Edible tomato leaves
Garden of Eatin', Vegetables, You Can Eat That?!

Tomato Leaves: The Toxic Myth

Maybe it was my Asian upbringing that taught me never to waste food, as my family used and ate every part of the vegetable, fish, chicken, pig or cow that we brought home. Or maybe it’s my ever-growing curiosity when it comes to food from the land… but when I walk around the garden, looking at all my lovely plants, I always think, Can I eat that part?

And by “part,” I mean the unconventional parts of the plant that you typically don’t think to eat. This was how I came to love artichoke stems, leek greens, and cucumber leaves, parts that are normally discarded or composted, but are in fact quite tasty.

So one day, when I was walking by my tomato plants, I started wondering whether the leaves were edible or not. With vines that sometimes grow to 10 feet long, it seemed like such a waste that the leaves weren’t used when the amount of fruit seemed so small in proportion. It got me to thinking… Why don’t we eat tomato leaves?

Tomato vines

Popular culture has taught us that tomato leaves are part of the “deadly nightshade” family and thus, they must be toxic. But I bet that more than a few people, if asked, would have no idea what that even means. It’s just what’s known. No questions asked — but we need to ask. What is a nightshade, why are the leaves toxic but not the fruit, and why don’t we see bunches of leaves in the supermarket if they aren’t toxic?

Let’s take a look at all the myths surrounding the Solanaceae family and explore the science that says otherwise.

Tomato leaves are edible

Myth #1: Nightshades are highly poisonous.

When referring to the Solanaceae family of plants, many people call it by its more common moniker, the nightshade family. Within this family are the vegetables we know and love, like tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes, eggplants, and sweet and hot peppers.

But also within this family is the ominous “deadly nightshade,” also known as belladonna (Atropa belladonna). This herbaceous perennial has historical use in herbal medicine as a pain reliever and muscle relaxer, and even as a beauty aid. In fact, the name “bella donna” means beautiful lady in Italian. It comes from the outdated practice of women putting drops of belladonna berry juice in their eyes to dilate their pupils; the look was considered attractive in the day.

But rest assured that though tomatoes are distantly related to belladonna, they do not contain the chemical compounds that make belladonna (especially its berries) so poisonous.

The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) does have an interesting history however, as its scientific name, lycopersicum, is Latin for “wolf peach” and derives from German folklore. When the tomato was brought to Europe in the 16th century, people believed it to be poisonous like other members of the Solanaceae family, including belladonna, henbane and mandrake. Legend had it that witches used these hallucinogenic plants in potions to conjure werewolves. Since the tomato’s fruit looked so similar to that of belladonna, it was dubbed the wolf peach.

These days, we know that while tomatoes belong to the (very large and diverse) nightshade family, they definitely aren’t of the deadly nightshade variety.

Tomato leaves

Myth #2: Tomato leaves contain toxic compounds called alkaloids.

As mentioned in my previous post on carrot tops, all vegetables contain alkaloids. Alkaloids are part of a plant’s defense mechanisms (existing in all parts of the plant to protect against certain animals, insects, fungi, viruses, and bacteria) and we consume them on a daily basis in various amounts.

That locally-grown heirloom bean and kale salad you had for lunch? Alkaloids. Those antioxidant-rich organic green smoothies you make every week? Major alkaloids.

While it’s true that some alkaloids are not good for you (like nicotine and cocaine), others can be good or bad, depending on your view (like theobromine, the stimulant found in chocolate, or caffeine, that Monday-morning life-giver). Even though alkaloids are present in your everyday veggies, you could never eat enough of them in one sitting for the alkaloids to be harmful.

The major glycoalkaloid in the tomato plant is tomatine. (To put it simply, a glycoalkaloid is an alkaloid bonded with a sugar.)

Tomatine exists in all green parts of the plant, including the stems, leaves, and green tomatoes. (For the sake of clarity, whenever I mention “green tomatoes” in this post, I’m referring to the immature, unripened green tomatoes — and not the varieties of naturally green tomatoes.) A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that the highest concentrations of tomatine were found in senescent leaves, followed by the stems, fresh leaves, calyxes, green fruits, and finally, roots (which had the lowest concentrations).

The difference in concentration between the fresh leaves and green fruits is negligible, so one isn’t necessarily “safer” to consume than the other. While tomatoes do show a decline in tomatine content as they mature and ripen, no one has ever thought twice about devouring a heaping of fried green tomatoes or pickled green tomatoes!

Glycoalkaloids are also poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract of mammals, and will pass through quickly to the urine or feces. In people who are sensitive to these compounds, stomach irritation may occur but they would have to ingest an unrealistic amount of green tomatoes or tomato leaves to experience ill effects.

So what’s the deal? Are tomato leaves toxic or not? According to this food safety study (which compared the potential toxicity of glycoalkaloids found in tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants), tomatine is a relatively benign glycoalkaloid. It resulted in no significant changes to liver weight or body weight when fed to mice, and is not considered adverse to human health.

What’s most surprising is the discovery of tomatine as a cancer inhibitor. The glycoalkaloid has been found to effectively kill or suppress the growth of human breast, colon, liver, and stomach cancer cells. This study suggests that consumers could benefit from eating high-tomatine green tomatoes, and that there may be a “need” to develop high-tomatine red tomatoes as well (for the treatment of cancer and/or the study of tomatine as an anti-carcinogenic and anti-viral agent).

Judging from these studies, and the lack of evidence that tomato leaves are toxic in any way, I’ll have to give Myth #2 a miss.

