Garden of Eatin' / Vegetables / You Can Eat That?!

Broccoli Leaves Are Edible

Broccoli leaves are edible

… As my veggie-loving pug will tell you!

And I’m talking the broad outer leaves that surround a head of broccoli, not the few tiny and uninspiring leaves stuck to the head of store-bought broccoli.

Most people don’t realize that you can eat broccoli leaves, or that they’re just as edible and delicious as the broccoli head itself. And I can’t blame them, considering broccoli always comes in a neat little package at the grocery store or farmers’ market.

It’s a surprise to many people that the broccoli we buy and eat is actually a very small portion of the plant itself. So where does the rest of it go?

Mature broccoli plant

The growth habit of broccoli plants

Unless you grow them yourself, you never see the massive greens that broccoli heads spring from.

On my Romanesco broccoli plant (Brassica oleracea ‘Romanesco’), which grows larger than your everyday broccoli, the mature leaves span up to 2 feet long with hefty ribs and stems.

Even though the plant is typically grown for its flower bud (what you commonly know as a head of broccoli, or a floret or crown), the flower is a relatively small part of the crop, and it seems like you wait alllll spring (or fall) for the prize.

(A prize that sometimes never arrives, as anyone who has waited fruitlessly for a bud can attest to! But that’s a different post on the ails of growing broccoli at home.)

A broccoli plant only produces one significant head per life cycle, with occasional secondary sprouts that form in the axils of the leaves.

These side shoots always turn out smaller than the center head (think bite-sized), which is where baby broccoli comes from. This specialty vegetable that you sometimes see at farmers’ markets or gourmet grocers is simply a bonus harvest — not broccoli picked early.

Knowing all that, it seems wasteful to use such a modest portion of the plant when the rest of it is so good.

Broccoli leaves are a nutrient-dense green

Health benefits of broccoli and broccoli leaves

Broccoli is considered one of the most nutritious vegetables on the market, providing 100 percent of the daily value of vitamin C in a single cup of chopped broccoli.

It contains a full nutritional lineup of B vitamins, potassium, iron, calcium, minerals, and fiber.

When compared to the stems, the florets have a higher concentration of protective phytochemicals like beta carotene and sulforaphane (the latter of which has been shown to protect against certain cancers).

But broccoli leaves are their own superfood, with even higher amounts of beta carotene than the florets, along with vitamin A (which is important for vision and skin health) and phytonutrients that aren’t found in the florets or stems.

That means if you’re a gardener who’s used to composting broccoli leaves or ignoring them while you wait for the heads to form, you are missing out on the many free health benefits of this amazing crop.

Broccoli leaves can be harvested at any stage of the plant's growth cycle

How to harvest broccoli leaves

If you grow your own broccoli, you can start to harvest a few of the outer (older) leaves every week once they reach 4 to 6 inches long.

After the plant forms a crown, you can harvest the broccoli head but continue to pick the leaves until you can no longer keep up… seriously!

Broccoli is an incredible cut-and-come-again crop, and new leaves remain tender even when the rest of the plant is getting tall and unwieldy.

When I lived in Southern California, I could keep my broccoli growing year-round in the mild coastal climate (zone 10b).

These second-year plants were still thriving despite having all the crowns harvested moons ago, and on some of the plants, I’d stripped them clean of leaves to cook with!

Second-year broccoli plants still thriving

(It’s hard to tell without a frame of reference, but the tallest broccoli plant in the back had grown almost 5 feet tall!)

Let’s just say… we got our fill and didn’t grow anymore broccoli the following year.

Very mature broccoli plant stripped of its leaves for cooking

How to use and cook broccoli greens

Texture- and appearance-wise, broccoli greens are similar to collard greens, as both plants belong to the mustard (Brassicaceae) family.

The large leaves may look intimidating, but they’re easy to harvest and work with in the kitchen. You can eat broccoli leaves raw or you can cook them a number of ways; heat makes them sweeter.

If you pick younger broccoli leaves off the plant, they’re tender enough to toss raw into a salad or stuff into a sandwich.

Medium leaves are the perfect size and thickness to fill with veggies and meat, à la cabbage rolls. I also like to wrap them around a chicken salad or tuna salad (instead of using tortillas or pitas)

Look for my recipe for broccoli green and baked falafel wraps in The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook, which helps you waste less and eat better with vegetables you already grow or buy.

Large leaves work best in braises, soups, and stews, where they’ll stand up to a long simmer and soak up loads of rich flavor. They can even take a quick sear on the grill (try misting them with a little oil and seasoning with salt and pepper).

You can make broccoli leaf chips the same way you make kale chips. If you’re a fan of green smoothies, you can even juice broccoli leaves.

Broccoli greens can be used in place of collards, kale, cabbage, or chard in many recipes, though they have their own distinct flavor. The leaves taste earthy, mildly bitter, and faintly of broccoli (which means people who are usually not fond of broccoli may take a liking to the leaves).

I typically don’t eat the stems on larger leaves, since I find them too fibrous. But if you harvest the central stalk before it grows too woody, you can peel the tough outer skin to reveal a crunchy sweetness underneath.

