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Yes, You Can Eat Kale Buds (and They’re Delicious)

Yes, you can eat kale buds (and they're delicious)

We’re often told that once a brassica bolts, that signals the end of its life. Time to pull it up and toss it in the compost bin (or, if you’re like me and subscribe to the lazy gardening philosophy, you just cut it down and use the old foliage as mulch).

But to me, those first few kale buds (also known as kale flowers, kale florets, or kale raab) are the start of a new life—in the form of edible flowers that are surprisingly tender and sweet, especially if you’ve had a very cold winter, which brings out their sweetness more.

Did you know you can eat them? Dare I say, they’re sometimes even better than the rest of the plant! (And, you might have eaten other types of brassica flowers before and not realized it.)

What are kale buds?

Kale buds are simply the unopened flower heads on a mature kale plant. They appear when kale starts bolting at the first wave of heat in late spring to early summer.

Kale buds start out as tightly wrapped, green clusters of tender little flowers called florets, and this is when the texture is at its best. Once the yellow flowers bloom, they can get a bit tough and toothy after a while (though they’re still 100 percent edible).

Close-up of green kale buds and yellow kale flowers
A kale plant in full bloom

Can you really eat kale flowers?

Absolutely, and you’d be missing out on a culinary delicacy if you didn’t!

If the concept of eating kale flowers seems strange to you, you’ve probably cooked with other forms of brassica buds and not even realized it.

Take broccoli raab, for example.

Raab (derived from rapa, Italian for turnip) is just a fancy word for the flowering tops of plants from the brassica family, such as kale, broccoli, mustard greens, and Chinese cabbage.

Broccoli raab (sometimes called rapini) is sold in supermarkets as bundles of stems with tight clusters of flower buds, some with tiny yellow blossoms. Gailan (also called Chinese broccoli, and available in Asian markets and specialty markets) is a culinary staple enjoyed for these little flower buds as well.

Hand holding a stem of kale florets
Brassica flowers lined up in a row on a wooden surface

And did you know that a head of broccoli and head of cauliflower is actually just the flower bud of those plants?

Broccoli and cauliflower were bred to produce huge amounts of flowers compared to other Brassica oleracea cultivars. The “heads,” or florets, are simply oversized versions of what should really be called broccoli buds and cauliflower buds—so this “unusual” part is more common than you think.

Read more: 11 Vegetables You Grow That You Didn’t Know You Could Eat

So then, you might be wondering, why doesn’t anyone ever sell kale florets?

It’s simply a matter of demand and the fact that eating kale florets has never been a part of American food culture. (Weird, but true.)

People buy kale for its leaves, since that’s the part they’re most familiar with, leaving farmers to move on to other crops long before kale has had a chance to flower. But if you grow your own kale at home, you get this bonus harvest at the end of the season that most people never experience!

A flowering brassica plant in a garden

When does kale start to flower?

Being a cold-hardy biennial, kale survives winters in most climates. It spends its first season developing a strong root system and healthy head of leaves.

From late spring to early summer as the weather warms, kale flower buds appear after the plant has completed its life cycle.

Before it sets seed, it sends up a flower stalk and the buds can (and should) be harvested for one final hurrah before the plant expires. You can even pinch the buds back to encourage more flower heads to form in the last couple weeks.

Once kale starts to flower, however, the quality of the leaves deteriorates. They become bitter and somewhat fibrous—though neither of this affects the flower buds, which stay sweet and tender.

Close-up of edible kale florets on a plant

How to prepare kale florets

I like to cook the buds and flowers as a side dish, as they only a simple dressing to bring out their flavor: some olive oil and garlic, sauteed with a squeeze of lemon. Toss it with a warm brown rice salad and a handful of wilted greens, and you have an easy weeknight meal.

You can also add kale raab to a stir-fry or pasta dish, or roast it with leeks and root vegetables. It also makes a nice garnish when used raw.

I used to sigh when I looked out my window at the end of the season and faced a bed of flowering kale, but now all I see is a delicious new crop!

Harvesting kale buds is a great way to get more out of your garden by doing less (after all, it means growing more food without planting more plants) so don’t be afraid to try it next time.

Close-up of yellow kale flowers on a stem

Common questions about kale buds

This post updated from an article that originally appeared on July 8, 2013.

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 »

28 Comments

  • MH
    March 23, 2021 at 5:53 pm

    Thank you for the great info! I’m a newbie and my kale is flowering. What should I do if I want to harvest seeds from it for another crop? I’ve been so proud of my kale and am sad to see it go. 🙁

    Reply
  • Carolyn Valdez
    July 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Delicious! I eat many kids of flower buds from my garden. But I’ve always wondered (and maybe you can answer this question for me): are there any vegetables with flowers that you shouldn’t eat? (Rhubarb you’re not supposed to eat the leaves, but other than that?)

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      July 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      I’m not aware of any flowers that you shouldn’t eat (at least, not in what I grow at home)… but I typically only like flowers from my herbs (since they taste just like the herb leaves… onions and chives are my favorite) or sweeter flowers, like those from brassicas.

      As for leaves that you shouldn’t eat, rhubarb is the only one I know of (the leaves contain high levels of oxalic acid, but as with most things, you’d have to eat a ton of rhubarb leaves to feel sick). I eat lots of “unconventional” leaves like carrot tops, fava bean leaves, radish leaves, pea shoots, young cucumber leaves, and I also steep tomato leaves in my tomato sauces for added flavor.

      Reply
  • Cary Bradley
    July 8, 2013 at 7:48 am

    Yumm! Love them too!

    Reply

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