Potato-shaped tomato leaves

Myth #3: Organic gardeners make tomato-leaf sprays to kill pests, so that must mean tomato leaves can kill us too.

Tomato-leaf sprays are made by chopping and soaking tomato leaves in water, then using the sprays on various plants to control aphids. Since tomatine, a glycoalkaloid, has fungicidal properties and is part of the tomato’s natural defenses, it makes sense that the compound could potentially protect against pests when extracted into a solution.

But theoretically, you could make a spray with any green part of the plant, like the stem (which contains even higher amounts of tomatine). Unless you’re allergic to tomatoes, the tomatine in tomato-leaf sprays won’t harm you — and that’s why it’s used as an organic method of pest control.

Tomato leaves

Myth #4: Tomato leaves aren’t sold commercially and no one has ever cooked with them, so that’s a sign they’re not meant to be eaten.

True, if you tried to Google recipes for tomato leaves, you aren’t likely to find any. Former Chez Panisse chef Paul Bertolli was known to infuse his tomato sauces with tomato leaves, but aside from that, not many people have stepped up and ‘fessed up to their culinary use.

But — and a big but — that does not mean they aren’t edible. Until I started cooking from my garden, I never knew all the possibilities of the plants I was growing. An adventurous appetite has led me to discover how delicious broccoli greens are (you won’t find many recipes for those either), as well as carrot tops, nasturtium pods, radish pods, radish greens, and pea shoots (which are actually an Asian grocery staple). The fact that tomato leaves aren’t part of the mainstream American diet doesn’t make them toxic by any means. People just don’t know what to do with them… yet. (Hopefully this will change in my generation.)

You know what is toxic though? The amount of food we waste in this country.

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  • jerrygman1

    The article doesn’t mention anything about calcitriol, Calcitriol is a super active form of vitamin D produced in the kidneys. It is produced on demand, and it controls that amount of calcium that is absorbed by the gut. When you eat nightshades you are adding a lot of endogenous calcitriol, putting your body in danger of over-absorbing calcium. I got arthritis when I was thirteen. By the time I was forty I could not run, could not swim a crawl, or throw a ball overhanded. I am now 67, and have been nightshade free for seven years. I can do all of those things without pain, but if I want to remember hot life used to be, all I have to do is start eating nightshades again.

  • Scott B

    Sooooooo… the article doesn’t mention anything at all about your own personal experience eating tomato leaves..? Have you tried them yet? What was your experience?

    • Yes, and I do mention how I use them in previous comments here. I have two recipes in my first book, The CSA Cookbook, that use tomato leaves – one for tomato sauce and one for pesto. I’ve also added tomato leaves to sandwiches and scrambled eggs, mostly as an accent to those meals. A few sprigs are also good in tomato soup or minestrone soup.

      • Scott B

        Thanks. I wasn’t scrolling through and reading the comments.

  • William Thornton

    This article doesn’t really educate people. It tells some technical truths but not practical.

    Each person should be aware of the toxins in case they are trying to diagnose some malady. If your health is fine then eat them to your hearts delight.

    Many people with chronic diseases have problems eating nightshades. If your young and healthy, the body may excrete the toxins easier. As you age and eating a lot of nightshades, you can become more affected. If your chronically ill, your system may not be able to rid itself of excessive amount toxins over time or the added burden of the toxins to total toxins will cause health problems to worsen.

    You may eat them today and feel good but 20 years down the road may be a different story. Toxins/antinutrients are in many other foods too. Phytates, Lectins, glutens are in grains. There is the BMC-7 toxin in A1 milk casein protein.

    • As stated in my article, toxins of varying levels are found in many plants we eat. I presented the facts based on scientific research but they should not be construed as medical or nutritional advice. Individuals with health concerns should always consult their doctors.

    • John Timpany

      Best article I’ve read on the subject, and it’s very educational.

    • Maureen Evans

      Yes, this “practical truth” is true of all food and all changing needs of the body. That universal makes this specific article no less educational, though. Many readers obviously consider the personal implications of technical truths. Information helps us form considered decisions. But thanks, Matthew, for bringing up the fact that “toxins” are present in many forms and foods.

  • Caleb Goldberg

    Interesting! I was always under the impression that they were poisonous. Now I know otherwise!

  • It’s an excellent use of the stems. In my book, The CSA Cookbook, I call for steeping the leaves (with stems) in tomato sauce to add a deeper layer of flavor.

    • LaLa Ortiz

      I will try this once my garden is overgrown with giant tomato plants. Which will be soon! 🙂

  • jen sy

    hello everyone. I have read some of the comments of our friends around the world and I said how nice to be with these group discussing the usefulness of the useless parts of a plant. I am partly vegetarian and I can relate also what you are talking about…Well, for those who want to eat a famous Filipino dish aside from lechon, here is the recipe of chicken stew or locally known as Chicken tinola or

    Tinolang manok (good for 4 persons)

    6 normal slices of chicken parts (2 legs, 4 breast parts of chicken and liver) all are properly washed, skinned and cleaned).