You can eat kohlrabi leaves
You can eat kohlrabi leaves too.

Other “unusual” vegetable leaves you can eat

Still think it’s weird or unsafe to eat broccoli leaves? It’s not — broccoli raab, or rapini, is a fairly common vegetable that’s grown for its asparagus-like shoots and leaves.

Another variety, Spigariello, is a non-heading Italian broccoli grown for its leaves. You may have already eaten it and not known it!

It’s a shame we don’t see broccoli leaves sold in the grocery store — and why don’t we?

Perhaps we’re so accustomed to the usual cast of characters in the leafy greens aisle that we only value broccoli for the crown, in the same way we favor carrot roots over carrot tops. (Which, by the way, are another misunderstood and highly underused green, since you can eat carrot tops too.)

The rest of the brassica family gets no love either. All the leaves on cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and cabbage plants (the wide outer leaves, not the ones that form a tight head) are usually tossed into the compost pile, but they are, in fact, 100 percent edible and harvestable at any stage of growth.

The outer leaves of cabbage are edible
The broad outer leaves of cabbage are edible.

Brassicas are just a handful of the many “unusual” odds and ends of vegetables that are edible (plant scraps, as some people may put it) but most don’t think to eat, including leek tops, squash shoots, tomato leaves, and fava bean leaves.

Considering the amount of water and resources it takes to grow a nutrient-dense (and space-hogging) broccoli plant, it feels like such a waste for commercial farmers to harvest the heads but discard the perfectly good leaves.

And that gives all the more reason to grow your own. (Or make friends with someone who does!)

My pug enjoying broccoli leaves from the garden

(In loving memory of my omnivorous pug, Bebe, who passed away in June 2017 after a long and adventurous life. Broccoli was a large part of her homemade dog food.)

This post updated from an article that originally appeared on April 29, 2012.

Linda Ly About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

93 Comments

  • Avatar
    Eric
    August 27, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Every time I catch my chickens in the garden, I find them in a circle around my broccoli plants, as if they’re worshiping some great blue deity. They are, in reality, chowing down. As a reward for returning peacefully to their run and coop, I gave them a big handful of the bottom leaves that were touching the dirt. They were pleased!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    jumbybird
    August 3, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    I agree that discarding the leaves is a huge waste.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    PatJ
    July 20, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Just picked some leaves for my husband to saute – yes he loves to cook. I agree it is such a shame they are not sold in the stores and yes we grow our own which is so good to cook your own food. We are having confit of duck with broccoli leaves and own grown potatoes.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    friv 3
    July 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    Cute and funny too. I wish I had a dog that fishermen

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Friv 4
    July 1, 2013 at 3:31 am

    i am glad with your post. in my country the broccoli plants have the nice leaves and the flower which is named after its shape has the green or white color depend on the kind of broccoli

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Kim's Kitchen Sink
    June 22, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I found this post through a google search, and I”m glad I did! Our broccoli plants have big, beautiful leaves, but no florets yet, and I was hoping to be able to do something with the leaves! Thanks for the in-depth notes and photos!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Rajesh kashyap
      June 24, 2013 at 4:21 am

      your welcome

      Reply
  • Avatar
    cynthia
    June 3, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    In New York I’ve seen broccoli leaves sold in supermarkets as “Broccoli Rabbi” and I’ve cooked them as greens and they are yummy!!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      June 3, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      Broccoli rabe (rapini) is not actually broccoli (go figure!) but it is part of the same family. It doesn’t form a head, but is instead grown for the leaves and buds… and I think it’s delicious too! The broccoli leaves I’m referring to here are the huge outer leaves of the broccoli plant (not just the small ones that sometimes cover the head).

      Reply
  • Avatar
    joyroxborough@yahoo.com
    March 10, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    I looked up this info because we are growing broccoli in garden now and I certainly did not know the plant grew so big with so many leaves. and yes, we thought it wud be good to eat the leaves but were worried it would affect the growth of the heads if we cut them now! Thanks.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Jgwoodworks
    January 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you. I’m growing Broccoli and it is very obvious, they look tasty. So go onto the internet and ask. Time to try some.

    Thanks Again

    Reply
  • Avatar
    MoniquePT
    January 16, 2013 at 11:33 am

    I’m in New Orleans and my grocery sells the greens.  Looking forward to trying them for the first time.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      January 16, 2013 at 6:10 pm

      Ohhh, lucky you! I’ve never seen a store around here carry that!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Randerson271
    December 23, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Can you eat the broccoli as it’s flowering ?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      If the plant is bolting (producing a flower stalk) then it’s no good. It will usually be too bitter and/or tough.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Gregory Bryant
    December 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Just got some broccoli from a C.S.A. and didn’t know about the greens.   Thanks!  Looking forward to impersonating your pug. 

