Last Updated: January 30, 2021
We’re so into regular headed and sprouted broccoli that we totally forget other parts such as the stalk, sprout, flower, and even leaves that might actually prove useful for our daily culinary episodes.
In this case, we’re dealing with broccoli leaves, and while it’s true, they’re not super delicious when made into smoothies and slapped with boring ingredients such as lime and seeds, they easily stack alongside broccoli florets when it comes to the amount of nutrient packed within those oblong shaped bodies.
Keep reading to learn more about broccoli leaves and the various ways in which you can incorporate them into your diet.
Can you eat broccoli leaves?
Yes, just like the florets, broccoli leaves are perfectly edible too.
They pack a punch in nutrition which can easily be reaped from the raw state, or when the leaves are tossed onto a sauté pan to wilt in garlic and lemon gravy, boiled in chicken or beef broth and made into a delicious cream soup served hot with shredded cheese, or incorporated into a blender with many nuts and fruits to transform into a healthy spring smoothie meant for the family guests to devour. More on the different ways to cook broccoli leaves below!
Broccoli leaves taste fairly similar to their average prized florets – the difference lies in their much milder flavor compared to the broccoli curd.
In light of other similar vegetables, broccoli leaves taste almost reminiscent of collards or kale, which technically, are nothing but a distant version of broccoli.
It’s true, since scientist selectively bred a certain ancestral plant called “wild cabbage” to create dozens of widely different cultivars we know today as collards, kale, broccoli, cabbage or even Brussels sprouts.
No wonder the leaves of broccoli and the stems and stalks are edible. They’re after all another type of kale plant!
The different foliage stage of broccoli (the baby leaves, the medium green-blue’s, and the huge, yellow-brown and wilting ones, all leathery and oblong in texture and shape respectively) can easily substitute for similar stage or even all stage kale, collards, or any other dark sturdy greens in recipes, especially those that belong to the brassica family.
What stage of broccoli leaves should you eat (for gardeners only)?
As you might already know, broccoli plant, just like kale, send up new fresh leaves to the very top of the plant and the older and much bigger leaves get pushed down all the way to the bottom until they eventually fall off and turn into mulch (good). And if you don’t already know, now you do!
The perfect stage of broccoli leaves to harvest for eating would be the younger ones i.e. those tiny gray-blue leaves closest to the protected floral and inner stalk, and the medium sized ones that closely surround them and are also gray-blue.
The older leaves that are just after the medium leaves have yellow and brown coloration spatter all around them (and are usually starting to lose their bluish tinge).
Not only are they unappetizing to look at, they are also tough to chew especially when consumed raw.
For the yellow leaves that are just at the bottom, just purpose them for the compost bin, they are best suited there.
Can you eat broccoli rabe leaves?
If you don’t already know, broccoli and broccoli rabe (rapini) are two different species.
So the fact that broccoli rabe says broccoli on it’s name doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s leaves are edible, although in this case, broccoli rabe leaves are perfectly fine to eat just like the leaves of the regular heading broccoli or the sprouting variety. (The negative then positive commentary is just my way of warning you, so you don’t make this same mistake with mushrooms!)
Even the stems (young; which means less fibrous) of the broccoli rabe plant is edible, and it can be used just like broccoli leaves or any other brassica leave would be used.
What are the health benefits of eating broccoli leaves?
Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse, and the leaves are no different in this regard.
The leaves of broccoli are loaded with vitamins, mineral and bioactive compounds like their tree like floral are, which overall, are crucial for optimal performance and protection of the body against certain issues.
Here are some of the nutrients found in broccoli leaves according to data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture:
1 ounce (28g) of raw broccoli leaves
- Phosphorus 18.5 mg (2% of the RDI)
- Magnesium 7 mg (2% of the RDI)
- Potassium 91 mg (3% of the RDI)
- Manganese 0.1 mg (3% of the RDI)
- Calcium 13.4 mg (1% of the RDI)
- Vitamin A 4480 IU (90% of the RDI)
- Vitamin C 26.1 mg (43% of the RDI)
- Protein 0.8 g (2% of the RDI)
- Carb 1.5 g (0% of the RDI)
- Calories 7.8 (0% of the RDI)
The above data is for 1 ounce of raw broccoli leaves which is less than a cup. According to Webmd.com, broccoli leaves are the highest in cell protecting antioxidant, vitamins E and K, and calcium.