    1 ordinary size of unripen papaya fruit ( properly paled, wash, sliced into 8 parts)

    20 pieces of young pepper leaves ( washed)

    2 lemon grass stalks (properly washed, rolled or tied

    4 strips of thinly cut ginger

    3 pieces of garlic,finely chopped

    1 round onion , finely chopped

    1 small size of margarine or 2 tbsp of cooking oil

    1 tsp salt or knorr cube

    1 liter of boiled water


    1. Place ingredients on the table. Put the chicken parts in a clean bowl marinated with a dash of salt, chili, and parsley powder combined with squeezed lemon or 2 lemonsito. Set aside for 10-15 minutes.
    2. Sautee garlic, ginger and onion until brown in a clean pan.
    3. Pour the marinated chicken. Simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer the contents in a kettle for proper boiling.
    4. Add the boiled water. Boil for 20 minutes with the papaya, lemon grass and knorr cube. When the papaya is tender, time to add the pepper leaves. Salt to taste.
    5. Serve each person with a bowl (mangkok) of 1 slice of chicken, 2 slices of papaya, and 5 leaves of pepper. Pour each bowl with soup. Chicken tinola is better served with jasmine rice, baked potatoes and baguette or french toasted bread.

    Enjoy dining…

  • John Woodward

    V good info..thanks

  • American496

    Nonsense! Everything Chinese is NOT wisdom. Just because the animals and plants exist, everything need not necessarily to be eaten. This is the fruit of wisdom.

    When there are so many other good edible vegetarian food available why struggle with tomato leaves which even rabits do not eat!!

    • I’m not sure what rabbits have to do with whether or not you should eat tomato leaves. And I certainly wouldn’t call it a struggle to eat tomato leaves. You are free to eat what you like, but having an open mind goes a long way to discovering the wonders of this world.

      • Maureen Evans

        Ugh. This comment above seems improper and racist… your opening to this article did not suggest what they are criticizing.

    • Kinta Nara

      Mint, and most things aromatic, can destroy a rabbits digestive system causing death, but is completely fine for humans, and even cats. Also most roots are dangerous to rabbits including onion and garlic. Speaking of which, garlic, onion, tree nuts, and grape skins are chronic poison to dogs, doing permanent damage upon each consumption. On another note, capsaicin and ethanol are both poisonous to humans, and even oxygen and water are deadly at enough purity. Point being, don’t judge what humans can eat based on other animals, we are all unique; just because something’s concidered poisonous, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used, especially with acute poisons.

  • Christina Ladd

    I use tomato leaves in place of parsley for cooking because I don’t grow parsley and I have tons of tomato leaves. Very similar flavor, more so than other replacements like cilantro. Never have gotten sick.

  • I’ve always loved the smell of tomato leaves and thought it was a shame that they were inedible. Glad to know that’s not true; I’ll have to try some.

  • Cinnamon Spice

    I just made a mixed leave salad that included tomato leaves which i Pruned from my Cherry tomato plants this morning, and I gave some to my bunny who also devoured them. I did expect more of a tomato flavour from the leaves considering how strong a tomato smell they give off… but not so. Still I will eat them in a blend of greens from now on. 🙂 thank you so much for this post.

    • That tomato leaf pesto recipe comes from my book, The CSA Cookbook! (Which Lisa, the blog author, reviewed.)

  • Sarainia Krystal-Rose Angelson

    Can you post some recipes you made up or found on tomato leaves or stems etc.?

  • “Toxic” is a word I dislike, as the properties of many plants can be toxic if ingested at a certain dose. I think people are just afraid of the unusual, leading them to think the plant part has to be toxic if they don’t recognize it as a food.

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  • Mydloteka

    Hi, I’m going to make some soap with tomato juice from my garden, and I was wondering if I can use some leaves to add some smell instead of fragrance. I was afraid that it might be toxic. I’m from Poland and we eat a lot of solanaceae family veggi, but never leaves. Thank You for informative blog, now I’m giving it a try.

    • Tomato leaves aren’t toxic, though I don’t know how much fragrance they’d give off in soap.

  • 333crypta .

    Well written, thank you.

  • 333crypta .

    What is a good less toxic pesticide for my tomatos? I found a big “worm” feasting on my unripe tomatos. could probably eat him but…. no. lol

    • There are a lot of different natural solutions for various pest problems, it just depends on what kind you have and the extent of it.

      For hornworms, hand-picking and killing them is the best defense. You’ll have to stay on top of it throughout the season and check your plants a few times a week for them. Hornworms have many natural predators so it’s also a good idea to grow beneficial plants around your tomatoes to attract predators like ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps.

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  • grillagardnr

    I never heard the warnings, thought the leaves smelled a little like celery, tossed some in my salad and they were great! Just a tad sharper then some of the other salad fare, like arugula (in strength, not flavor) it add a pleasant little punch. Once in a while ignoring, or being ignorant of the instruction works out just fine.

    • I’ve put tomato leaves in a panini with basil, cheese, and tomatoes as well. Delicious mix of flavors!

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  • Debbie Wolfe

    I agree. It’s definitely my Asian side that has taught me not to waste any parts of food. Last year I shared a recipe/article on my blog about eating sweet potato vines and leaves. So many people were amazed you could eat those. Growing up with a Korean mom and a dad from Appalachia has made my eating VERY diverse. I admit I haven’t tried tomato leaves, but I have often wondered how I might use them in a dish. Great article!

    • Thanks Debbie! I use tomato leaves as an accent; I love to steep a few sprigs in tomato sauce or tomato soup to give it a deeper layer of flavor.

      And sweet potato leaves are delicious! I actually give recipes for these types of vegetables in my new book (The CSA Cookbook), and some of it is Asian-inspired as it pulls from my experiences of eating in my family’s kitchen.

