Brassica Leaves - A Healthy Bonus from your Garden

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The brassica leaves taste test!

While harvesting the first of my lovely rutabagas (swede for European readers) this week, I was nagged by the thought that I should be eating the leaves rather than throwing them on the compost pile. An ancient inter-species cross between cabbage and turnips, it stood to reason that rutabaga leaves might taste pretty good. And what about Brussels sprouts leaves? Or broccoli leaves? Are they really as edible as some food bloggers say? The greens from closely related collards are packed with vitamins A, C, K and calcium, and the same is probably true of kohlrabi leaves, right? Obviously, a taste test was in order.

I began with sample leaves of six cultivated brassicas: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, kohlrabi and rutabaga. In all cases I gathered only young leaves from the centers of the plants. After washing the leaves clean, I coarsely chopped them and tasted each raw. I then simmered each sample in lightly salted water for three minutes. Two family members joined me in tasting and rating the samples, using a scale of 0 to 5, with 0 meaning spit-out terrible and 5 representing excellent eating. From best tasting to worst, here is what we found.

Best and Worst Tasting Brassica Leaves

Collards were included for comparison, because they are our favorite cooking green in the cabbage family. In my taste test, even the raw collards tasted sweet and tender, with a mild aftertaste. Cooked collards earned the highest score of 4.6, with pleased comments about their buttery, almost noodle-like texture.

Edible leaves from the top of Brussels sprouts plants
Edible leaves from the top of Brussels sprouts plants

Brussels sprouts provided beautiful small rosettes, which I cut from the tops of the plants to help hasten the growth of the sprouts on the main trunk. When raw, the Brussels sprout leaves looked, sliced, and tasted like cabbage. Roger was convinced he was eating cabbage when he tasted the cooked Brussels sprouts leaves, which earned an overall rating of 4. As further endorsement, the leftover sample disappeared when someone ate it for a snack. Note that we did not taste the older Brussels sprout leaves, which I had treated with Bt (a biological pesticide) to control cabbageworms, and twice sprayed with hot pepper brews to deter deer. For tasting purposes, they would not have furnished a fair sample.

Kohlrabi leaves had an assertive bite when tasted raw, but the bitterness disappeared in the cooked sample, which earned an overall rating of 3.6. The mild, grassy flavor of kohlrabi leaves was pleasant enough, but we were all puzzled by their dense, chewy texture. My daughter and I agreed that cooked kohlrabi leaves would work well in pureed soups, where texture is not an issue. You also could use kohlrabi leaves for stuffing, putting their substantial structure to good use.

Kale also tasted pretty good raw, but the short cooking time produced a fibrous sample that was tasty but not quite palatable. Still, the kale came in with a rating of 3.3, and we all agreed that it had great promise if given more time in the pot.

Swede with leaves
Rutabagawith leaves

Rutabaga leaves gave off mustard oil fumes as I chopped them, and they smelled like turnip greens as they cooked. In the end, rutabaga leaves received a not-quite-passing grade of 2.6. One taster said they tasted like soap, and another had to gulp water to clear the intense cabbage punch they delivered.

Broccoli leaves were the biggest losers with an edibility rating of 0. The raw greens tasted too bitter to chew for more than a few seconds, and cooking only slightly tamed their flavor. Some varieties may taste better, but I shall henceforth consider broccoli as a stem and bud veggie only.

Several questions on the edibility of brassica leaves are settled for me now, and I will never again feel guilty about feeding rutabaga or broccoli leaves to my compost rather than my family. Yet kohlrabi leaves are definitely worth keeping, and the tender topknots from maturing Brussels sprouts are rare gourmet treats that should be reserved for the gardeners who grow them. Collards reign supreme in terms of eating quality, but close cousins in the cabbage clan give them plenty of good company.

By Barbara Pleasant

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Show Comments


"Interesting. I always include small broccoli leaves in my pasta with broccoli dishes but the proportion of leaf to bud/stem is small."
Carla on Friday 14 October 2011
"I also include my small broccoli leaves along with the flowettes. I also peel the stem of its harder outer shell--inside is a really delicious morsel--eaten either raw or sliced in discs with the flowerettes."
Lois on Saturday 15 October 2011
"We overwinter broccoli in our unheated greenhouse in western WA, and the young leaves are a daily addition to our winter salads, mild and sweet. Maybe being protected and pampered encourages the leaves' sweetness? If brussels sprouts don't get picked when they're at their peak they result in 'blown' sprouts, which resemble the leafy cluster at the crown of the stalk. They make sweet, tender additions to mixed salads and stir-fries. "
irene on Saturday 15 October 2011
"I think all cooked greens taste much better when I use soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sherry. Add garlic, ginger and crushed red pepper to the mix and it's all good. The Asians know how to make greens taste great and I've experimented with their methods so much that we'll probably live off garden greens this winter. Being from the southern US, I've seen greens cooked and had apple cider vinegar, hot sauce and a bit of sugar added but I much prefer the Asian spices."
Barri on Friday 21 October 2011
"I make green smoothies every morning and love to put the young broccoli leaves in them. They get blended with the collards and kale and nobody is the wiser. The broccoli flowers are a treat for me and the next door neighbor girls, 3 and 4 year olds. They also add good vitamins to the smoothies"
Nadine on Friday 21 October 2011
"Barabara, thank you for such a fascinating article. As I've struggled to grow enough winter greens in the past, I am just grateful to get brassica leaves in the winter - brocoli, sprouts, kale, as well as cabbage. I've always treated the sprouts and broccoli heads as a late bonus. This year I have an abundant brassica plot on my allotment, but I think the kale and sprout leaves are my preference. I'm surprised collards were rated top - I've grown them for the first time this year and found them mildew prone and less tasty than the others. I can't imagine anyone liking swede tops!"
Janet on Saturday 22 October 2011
"I live in Portugal where beetroots grow easily most of the year. We can only eat so many and I have reserved a patch of both red and white, just for the tops. They are delicious. stalks as well!"
Judith on Saturday 29 October 2011
"I used rutabaga leaves to make stuffed "cabbage" rolls. I blanched the leaves for a short time, stuffed them, put a tomato sauce mixture over and baked. I thought they were wonderful, so did the neighbors I shared them with."
ginger on Friday 7 August 2015
"You can always try fermenting them. I have used the slightly larger more mature broccoli leaves to keep assortments of fermenting hot peppers under the brine as to prevent spoilage. After two weeks of fermenting as I removed the broccoli leaf mat I decided to give it a little taste. Nice and spicy and sour; a little chewy but nothing like the toughness you get from raw or even cooked leaves."
Zombeani on Wednesday 23 September 2015
"I accidentally planted a different form of broccoli last spring and when it didn't mature in Fall, I looked again at the package and discovered it was a purple variety that I should have planted towards Fall because it matures in Spring. The plants were 3 ft. tall and big leaves. So I left it there for the winter, hoping, and Wow, right now, April, it has all matured, there is an abundance of purple heads and shoots, and the leaves are wonderful, sweet, much better than any kale I have tried."
Marion Scott on Thursday 3 May 2018
"Try cooking the broccoli stems and leaves. I toss them in olive oil and salt and then char them in the oven. They're amazing. Same with kale stems. Cauliflower stems are good too when charred. Turnip greens are great in a salad if you soak them long enough in a vinaigrette. (I often replace vinegar with lemon.) Swede leaves are pretty good too, as are cauliflower leaves without the stems. Again, char the stems or steam them with your cauliflower florets. "
Dan on Friday 15 May 2020

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