One of the bigest advantages to being a gardener, is that you get to try more food. When you shop for food, you are limited to what is available for you to buy. When you grow, what you eat is up to you.
Aside from the endless types of seed and alternate sources of cooking greens, there are more simply, the parts of common vegetables that never make it to the grocery store. These are known as secondary edibles.
When you shop for produce, you get accustomed to looking at vegetables a certain way. Broccoli is a single stalk, usually bunched together with other stalks. Cabbage is small, light green, and shrinkwrapped. When you start growing your own, you realize most vegetable plants have other parts to them. Both cabbage and broccoli are huge plants with large outer leaves. It just makes common sense that if the inside of the cabbage is made of cabbage, shouldn’t the outside be also? Yet outside of ethnic and specialty stores, these items are rarely sold as food.
As a home grower, if your objective is to grow your own food, why not eat more of the food you are already growing? Secondary edibles are a great way to increase your yield because they do not require any more effort than what you are already doing. Eating the secondary parts of plants also takes some of the “pressure” off of growing. Didn’t get a ton of tomatoes or squash this year? That’s OK, because you still grew food and that was the objective.
Some secondary parts may not be as easy to prepare as the primary. A few require cooking due to chemicals present in the leaves and cannot be eaten raw. Secondary edibles are commonly eaten around the world and recipes are available online, so read up on the preparation before you try anything. Obviously if you are alergic to the primary part of a plant, don’t be in a hurry to try the secondary. Some may have a different flavor than what you are used to, but to me that is one of the joys of gardening. To know that what is in my refrigerator or on my plate could not be purchased anywhere else.
Try some of these to start, and then do some research on your own. With this much available, you will be suprised how easy it becomes to grow your own food.
Asparagus – Fern (raw or cooked)
Beans – Leaves, Flowers (raw or cooked, every bit as tasty as the beans themselves)
Beets – Leaves (raw or cooked)
Broccoli/Cabbage/Cauliflower – Outer leaves (taste better cooked, edible raw)
Carrot- Leaves (raw or cooked)
Celery – Leaves, seeds (raw or cooked)
Cucumber – Young leaves (cooked only)
Okra- Leaves (cooked)
Onions – Leaves (raw or cooked)
Parsley – Root (raw or cooked)
Peas – Leaves, Flowers (raw or cooked)
Pepper/Eggplant – Leaves (after cooking only)
Radish – Leaves (raw or cooked) Note: these are so good, they have become my favorite cooking green. Much milder than collards and since radishes mature in only 30 days, these can be an almost constant source of greens.
Squash – Seeds, Flowers, Young Leaves (Cook the leaves) The squash flowers are really good in eggs. Pick the male flower only or you won’t get fruit.
Tomato – Leaves (Cooked only)
Turnip – Leaves (raw or cooked)
Watermelon – Rind (try making watermelon rind pickles, they are very good)