      • tmpwid

        Any green veggie leaves are delicious, I always cook it since I was very young, I agree as an Asian we don’t waste good. Till now, I grow : Long Bean, Papaya, tomato, and last but not least Banana leave for wrap the fish and steam it…Love in the Summer..All grow back after winter all dead.

        • I need to cook with my banana leaves more! I have so many. 🙂

    • Car Fish

      I was taught by my European heritage never to waste food.

      I’m pretty sure it’s a universal thing, especially where there is or has been poverty.

    • tmpwid

      I love tomato leaves, cook just like Spinach….
      And I’m still kicking…:)

  • Jhale

    Ripe tomatoes from a small, organic farm make me sick because my body now knows that it is bad for me. I can only eat them if they are cooked. In my past, I ate raw tomatoes often and I found that raw tomatoes give me arthritic symptoms, although sugar and canola oil can aid in arthritis more. If people eat the green tomatoes, this could be further proof that there is another danger, but it is broken down by heat.

    Potatoes are highly poisonous, by the way. A lot of people eat the skin, which is almost as bad as a green potato. It is very high in solanine, which is proven to be toxic by all research done on it. Solanine prevents the breakdown of very important nutrients for the neural system (it is a cholinesterase inhibitor). While our body can make solanine safer and removes solanine within 12 hours, it still seems like eating potato skin often would have negative effects. The unripe tomato and the plant leaves should have solanine, but not as significantly high.

    • Jun

      potatoes are highly poisonous? tell that to the millions of people who are still alive

    • Robin Cole

      Where did you get your information? Are you a Dr or scientist ?

    • 333crypta .

      I eat the skins all the time…. nonsense lol

  • paizley

    You can eat the leaves of chile plamts as well!!!

    • Foraging is an excellent option if you live in the right neighborhood and know what to look for. And pepper leaves are delicious, I actually cover them (and other unconventional parts of plants) in my new book: http://thecsacookbook.com . 🙂

      • paizley

        Thanks! happy nom nom nom!!!!

    • hunter brown

      I might have some concern for what my urban neighbors might be spraying or dumping on those wild greens..personally

      • paizley

        Absolutely nothing. Living in the high desert (5500 ft ASL) with water restrictions, lawns are on the natural side which means a minimum of turf and a minimum of maintenance. In the early spring when most fresh wild greens are at their prime, there is no yard work being done yet. I tend to harvest wild greens from areas that are not by roadways, sidewals, or where dogs are walked, etc. I am quite selective.

    • 333crypta .

      Love dandelion. I heard they are the most nutritious green there is. I pick them from the yard sometimes and add to my salad.

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  • TruAnRksT

    This is a great post. been wondering about the leaves myself after people called me crazy for buying the greenest tomatoes I could find.

    In Ca. the check out girl must have thought I was crazy. Amazing that any actually made it to the store.

    When thinking of fat and oils, these do not make you fat. What is making people so fat I can’t answer.

    McDonald’s became famous for their fries back in the day. It was because they used Suet in their deep fryers. An especially bad animal fat. The reason it is so bad is because it congels at 98° and wont melt again until it reaches 113° Once in your human body it will stick around.

    That is still not a reason so many people are fat today, a question that needs more study.

    • I am a fan of green tomatoes too! I like plants that can offer different tastes and textures throughout their lifespan… crisp, tart tomatoes at the beginning and end of the season, and rich, juicy, sweet tomatoes at their peak.

    • Lars Kullberg

      No more study needed on this one! It´s been well documented that what makes people fat is sugar. And few things are as addictive. So the best decision you can make to keep your health is to stay away from this poison. A good start is to quit buying sugar in the store, and leaving the colas and sodapops alone!!

      • Steven Osterstrom

        Also, wheat!

    • hunter brown

      miracle grow

  • Guest

    While it’s true that some alkaloids are not good for you (like nicotin show me that in proper dose nicotina cant be good for you.. look to medical journals mostly to cognitive function after nicotine. The dose make poison also many food contain nicotine.

  • Kristin Fiteni

    Interesting. I love using different parts of veggies I grow or purchase at farmers markets that often sell you the vegetable with everything on (unless they take it off to compost of feed farm animals). My dad composts and i sometimes bring him my waste, but I often love using the leaves and stems in broth, in my joucier machine and also to use whole. I made zuchini leaf cream soup and it was good, fried zuchini blossons are good and the flowers are actually sold in farmers markets. I grow tomato plants, now the tomato leaves would be old and bitter as the seasons to an end, but its probably nice to use when young. Im often afraid of ruining thr plant, soni use leaves sparingly from plants I know are safe.

    • I too strive to cook with as little waste as possible (especially if I grew it myself… I just think of all the work that went into it!). My first book, The CSA Cookbook, comes out March 2015 and has recipes for all the different parts of plants you typically discard: carrot tops, tomato leaves, pepper leaves, bean leaves, etc. I think you’ll like it, as you seem to have a curious and adventurous appetite. 🙂 http://thecsacookbook.com

  • botanynutter

    I just want to say (without reading all the comments) that I believe you are wrong. Deadly nightshade and Bella Donna are two different plants. Bella Donna also known and Angels Trumpet is quite different and tree like with HUGE white flowers compared to the creeping vine, purple flowers and red berries of the “deadly nightshade” plant.

    So please be careful people. 🙂

    • Angel’s trumpet is NOT belladonna. Angel’s trumpet is the common name for Brugmansia and Datura, which are closely related members of the Solanaceae family. (It is also the common name for Maurandya barclayana, an entirely unrelated plant in the Plantaginaceae family.)

