberry before we eat it. But actually, we should be eating this part too. Studies have suggested that eating the strawberry calyx could bring a range of health benefits. There is no need to cut the top part off your strawberries and throw this away.
Grape Vine Leaves
Popular in certain cuisines, but less well known in others, grape vine leaves are also edible. They are familiar to some from stuffed vine leaf recipes – but others growing grapes are unaware that the leaves can also be eaten.
Raspberry leaves are a little different because they are not edible as a green vegetable. But they can be used (with certain caveats) to make raspberry leaf tea. Raspberry leaf tea can be beneficial for some – but should be voided by diabetics and pregnant women, or those with a history of gynaecological/ breast cancers. But if you do your research, you could use the leaves to make tea.
These are just a few examples of some yields from your garden you could be missing out on. So make sure you understand exactly what you can eat from all the plants that you grow. This will help you reduce waste, and make the most of the produce from your garden.
Which secondary yields from common fruits and vegetables do you particularly enjoy? Share your comments, tips and suggestions below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.