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 »

95 Comments

  • Avatar
    ProudAmerican9
    July 1, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    Love your adorable Pug! We also grow organic produce and fruit and feed it to our dogs along with their raw meaty bones. Amazing health for all. Give your precious furkid some love from our family.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Linda from Garden Betty
      July 7, 2017 at 3:59 am

      Aw, thank you!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Chuck
    January 14, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Look up Kai-Lan or Gai-Lan, this is broccoli cultivated for the leaves.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Ashley Kania
    June 18, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    We are growing lot’s of broccolini (sp?) this season, and was wondering if anyone knows whether their leaves will be just as edible?

    What a good dog your companion is, getting their veggies in <3 ^__^

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      June 23, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Yes, the leaves of all brassicas (broccolini included) are edible!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Lindy James
    June 6, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Thanks! I can’t believe I didn’t know this and even had to google it! I Lv your pooch! I’m going right out and get a leaf for my dog! I was munching on a leaf the other day and said how sweet and plait-able it was! YES!!! The co-op @ the very least should have Broccoli Leaves as a for-sale item. Geezers!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      June 11, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      I just asked a farmer this tonight. She thinks that most farmers aren’t aware that broccoli leaves (among many other plant parts) can be eaten, or they don’t know how to convey to their customers how to eat/cook them!

      Reply
  • Linda Ly
    Linda Ly
    May 29, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    I’ve never seen broccoli leaves in the store, so you’re very lucky to have that!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    alawrence89
    April 24, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Haha what an adorable dog! It’s surprising people don’t know this, I absolutely love sauteing my broccoli leaves or adding them to soups.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      April 25, 2015 at 2:21 am

      I have a stack of broccoli leaves in the fridge right now that I’m using as green wraps. They’re great for that!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    N
    April 3, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    They do it’s called kale. Kale, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are all the same play just bred to have certain characteristics (such as leave, buds, shoots) expressed. They all stem from the wild mustard plant.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    psc0104
    January 29, 2015 at 6:29 am

    I live in South Carolina and they sell Broccoli leaves in small bundles at our Bi-Lo…..I put them in my green smoothie! They are wonderful, will have to cook some as well!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    patty
    January 23, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    I bet you could season these and dehydrate them, like making kale chips? I love kale chips, might have to try broccoli (leaf) chips!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      January 24, 2015 at 6:06 pm

      I’m sure you can, though I haven’t tried it myself. Let me know how it turns out!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Felicity
    November 17, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks for the info. Is this the same for Brocollini leaves?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 18, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      Yes, this is true for all members of the Brassicaceae family.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Laura
    October 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.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 3, 2014 at 6:48 pm

      That’s one of my favorite ways to cook broccoli greens too.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Melissa Matt Butcher
    October 26, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I like to slice the stalks and use in vegetable, Beef, and Chicken Soups

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      October 27, 2014 at 9:56 pm

      Good stuff!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Danielle
    September 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 🙂

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Susan Tilghman Hawthorne
    September 4, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Wow, I’d always been told the leaves were toxic and not to eat them!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      September 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.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Darcy
    July 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. 😉

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      July 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

      I’ve never tried eating the stalk… interesting!

      Reply
      • Avatar
        MAMPHL
        August 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

        I puree the stalk hearts and use as soup base…absolutely amazing for cream of broccoli!

        Reply
        • Linda Ly
          Linda Ly
          August 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!

          Reply
  • Avatar
    Riet
    April 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.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      April 15, 2014 at 2:09 am

      What a great example of different cultures seeing their food differently!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    SteveUK
    March 30, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Just picked a whole load of purple sprouting broccoli and will definitely be using some of the leaves ! 🙂

    Reply
  • Avatar
    rumtea
    March 12, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    I used the leaves to feed my worm bin 😀

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Roland Prochaska
    March 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

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      March 7, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      You’re welcome Roland!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    Anastasia
    November 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.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 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).

      Reply
    • Avatar
      Nora
      December 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

      Reply
      • Linda Ly
        Linda Ly
        December 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.

        Reply
  • Avatar
    StephanieAndDavid
    November 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.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      November 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!

      Reply
  • Avatar
    geordief
    October 24, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Hi

    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)

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      October 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.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        geordief
        October 25, 2013 at 2:48 pm

        thanks
        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 .

        Reply
        • Linda Ly
          Linda Ly
          October 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.

          Reply
          • Avatar
            geordief
            October 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 .

  • Avatar
    averagejoe
    October 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!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Viv Sluys
    October 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?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      October 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.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Viv Sluys
        October 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm

        I cooked some up last night and they were so delicious!

        Reply
  • Avatar
    Ed Jones
    September 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.

    Reply
1 2 3

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.