      As stated in my article, deadly nightshade and belladonna are both common names for Atropa belladonna. Atropa belladonna is not the same plant as angel’s trumpet and is never referred to as angel’s trumpet.

      These are facts that can be verified in any botanical text should you desire additional information.

      • gzwrnomnhzgnb4

        Datura – Typically “Devil’s Trumpet” (trumpet pointing up or sideways)
        Brugmansia – Typically “Angel’s Trumpet” (trumpet pointing down)

        • Thank you for clarifying! I have heard the term devil’s trumpet associated with Datura as well.

  • I love how you can find unexpected flavor in the parts of plants that are generally not used.

  • Proud Pinoy

    When i was young in the Philippines, my mum used to cook Ampalaya Leaves (bitter gorge) or Sayote leaves (those younger part only) and mixed it to a Filipino popular dish like Pinakbet. Thanks and i love your article.

    • One of my favorite Filipino dishes is tinola. My dad (Chinese) uses pepper leaves in a similar soup. The flavor is wonderful!

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  • Ray

    I like the link you left about olive oil. Very good information. I sure you have probably checked out the benefits of coconut oil as well.

  • Jill Stevens

    Cooked tomato leaves smell like spinach! Just cooked up a batch to try as a bug buster. But I will try them in cooking. Thanks for this article.

  • Keith

    When the suckers on my tomato plants reach a certain size, i cut them off and keep them for growing plants for the fall I remove the bottom leaf off each sucker and blend it with water and stevia. It has a very mildly mint taste. I don’t drink it all at once I drink, maybe one cup through out a day.

    • Interesting, I’ve never thought to turn it into a drink!

  • An European Voize

    Wonderful and historic, high value article! Thank you and I am going to get tomato leaves and make a dish with it 😉

  • Karen

    I love this idea! What do they taste like?

    • Kind of vine-y, if that makes sense. Very deep and earthy.

  • TamiLynn Faye Jackson

    Thank you for your thorough information. I am teaching gardening skills to 850 students ages 3-12. A parent donated some tomato plants with a stern warning about the “poisonous leaves.” She told me to have the children wash very well immediately after touching the leaves. I hadn’t heard of such a thing! You have provided great evidence to support my continued “students do all” approach to our garden.

    • I’m glad to hear it! Tomato leaves certainly aren’t poisonous to the touch, but as with any plant, certain people with sensitive skin might have an allergic reaction.

  • James Chan

    Thanks for clearing things up about tomato leaves! I’m currently working and living in Malawi, where I’m growing tomatoes, amongst other crops… and having a bit of an aphid and fungus problem. Whilst making tomato leaf insecticide spray, I wondered if those leaves were actually toxic or not.

    My Malawian guard actually eats them, and says they’re quite widely eaten in Malawi. I actually warned him that they may be toxic, but will tell him otherwise.

    Thanks for the great blog – you have a new follower!

    PS. I too, I love broccoli stems that taste like kohl rabi, and leak greens, which are more flavoursome than the white parts.

    • Thank you James! And I’m intrigued about the use of tomato leaves in Malawian food. I’d love to know how they prepare them.

  • tomaf

    Nearly 30 years ago, while in high school, I was interested in ninjas and samurais etc, and I read some books about them, and I read that ninjas used tomato leaves to poison their victims by secretly mixing them in with their victim’s salads. Ever since then I’ve wondered if it’s true, and finally I decided to look it up and I found your wonderful blog. Thank you for setting the record straight. By the way, I really love your writing style, and I hope to read more from you.

    • That’s so interesting about the ninja stories! Thankfully, it’s not true… and I wonder if they were actually using deadly nightshade but the plant names got lost in translation?

      Thanks for stopping by my blog, and I hope you continue to stick around!

  • Gourmet Male

    FYI, at one of Sydney’s best restaurants, The Bridge Room, Chef Ross Lusted uses dried tomato leaves in a few dishes. Very delicious. Funny we don’t use them more!

    • Dried tomato leaves sound so interesting! I’ll have to try a few next summer and see how they taste.

      • Bill C

        The reason I am here is that I grew tomatoes in a greenhouse for the first time. The things are monsters now. I had to do some pruning and most of that ended up in the compost pile. Today I found a leaf I missed laying on the shelf. It was so dry you could hardly pick it up without it crumbling. Well I gave it a sniff and it smelled like alfalfa hay. So here I am looking to see if I can eat it. It smelled so good. Thanks to you Linda I tasted the dried crumbled tomato leaf. It taste just like alfalfa hay.

  • LiberMama

    In regards to your last paragraph, Radish Greens are used in Fish Head soup…prepared for me by a friend from Africa many moons ago (it also contained okra and I can’t remember much else) but it was so SOOOO good! (except for the fish head, which he happily ate up, the rest of us he cooked for enjoyed the soup but we were glad we didn’t have that fish head in our bowl looking up at us)

    This soup was served with couscous and you ate the soup with your hands by grabbing a chunk of couscous squeezing it together with your fingertips and then dipping it into the soup to sort of ladle some liquid with the veggies and plopping the chunk it into your mouth.

    • Interesting! I make radish greens soup year-round; they’re an excellent substitute for kale.

  • Andrea D

    As to use as a pest control, olive oil is another substance used to control insects in gardens, (especially on fruit). There is no question as to health benefits of olive oil.

    • dale

      What health benefit? With 16% artery clogging saturated fat? separating oil from plants and then pouring them on our foods is very unnatural and dangerous to our health and is the main root cause for our obesity and chronic diseases.