Here are some of the benefits of eating broccoli leaves according to healthline.com:
- The high content of cell protecting antioxidant of broccoli leaves may support the maintenance of healthy cells and tissues in the body.
- The potent antioxidant in broccoli leaves alongside the fibers in the stalk may help in the control of blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.
- Scientist speculate that the antioxidants and fiber content found in broccoli leaves may help reduce the overall risk of heart attack and heart disease respectively.
- The high amount of vitamin C in broccoli leaves helps support a healthy immune response.
- The bioactive compounds present in broccoli leaves help to reduce body inflammation – which is especially useful for smokers that have quit doing so, since they get inflammations from the previous groove.
- The bioactive compounds in broccoli leaves may also have a cancer preventative effect (although more research is still needed to very this).
How to harvest broccoli leaves
1) Only harvest a few leaves per week
The large oblong shaped leaves of broccoli are there for a reason, to catch sunlight for photosynthesis which would end up feeding the plant and promoting growth of other parts such as the florets, leaves and stalk.
Harvesting more leaves (in the early growing season) that would render the plant insufficient to observe photosynthesis for generating energy is a quick way to kill the plant and prevent yourself from getting a healthy floret crown.
You want to allow the central crown to nearly reach maturity first before attempting to harvest any leaves: that’ll be when the crown is still tightly in bud and nestled many inched below the top overhanging leaves, the broccoli as at then is less tough and most flavorful.
When harvesting (before budding and thus removal of the prized crown), only pluck a few leaves once a week to maintain the health of the plant and promote the growth of axillary florets as well.
You can increase the frequency to everyday when the central corn is harvested and the plants finally gets tired of producing secondary florets – at that point you can even take out all of the leaves present on the plant as well as the central stalk.
2) Look out for fresh leaves
When harvesting broccoli leaves you want to pick leaves that are fresh and free from larvae infestation.
Leaves having so many holes on them usually have worms lurking somewhere on other leaves, if not on them. So look closely to pick out the culprits.
3) If possible, harvest broccoli leaves after frost
Picking broccoli leaves after multiple hard frost will produce the sweetest foliage.
That’s because the plant wanting to prevent its cells from freezing, converts starch to sugar to help resist any freezing activities.
This effect is imparted to the leaves too and they become much sweeter. The general effect of starch to sugar conversion during freezing is also the knowledge governing why overwintering carrots and parsnips turn much sweeter.
4) Cutting the leaves
You want to harvest leaves right from where they meet the main stem by pushing gently first to break it off the stem, then pull it up. That, way you avoid damage to the main plant.
How to eat broccoli leaves
For the general rule, use broccoli leaves as you would any green leaf such as cabbage, collards and kale. You can also substitute broccoli leaves for any of these.
This means that you can:
- Sauté them with healthy vegetable oil and cook to doneness with garlic and spices and then serve with lemon wedges or fried chicken, steak, or corn bread.
- Cook them with smoked turkey, chicken or beef added with spices, sugar and vinegar for a flavorful pot liker.
- Incorporate them into fritters.
- Incorporate them into slaws or hearty salads.
- Incorporate them into any Au Gratin recipe.
- Use tender and smaller leaves in sandwich.
- Use medium leaves for braises, stews and soups.
- Blend them into tongue hating smoothies.
- Just basically, anything you can make with kale or other green vegetables, you can most definitely make with broccoli leaves.
The mid rib of small young broccoli leaves can be eaten directly with the leaves because they are less fibrous and will not take up a lot of time to cook.
For the medium and old leaves, you want to take out the mid rib because they are fully of fiber (which means that you won’t enjoy them), and adding to that, they also cause the leaves to take a lot of time to cook.
Next, you might be interested in wilting them, especially if you’re using small leaves whole as they don’t wilt easily and never shrink to a fraction of their original sizes.
There are two options for that, the stovetop and the refrigerator. The second option is recommended as boiling broccoli leaves can cause them to loose so much nutrients.
Before wilting though, it’s always a good idea to wash the leaves thoroughly to rid them off dirt and sand.
Wilting on the stovetop:
Simply blanch the leaves in simmering water for 15 minutes, then immediately shock them in cold water to stop the cooking process. Dry by squeezing and then incorporate them into the recipe you’re working on.
Wilting in the freezer:
Pop the leaves into the freezer until the turn firm, then thaw them in the refrigerator so they loosen their sturdiness. Use them in the recipe.