… 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?
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.
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.
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!
(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.
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)
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.
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.
Using these unconventional parts of the plant (which are not really so unconventional, since they’re just the leaves) is one of the best ways to get more out of your garden by doing less. After all, you don’t have to plant more plants to get more food.
And 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!)
(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.
LauraOctober 31, 2014 at 8:32 am
I made some today. I added onion, garlic, kale, a little green pepper and cooked them on low in vegetable broth for about 3 hours. They were delicious! Tastes much like Collard greens.
Linda LyNovember 3, 2014 at 6:48 pm
That’s one of my favorite ways to cook broccoli greens too.
Melissa Matt ButcherOctober 26, 2014 at 7:23 pm
I like to slice the stalks and use in vegetable, Beef, and Chicken Soups
Linda LyOctober 27, 2014 at 9:56 pm
DanielleSeptember 30, 2014 at 8:27 am
Seems like a great way to keep the Romanesco under control since it gets so big! Thanks for the info 🙂
Susan Tilghman HawthorneSeptember 4, 2014 at 2:44 pm
Wow, I’d always been told the leaves were toxic and not to eat them!
Linda LySeptember 5, 2014 at 1:58 pm
You can eat the large outer leaves from all brassicas, including cabbage (not just the heads) and brussels sprouts (not just the sprouts)… which is wonderful because it’s like getting a “bonus” crop before you can harvest the more common parts of the plant.
DarcyJuly 16, 2014 at 7:41 am
If you peel the thick stalk of its fibrous outer layer, it’s also incredibly delicious, even raw (juicy and sweet). I suspect the same is true of the ribs, but I don’t know how much would be left after peeling. 😉
Linda LyJuly 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm
I’ve never tried eating the stalk… interesting!
MAMPHLAugust 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm
I puree the stalk hearts and use as soup base…absolutely amazing for cream of broccoli!
Linda LyAugust 8, 2014 at 9:28 pm
I actually just used the broccoli leaves in a classic broccoli and cheddar soup last week. (No stems or florets.) It was delicious!
RietApril 13, 2014 at 5:16 am
My friend who is from Zambia doesn’t eat de brocolli flower, only the leaves! When I found out she was throwing the brocolli head out, no doubt I demanded to give it to me.
So now I want to grow some brocolli AND eat the leaves as well.
Linda LyApril 15, 2014 at 2:09 am
What a great example of different cultures seeing their food differently!
SteveUKMarch 30, 2014 at 7:38 am
Just picked a whole load of purple sprouting broccoli and will definitely be using some of the leaves ! 🙂
rumteaMarch 12, 2014 at 10:09 pm
I used the leaves to feed my worm bin 😀
Roland ProchaskaMarch 5, 2014 at 7:14 pm
I would like to thank you, for finding this information. I am glad that somebody put this information on your page, it has been really helpful to me. It will give my children at the Jeevarathni Foundation something new to eat on their plate. Once again thank you for your work. Sincerely Roland
Linda LyMarch 7, 2014 at 7:19 pm
You’re welcome Roland!
AnastasiaNovember 29, 2013 at 11:05 am
My neighbor is growing broccoli and I’ve been trimming the leaves every day for juicing, it’s been a great way to use them.
Is there a limit to how many of the leaves I can pick and yet not mess up the growth of the broccoli? I would hate to have my juicing habit ruin her potential crop of broccoli.
Linda LyNovember 30, 2013 at 3:12 pm
Hard to say a “limit” since it depends on how large the plant is, etc. But like all plants, the broccoli gets it energy from the leaves, so I wouldn’t harvest more than a quarter of its leaves each week (and make sure you’re only harvesting the older outer growth).
NoraDecember 21, 2014 at 10:11 am
I would love the answer to that question…. I want some leaves before the broccoli is ready, but my husband is afraid it will stress the plant.. Any thoughts
Linda LyDecember 26, 2014 at 3:14 pm
Typically I don’t take more than a quarter of the leaves (only the older outer leaves) every 1-2 weeks while the heads are forming. Once you’ve harvested the head, you can keep harvesting leaves as needed and they will regrow (like lettuce). I’ve actually been harvesting leaves from my broccoli plants that are 1 1/2 years old. The plants themselves are massive and continue to branch out, but the smaller leaves are tender and delicious. I feed the larger leaves to my chickens. They also make an excellent blended broccoli cheese soup.
StephanieAndDavidNovember 8, 2013 at 4:40 pm
I love your pug! That’s beautiful dog. If broccoli greens are good enough for the puggy, it’s good enough for me. (I’m cooking some now. My kale was destroyed by the evil rabbits. If I had a pug instead of a bulldog, the rabbits would have been afraid to come into the garden.
Linda LyNovember 11, 2013 at 2:06 am
Not sure about rabbits, but my pug certainly isn’t fending the garden from our evil raccoons and squirrels!
geordiefOctober 24, 2013 at 7:41 am
I wonder in general are there any parts of vegetables that are not to be eaten.Obviously potato and tomato leaves can be poisonous (I think) but are these the exception rather that the rule?
Also can I ask you how you know that the “Broccoli leaves are richer in beta-carotene than the florets” ? Did you find that information somewhere where it gives lots of other similar information that might apply to other vegetables -or would that be a snippet of information that you remembered from acumulated experience.