      • I digress

        Actually dale, separating oil from plants is completely natural, and has been practiced by societies around the world for 1000s of years. Extra virgin olive oil is extracted by simply pressing the fruit: a process no more “unnatural” than squeezing an orange.

        Among other benefits, antioxidants in olive oil have anti-inflammatory effects, which can actually reduce risk of inflammatory ailments like heart disease. However, processing of olive oil through heat treatment, use of solvents, and dilution with lower quality oils can reduce the benefits, so true extra-virgin oil is considered best.

        Additionally, studies have shown that the negative health impacts of saturated fat has been overstated, and that the prevalence of obesity and chronic diseases are more closely linked with the high levels of refined carbohydrates (white flour, high-fructose corn syrup etc), sodium and trans fat found in many packaged or ‘fast’ foods.

        A high calorie, low nutrient diet (the most common western diet), combined with a sedentary lifestyle, creates the perfect conditions for long term health problems.

        Attributing these problems to natural, healthy, plant oils is very misguided.

        • dale

          No! the fat you eat is the fat you wear. Look around you, go to walmart, hahah. Pouring oils on our foods is causing large people! When these oils enter our blood and then our cells, metabolism is severely restricted, eventually causing diabetes and other chronic illness. I can find no good reason for separating any type of fats from animal or plant and consuming them. Eat a diet rich in carbohydrates, that is what works best hor humans. Whole plant foods, not just the parts!

          • Justin

            1. Oil doesn’t enter your blood.
            2. Diabetes has nothing to do with a “restricted metabolism.” It has everything to do with the body’s inability to regulate blood sugar levels.
            3. A mostly-carb diet is a health disaster.

            Hate to break it to you, dale, but various oils have been used for millennia with no ill effects, and many positive ones. To say that consuming fat makes you fat is a drastic oversimplification and indicates a total lack of understanding.

            Calories in > calories out = weight gain. Those calories can come from carbs, sugars, fats, or proteins. Pouring oils on our food isn’t causing large people. Our society’s inability to get off of its butt and get some exercise is causing large people.

            Your arguments sound like the rabid parroting I would expect of someone that’s read into too many fad diets. The only good diet is a balanced diet of animal and vegetable proteins (or at least SOME good combination of complimentary proteins to provide all of the amino acids necessary), carbs, sugars, and saturated and unsaturated fats, with the appropriate balance of vitamins and minerals. A diet totally lacking in fat is NOT a good diet for a human. Limit your overall caloric intake to what is appropriate for your activity level, and get regular exercise.

          • dale

            Hahahah. Now you’re just funning me! Where on earth do you get these random facts? Looks like I’m just wasting my time here. good luck with you’re “balanced diet” P.S. No diet is totally lacking in fats but pouring oil on your food is making us fat.

          • Justin

            I’ll just leave this right here for you, Dale. It’s not the entire body of research on the subject, mind you, but it’s representative of the whole, and a good start on your (obviously lacking) education. It’s up to you to learn more.


            Sorry, but you’re going to have to broaden your horizons a bit if you want to reach the root cause of the obesity epidemic. Pointing a finger at something without doing any actual research on it makes you seem like a politician, not an intelligent being.

          • Ray

            Just a note on oils. There are oils that our bodies can use beneficially and there are bad oils. Some oils that start out as good are ruined when they have been hydrogenated. There is so much hydrogenated oils in a lot of food in stores, you really have to look closely at any packaged product you get to avoid it. I work in the plastic industry and I have found that the hydrogenating process of oils is very similar to that of making plastic. Couldn’t you just imagine how bad it would be for you to eat plastic.

          • Jun

            that’s why it tastes like plastic too. cool whip vs..real whipped cream for example. just common sense.

          • Jun

            I eat a high fat diet, love butter and olive oil and avocados and coconut oil. always been thin even after two children. fat doesn’t make you fat.

      • Kristin Fiteni

        Nothing wrong with separating oil, olive oil is very healthy. Save tge resedue for various things

  • Very good to know. I think it would be challenging to consume a whole pound of tomato leaves (or any leaves, for that matter) in one sitting unless you were juicing them. Alkaloid poisoning is more common among people who make their own green juices, as they tend to juice the same types of greens every day, and their bodies start to accumulate the same alkaloids en masse. From my research, I’ve found that tomato leaves are no more “toxic” than cabbage or kale, which have their share of alkaloids too.

  • ssssue

    I have personally seen it kill sheep and goats when the owner unknowingly fed the plants to them.

    • Beverley M

      That doesn’t necessarily mean anything…. chocolate kills dogs. Fine for humans.

    • Lars Kullberg

      I have raised sheep for more than ten years. Like all other herbivores, sheep and goats avoid eating plants that might hurt them. Besides, who on earth would be stupid enough to feed tomato plants to their animals?

    • Bbetv

      I have sheep and goats, and a fenced paddock next to theirs full of volunteer tomatoes… They ate oodles of the stuff without any ill effect at all. I will do more research on the toxicity, but, I cannot deny the fact that they did eat a lot and were fine.

  • Appreciate the link; however I was unable to find any further information on what 20-40 micrograms/ml of tomatine actually equals in a real-life scenario. Is that equivalent to eating 5/10/20 pounds of unripe green tomatoes or 5/10/20 pounds of tomato leaves in one sitting? Without comparison, the study doesn’t tell me much and it doesn’t take into account the full, complex organ system of rats… only their heart cells, isolated in a petri dish. I’ve seen similar studies that prove the toxicity of spinach when consumed in vast amounts. ALL leafy greens will reach toxicity at a certain level, but we aren’t doing an IV drip of them.

