Although you may not see them in our grocery stores. There are a whole load of plant ‘scraps’ that can be diverted from our compost piles to our dinner plates.
1. Garlic scapes
Garlic scapes are the stalks and flower buds that grow from hard neck garlic. It is a good idea to remove these scapes so that the garlic can channel all of its energy into growing bulbs, rather than flowers. But rather than adding these scapes to the compost pile, they are delicious with a mild, sweet garlic flavour and super easy to prepare.
Personally, I like them roughly chopped, sautéed and sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper. But scapes are really versatile. Simply use them in place of scallions or garlic in any recipe. Get creative or do a quick internet search and you’ll discover lots of recipes for your scapes.
2. Nasturtium leaves and seed heads
Many gardeners are familiar with eating nasturtium flowers; they are a very pretty and tasty addition to a summer salad. But did you know that you can also eat the leaves and seed heads? The leaves and stems are delicious eaten raw, stir fried or made into pesto. They are packed full of vitamin C and iron and have the characteristic peppery taste of the flowers. The richer the soil the more pungent the leaves and stems taste.
The nasturtium seed heads can be eaten by pickling the young seeds in brine (recipe). The result is often called poor man’s capers. Nasturtiums are simple and easy to grow from seed. So make sure to save some seeds to harvest and grow next year.
3. Bean leaves and flowers
Most gardeners grow beans for the seed pods but the leaves and shoots of most commonly grown beans are completely edible. You can eat the leaves of common green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), yardlong beans (Vigna unguiculata), runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), fava beans (Vicia faba), and hyacinth beans (Lablab purpureus). As with most greens from the garden, they make great additions to salads, stir fries or thrown into a smoothie, and are usually best when young and tender.
Bean flowers are also edible and add a great splash of colour to any dish. So next time you are picking beans, make sure to pick a few colourful bean flowers for garnish.
4. Carrot and radish tops
Next time you harvest carrots or radishes, don’t throw the tops straight in the compost. All of these plant scraps are tasty and packed full of goodness. Chop them and add them raw to a salad (the hairy radish leaves can take a bit of getting used to), or add them to stir fries, soup, smoothies and pesto.
5. Cucumber leaves
Gardeners typically grow cucumber for their fruit. But, did you know that cucumbers are the perfect top-to-tail edible plant; every part of the cucumber is edible. Cucumber leaves have a delicate and subtle flavour and, as with many of the leaves in this list, are best eaten young. Be careful not to over pick the young leaves as this can affect your cucumber harvest.
6. Broccoli leaves
Broccoli is part of the brassica family. Like its family members, cabbage, cauliflower, kale etc, the leaves of a broccoli plant are edible. Don’t over pick the leaves while the broccoli head is growing, or wait until the head is gone before harvesting the leaves. Younger leaves are tasty eaten raw and larger leaves work great in place of kale or cabbage.
7. Squash blossoms and vines
As for cucumbers, all parts of a squash plant are edible. Stuff the flowers (both male and female) with your favourite fillings and bakes. They also make a great garnish on any dish.
The vines and leaves of squash plants are popular in many Asian dishes. The young vines are a great addition to stir fries, soups and stews or simply braised and served as a side dish. Again, be careful not to harvest too many young shoots off plants you hope to harvest fruits.
8. Green brassica seed pods
Sometimes the seasons change more quickly, or more slowly, than you expect and your brassicas bolt. We’ve all been there but it don’t see it as a problem. Next time it happens, leave the flowers to produce long green seed pods. These pods have a very similar flavour to the plant itself. Again, young and tender pods are the best for eating. Simply add to salads, soups or simply snack on them in the garden.
9. Sweet potato leaves
Most gardeners grow sweet potatoes for the big, sweet tubers. Many gardeners are surprised to hear that the leaves are also edible. Not to be confused with regular potatoes with potentially toxic leaves. Sweet potato leaves are packed full of vitamins and nutrients. They are great in place of spinach or greens in any dish.
10. Pepper leaves
The leaves from both sweet and hot pepper plants are delicious and completely edible. They have a milder taste than the peppers themselves. And don’t worry, the chemical that gives peppers their heat is on the inside of the fruit. So it doesn’t matter whether you eat leaves from hot or sweet peppers, they will both have a mild peppery taste.
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