The culinary reputation of most vegetables is based primarily on the edible qualities of one or sometimes two primary parts of the plant. For example, the tomato is the leading garden vegetable, due to the popular appeal of its fruit, while the turnip contributes both its root and its leaves as table fare. For home gardeners who grow and have the entire vegetable plant at their disposal, other plant parts may be edible; although, perhaps not so tasty as the main product. For non-gardeners, however, there is little option for eating parts other than those offered for sale.
Although many of the secondary plant parts are edible, their popularity as food items is diminished by lack of proper flavor or unfavorable texture. For example, the leaves of practically all the cabbage family are edible, but the strong flavors of some species are disagreeable or too strong for most people’s taste.
The edible leaves and stem tips of sweet potato vines are well-known in many parts of the world. Often considered a poor man’s food, sweet potato foliage has a rich protein content helping supplement the nutritional value of the roots.
As for all vegetable parts, there is a great deal of variation within varieties in flavor and culinary characteristics of these secondary parts. For example, some sweet potato stem tips in certain varieties are bitter, with a resinous flavor that is too strong.
Quite often, cooking is necessary to make the parts edible. Raw leaves eaten fresh may even be slightly poisonous in some cases.
The following is a list of ordinary garden vegetables with both commonly-eaten parts and less-frequently eaten parts. Obviously, in a list like this, there may be quite a few omissions.
For more questions on this or on food safety or preparation of different vegetables, contact your local County Extension office or Angela Treadaway, Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety, at (205) 410-3696.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at (205) 410-3696 or your local County Extension office.