  • Rebecca

    I don’t eat nightshades for other reasons (allergies and they cause inflammatory reaction in me), so I’m dismayed to learned tomatine is used in organic farming. In your research, did you learn if that is absorbed into the plant (fruit/vegetable/leaves) or washed off in preparation?

    • Tomatine is used as pest control by organic gardeners at home – not necessarily by organic farms. I don’t know what kind of measures a farm would take, as I’m sure it varies. You may want to contact the organic certification boards and find out what they allow for pest control.

  • Pat Baker

    So, when you come up w/ a great recipe for Tomato Leaves, Share it w/ us when you survive 🙂

  • Lavenderchic

    Recipes please. This is cool. Thanks for your adventurous

  • Melany Vorass Herrera

    Fantastic news, thank you!!

  • femdyk

    I just found out that sweet potato greens are edible. I assumed, because they are morning glory, that they shouldn’t be eaten. I will be trying them this year. I don’t expect that I will be eating tomato leaves any time soon though. Not everything is wasted- plant waste is not ‘thrown away” it’s turned back into the soil to feed next year’s crop. That is not a waste.

    • Melany Vorass Herrera

      I learned about sweet potato greens recently too. I’m growing them indoors this winter for year-round salad greens.

      • Paulo Dellova Docot

        here in the philippines we ate not only sweet potato leaves we also cook bitter gourd leaves ,squash flower, and many more leaves 😀

    • Sweet potato leaves are popular in Asian cooking. You can saute them with garlic and soy sauce for a nice side dish.

  • Lisa

    While living in Seoul I delighted in eating a huge variety of plants as side dishes to most meals. I’m eager to include more in my cooking now back home in Canada. Thanks for the reminder and to not be wasteful with our food.

    • When visiting other countries, especially Asian countries, I’ve always been surprised to learn what plants (and parts of the plants) they eat. I think cultures that are not as meat-centric as ours simply have more creativity when it comes to their vegetables.

  • Manang Kusinera

    So glad I stumbled upon your site! I love what you wrote, and hopefully will find time to read your other posts, at least this coming winter.

    You can add pepper leaves in your list of edible parts that are not usually cooked. It is a common “greens” in Filipinos’ chicken soup we call “tinola.” I have always told my friends and relatives about using it like you would spinach, but I think no one dared to do so.

    • My dad (Chinese) also makes a soup with pepper leaves! He raves about them all the time; I haven’t tinkered with his recipe yet, but I plan to experiment with my pepper leaves more next summer.

  • George T Coggins

    what about the atropine present i havent seen mentioned here?

    • Some plants in the Solanaceae family do contain very high levels of atropine, such as belladonna (whose scientific name is Atropa belladonna for a reason), datura, and mandrake. These are the hallucinogenic plants.

      While tropane alkaloids (of which atropine is a member) are present throughout the Solanaceae family, I haven’t found a study that shows tropane alkaloids in tomato plants pose any danger, nor are they found in any significant amount in tomatoes (the way tomatine is). Fear of atropine seems tied in to Myth #1 above (people confusing tomatoes with deadly nightshades).

      • George T Coggins

        very good to know! what about other tropanes such as hyoscamine and scopolomine? appologies if my spelling is off lol. on a side note do you know if datura inoxia seeds need to be cold stratified? looking forward to having a nice moon garden next year 🙂

        • Both of those alkaloids are found in datura. Hyoscyamine is also known as daturine, not coincidentally. On some level hyoscyamine is also found in the tomato plant, but not in any amount that would actually cause hallucinations the way it can in datura. As stated, the major glycoalkaloid in a tomato is tomatine.

          There are endless types of “toxins” found throughout all vegetables (after all, they are there to protect the plant against bacteria, fungi, and animals), but our bodies are able to flush out these toxins before they cause any real harm. This is why we should eat in moderation, no matter how healthful a vegetable is purported to be.

          In answer to your last question, I know nothing about datura seeds.

          • George T Coggins

            well stated! thank you kindly! any ideas about potato leaves?

          • Potato leaves do contain very high levels of solanine and chaconine. They won’t kill you if you accidentally ingest a few leaves (the symptoms would probably be similar to food poisoning), but definitely don’t make an entire meal out of potato leaves.

            However, SWEET POTATO leaves (which are part of the morning glory family) are completely edible and delicious!

          • George T Coggins

            oooo good to know! i just learned that sweet potatoes yesterday as a matter of fact and will certainly have to grow some next season, i imagine they do well in zone 5. another thing people don’t tend to notice is that broccoli, rutabaga and beet and cauliflower leaves are very edible and high in vitamins as far as i know and didnt experience any bad effects from ingesting them. the same goes for the broccoli stalks when prepared well 🙂 thank you again!

          • You might like this other post that I wrote on broccoli leaves: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2012/04/broccoli-leaves-are-edible/

            And this one on carrot tops: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/07/are-carrot-tops-toxic-the-short-answer-no/

            I think many people aren’t aware of these other edible portions of plants because they usually don’t see them in the store. I hope the general mindset of our society shifts in the next generation as home gardens and CSAs proliferate through the cities.