I saw on a TV programme that carrots are a bit of an exception to the norm in that their nutritional best bits lie right the way through the root rather than is often the case just below the skin (as with potatoes)
Linda LyOctober 25, 2013 at 12:21 am
All vegetables contain toxins (as part of their natural defenses) but our bodies flush out certain toxins better than others. The real question is how much of it you’re eating and your current state of health. Tomato leaves are not poisonous, as I’ve written about here: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/08/tomato-leaves-the-toxic-myth/
You might also be interested in a similar post I did on carrot tops: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/07/are-carrot-tops-toxic-the-short-answer-no/
That fact about broccoli leaves came up in my research about the subject. If you’d like to learn more about this kind of thing, I recommend reading Jo Robinson’s book “Eating on the Wild Side.” I personally haven’t read it yet (on my list!) but have heard rave reviews from respected colleagues in the natural foods sector.
geordiefOctober 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm
Could I ask you about why iceberg lettuce is comparatively poor nutritionally compared to other lettuces (as you write elsewhere) ?
Does it follow that blanched vegetables in general would be similarly lacking in nutrition ?
I always thought it was just supermarket bought Icebergs that tended to be poor but you seem to suggest it is the variety itself .
What about the hearts of lettuces in general ? Does the lack of light make them also less nutritious?
I was also interested in your comments regarding bitter tasting vegetables .Is there really no connection between an “unpleasant” taste and the nutritional worth.
In my mind there was an argument that my body was “trying to tell me something” -am I just too naive?
I did pick and cook the broccoli leaves based on the reassurance in this article and my partner was actually fooled into thinking they were kale leaves.
So it is good to be able to use them to supplement the kale and the spinach (and everyything else) which are slowing down a lot now-rather than just composting them .
Linda LyOctober 27, 2013 at 1:39 am
In general, darker vegetables are higher in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
“Eating on the Wild Side” lists many different vegetables by their nutritional content and explains why some varieties are more healthful than others – all based on years of science-based research. It’ll answer more of your questions than I can.
geordiefOctober 27, 2013 at 12:58 am
thanks again.I see she also has a website that I will look at first.It is eatwild.com .
averagejoeOctober 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm
I know they’re only little bitty things, but it would really make this website more interesting if you could do your gardening with your tits out post some pics of you, as such, amongst the web pages!
Viv SluysOctober 1, 2013 at 4:15 pm
I grow my own broccoli and I am happy to know that the leaves are good for eating since there is so much more leaf than flower on my plants. Are they anything like broccoli rabe? Could I use them as a substitute in a recipe?
Linda LyOctober 2, 2013 at 4:26 pm
The stems on mature broccoli leaves are more fibrous than on broccoli rabe, but taste-wise they’re pretty similar. I like to cook my broccoli leaves the same way I cook collard greens since the leaves are so huge.
Viv SluysOctober 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm
I cooked some up last night and they were so delicious!
Ed JonesSeptember 21, 2013 at 11:31 am
I just bought some broccoli with leaves attached from the nearest farmers market here in Northeast Ohio. The flower head and numerous leaves are a work of art. I’m blanching and freezing some as well as eating some right away. Thanks for the website, Garden Betty! Yeah for the farmers and markets who sell the broccoli with leaves! And Betty, you gotta love that pug.
EricAugust 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!
jumbybirdAugust 3, 2013 at 7:59 pm
I agree that discarding the leaves is a huge waste.
PatJJuly 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.
friv 3July 7, 2013 at 6:27 pm
Cute and funny too. I wish I had a dog that fishermen
Friv 4July 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
Kim's Kitchen SinkJune 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!
Rajesh kashyapJune 24, 2013 at 4:21 am
cynthiaJune 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!!
Linda LyJune 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).
firstname.lastname@example.orgMarch 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.
JgwoodworksJanuary 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.
MoniquePTJanuary 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.
Linda LyJanuary 16, 2013 at 6:10 pm
Ohhh, lucky you! I’ve never seen a store around here carry that!
Randerson271December 23, 2012 at 8:03 am
Can you eat the broccoli as it’s flowering ?
Linda LyDecember 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.
AnnaJanuary 31, 2021 at 4:25 pm
But you can eat the flowers! Sauté the flowers and their tender stalks lightly in oil, oh so delicious!
Linda LyFebruary 5, 2021 at 9:15 pm
Yes! So delicious! (I do this with kale flowers too.)
Gregory BryantDecember 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.
Linda LyDecember 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm
JimmyNovember 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
Linda LyDecember 11, 2012 at 3:17 am
Yes they are! Harvest when they’re young for a more tender texture.
Swaller1969November 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
Linda LyNovember 11, 2012 at 3:53 pm
I love making them that way too!
Guy SantangeloNovember 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.
Linda LyNovember 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.)
SSNovember 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!
Linda LyNovember 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! 🙂
Swaller1969October 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
Linda LyNovember 11, 2012 at 4:22 pm
Broccoli leaves are like a little bonus before the “real” harvest!
SteveSeptember 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.
Cat DowningSeptember 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
Linda LySeptember 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.
BgoettleSeptember 15, 2012 at 5:54 pm
Maybe a strange question… are pole bean leaves edible?
Linda LySeptember 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm
Yes, bean leaves are edible. I personally like fava leaf salads.
David EgesdalAugust 28, 2012 at 6:14 pm
Thanks, I will be adding them to my salad throughout the fall then.
MikealandoAugust 11, 2012 at 4:40 am
Thanks. I’d wondered
Honualani.comMay 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!
GlendaApril 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
Linda LyMay 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!
JennaMay 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!
Linda LyMay 18, 2012 at 3:09 am
LindseyApril 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…
Linda LyApril 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.