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      LOL!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Jimmy
    November 22, 2012 at 3:33 am

    I live in Georgia, USA and plant broccoli in the spring.  This year I harvested the heads and left the plants.  Now, in November, the plants are showing new small heads with young stems.  Are these stems, including the leaves, edible?  Jimmy in Georgia 

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      December 11, 2012 at 3:17 am

      Yes they are! Harvest when they’re young for a more tender texture.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Swaller1969
    November 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks Betty, I just ate my first broccoli leaves. I cooked them just like collards and they were very good. Sarah in Florida

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      I love making them that way too!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Guy Santangelo
    November 4, 2012 at 6:28 am

    I live in Florida, this year in my fall garden I have beautiful broccoli plants full of leaves but no flowers. I planted from seeds in early September, what is the cause of the lack of flowers.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Flowers don’t form until the broccoli is ready to bolt – after you harvest the head!

      Depending on the variety you planted, it can take up to two months for the plant to produce its first head. It is slow growing, especially in warmer weather. (It does best in cool weather.)

      Reply
  • Avatar
    SS
    November 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Could you please tell me how long it will take brocolli, romanesco and cauliflower plants to flower? I planted small seedlings more than a month ago and while there are tons of leaves sprouting and flourishing, i do not see any flowers. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 11, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      Broccoli only flowers at the end of its life, when it’s bolting.

      It can take up to two months for the plant to produce its first head, so stay patient! 🙂

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Swaller1969
    October 31, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Thank you Betty, I too have good -looking greens from my broccoli, and did not want to waste them. I live in Florida and my crop this year is doing fine. Glad I found you – Sarah

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 11, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Broccoli leaves are like a little bonus before the “real” harvest!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Steve
    September 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for this entry on your site. My wife and I have been eating (actually, drinking) raw broccoli leaves in our blender drinks (a mix of mostly raw vegetables and some fruits) for some time.  We find the broccoli leaves to be most pleasant in taste and texture for such drinks, and of course the pure raw nutrition is rather astounding.  We blend the whole leaves, including the ribs.  Next year, we are going to plant many more broccoli seeds and will start using them for drinks much sooner.  If we get any heads, fine…but if not, equally delicious.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Cat Downing
    September 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    My husband and I live in Maine and take much pleasure in growing our own veggies in the backyard. I am originally from Brooklyn, NY… born and raised in New York City. I moved to Maine to attend college on a full scholarship. After graduating I met my soulmate here in Maine and decided to make this country setting my new home. Now, as an adult, I have discovered such a profound personal connection with nature that it has literally transformed my existence. One of our most abundant crop is our broccoli plants… Which have yet to flower. However, I have believed for some time that the leaves look just as appetizing as the Kale and Swiss chard growing in our garden. I ate a piece of broccoli leaf earlier and was amazed at how delicious it was and quite confused as to why I had never heard of anyone cooking or eating broccoli leaves

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      September 19, 2012 at 3:16 pm

      You and me both! I think people are so used to buying their produce from the store that things like broccoli leaves, carrot tops, radish tops, etc. aren’t considered edible because they’re often sold without the greens (or the greens look very unappetizing). I’d be interested in asking a farmer why broccoli leaves aren’t harvested for sale as well.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Bgoettle
    September 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Maybe a strange question… are pole bean leaves edible?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      September 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

      Yes, bean leaves are edible. I personally like fava leaf salads.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    David Egesdal
    August 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks, I will be adding them to my salad throughout the fall then. 
    http://www.creationcarvings.com

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mikealando
    August 11, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Thanks. I’d wondered 

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Honualani.com
    May 2, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Great article we keep broccoli in the garden for months here on Kauai, it just keeps producing lots of florets and loads of delicious leaves!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Glenda
    April 30, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Love your pug! I have a pug named Pug, and he’ll eat my entire garden if I don’t gate it off! Check out my post of 2 years ago  http://foodgardenrecipes.blogspot.com/2010/07/pug-loves-tomatoes-too.html

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      May 4, 2012 at 2:10 am

      My broccoli-loving pug also likes tomatoes. Last summer I caught her sneaking into the tomato bed and munching on the low-hanging cherry toms! She’ll also tag along behind me when I harvest and try to nibble on the radishes and greens spilling out of the basket. Luckily, she gets full/bored quick. 😉

      Your pug is SO CUTE!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Jenna
        May 16, 2012 at 10:37 am

        When my pugs graze on the little cherry tomatoes, it eliminates the burn spots in the yard wherever they whizz. I actually get greener grass! Healthy and a landscaping bonus!

        Reply
        • Linda Ly
          Linda Ly
          May 18, 2012 at 3:09 am

          Who knew?!

          Reply
  • Avatar
    Lindsey
    April 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    What kind of broccoli is in the picture shown here? I had what I thought was a cauliflower plant growing in my raised beds. The leaves looked just like this, but when the plant flowered it looked like a green/purple/yellow broccoli romanesco or cauliflower. It was the strangest thing I have ever seen. Roasted it tonight with some olive oil and bread crumbs and it was deeelicious. Sauteed the greens as well. Wish I could find my original seed pack so I could do it again…hmmm…

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      April 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm

      It’s a Romanesco broccoli. One of my Romanesco heads last year had a little purple in it too.

      Reply
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