          • Paulo Dellova Docot

            try the sweet potato juices from the boiled sweet potato leaves add some sugar and it taste really good 😀

  • Eris de Suzerain

    Wow, opens up a whole new world of inquiry for me! I do want to point out that in the charts they show pickled green tomatoes have a lower tomatine content than fresh, and the tomatine content for small green (unripe) tomatoes is MUCH higher (over 2x as high) than in medium tomatoes. Would like to read more about ways you can use the leaves, the smell of tomato leaves has never given me the urge to consume them – what kind of flavor do they impart?

    • Flavor-wise it’s hard to pinpoint as they aren’t bitter like kale or sweet like lettuce. They’re sort of in between. I still have more experimenting to do in the kitchen, but I feel the strong scent of the leaves (which I actually love) should have some kind of a role in my recipes… I may try them in a tomato-based soup next.

  • Jeannie

    No wonder my rabbits haven’t keeled over, even after mowing down large swatches of my tomato patch. THANK you for this article!

  • Tim
  • James Duncan

    Great article!!!! These are the types of arguments that I use all of the time concerning foods and gardening. My favorite term, but not the most accurate I feel, is ‘cultural brainwashing.’ Culture has brainwashed people into doing and believing so that it becomes habit. So much so that to challenge those beliefs/actions is incredibly disruptive and generates backlash, even though they don’t really know why they are doing/believing whatever it is. I’m half Japanese, and you should see the responses when people see the heads still on the fish when we cook them. As you are well aware, they can’t see it, because they’ve been raised to believe that one is supposed to cut the heads off. What a waste.

    • LOL love your mention of fish heads. I grew up eating in Asian restaurants and eating the entire fish (along with spitting out bones as needed), so imagine my surprise one day when I was 14, ordering in a nice American restaurant with my friends, and they served me a salmon filet… small, perfectly cut, no bones, no skin… and I wondered where the rest of it went?!

      These days, my non-Asian friends have all learned to appreciate those tasty fish cheeks! Still no takers on the eyeballs, though. 😉

      And if you’re a fan of radish pods, try pickling them! It’s my favorite way to eat them: http://www.gardenbetty.com/2013/04/radish-seed-pods-and-some-pickles/

      • James Duncan

        No skin?! What a waste. I LOVE grilled salmon skin. That’s where all of the flavor is hiding. I didn’t have enough radish pods to pickle, maybe next season. But I did fill TWO one-gallon jars with four different types of cucumbers mixed with vinegar. SO good. My favorite is to layer the cukes on a pulled pork sandwhich; FYI, I AM in NC, the BBQ south.

        I’m always amazed at how many people have never even seen a whole fish ready to be cooked. They would leave if they saw a traditional Asian dinner being prepared, which is too bad because of the wasted nutrion in American preparation. I saw on a survival show in which a guy on a life raft survived by eating all of the organs. At first, he only ate the meat, but started suffering vitamin deficiencies. In a delirium, he started eating everything, heart, lungs, brain, eyes – all raw – and literally ate his way back to health.

        About the radish pods again, I have to wonder if eating the pods is similar to eating sprouts in terms of nutritional volume.

      • tomaf

        In Indonesia in 2001, I watched my Chinese-Indonesian friend break open the skull of a cooked
        dove and suck its brain out. He was polite and offered it to me first, but my stomach was still uneasy after trying the slimy chicken feet and the baked chicken blood pudding. Being a white man with an Asian soul, I’m not afraid to try new things, but I do have my limits. Why are chicken feet so hard when uncooked, but so soft and slimy when cooked?

        • Chicken foot bones have a lot of gelatin in them. When cooked down, they become a gooey gelatinous mess. Personally, I don’t really enjoy eating them (too much work for too little meat) but chicken feet do make an amazing broth.

  • Thai

    Thanks for the tips regarding the organic pesticide. Just add it to my garden book for next season.
    You’re great by the way!

  • Pingback: Spicy Minty Tomato Sauce Infused With Tomato Leaves | Garden Betty()

  • life on bonita

    awesome article!

  • growntocook

    I very much appreciate your inquisitive approach to “well known truths”. So much in the gardening books is just repeated without anybody testing the validity of the statement!

  • Hanna

    I really appreciate your evidence based approach for this article! Those studies aren’t always easy to read, but you translated them well. Thanks!

    • You’re welcome! It’s something I’ve always been meaning to research, especially now that my tomato plants are at their peak!

  • Margo, Thrift at Home

    Fascinating. I’m interested in the sauce recipe.
    I save all carrot and radish tops for the stock pot. I freeze them until I make big pots of stock in the winter. Works great.

    • I wonder if adding tomato leaves to a stock pot would impart a tomato-y flavor to the stock… hmm.

      • Anomy8

        Tomato leaves are used in the process of making Estratto

        • I might have to try estratto sometime! Currently I make a tomato sauce with the leaves, and I’ve recently used them in a basil pesto.

  • Xochi Navarro

    How would you cook and eat tomato leaves? AND I didn’t know you could eat cucumber leaves! How do you cook and eat those?

    • I’ll be posting a tomato sauce recipe this week that uses tomato leaves. As for cucumber leaves, I don’t cook them (only because I don’t want to strip my vines of all the leaves) but I do put them in salads and wraps. If you thin out cucumber seedlings, you can eat those microgreens too.

  • dave

    In case I missed it, did you eat any?

    • Yes. I’ve cooked with tomato leaves (adding them to omelets and such) but am experimenting with other recipes where I can bring out their flavor more. (Since now, all I taste are the garlic, onions etc that I cook them with.) I’ll post recipes as I try them and like them. 🙂

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