General care gardens

Edible parts of plants : What are the secondary edible parts of plants?

Have you heard of secondary edible plants? The name may be of more recent origin, but the idea is certainly not one. What do secondary edible plants mean and is this an idea that may be useful to you? Read on to find out more.

Information on edible parts of vegetable plants

Most vegetable plants are grown for one purpose, sometimes two, but they actually have a multitude of useful and edible parts.
Celery is an example of the secondary edible parts of a vegetable. We have probably all bought the trimmed and smooth celery pod from local stores, but if you are a hobby gardener and grow your own celery, you know that celery does not look like this. It is only when the vegetable is cut and all edible secondary parts are removed that the vegetable looks like what we buy at the supermarket. In fact, these tender young leaves are delicious cut into salads, soups or whatever you use as celery. They taste like celery but a little more delicate; the flavor is a little off.
This is just one example of a part of an edible vegetable that is often thrown away unnecessarily. In fact, each of us throws away over 200 pounds of edible food every year! Sometimes these are edible vegetable parts or plant parts that the food industry discards because someone has deemed them unsuitable or unappetizing for the dinner table. Part of this is a direct result of the rejection of food that we have been conditioned to believe is inedible. In any case, it’s time to change the way we think.
The idea of using the edible sides of plants and vegetables is common practice in Africa and Asia; food waste is much greater in Europe and North America. This practice is known as «stem to root» and is actually a Western philosophy, but not recently. My grandmother raised her children during the Depression, when the philosophy of not wanting to waste was in vogue and everything was hard to find. I remember a delicious example of this ideology: watermelon pickles. Yes, absolutely out of this world and made from the soft, rejected skin of the watermelon.

Parts of edible vegetables

So what other edible parts of the vegetables did we throw away? There are many examples, including :

  • The young corn cobs and the unfolded acorn
  • Flower stalk (not only florets) of broccoli and cauliflower
  • Parsley roots
  • English peas
  • Pumpkin seeds and flowers
  • The above mentioned watermelon bark

Many plants also have edible leaves, although most are eaten cooked rather than raw. So which plant leaves are edible? Well, many vegetable plants have edible leaves. In Asian and African cuisines, sweet potato leaves have long been popular ingredients in coconut sauces and peanut pots. A good source of vitamins and rich in fiber, sweet potato leaves provide an essential nutritional supplement.
The leaves of these plants are also edible:

  • Green beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Beet
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Kohlrabi
  • The okra
  • Onion
  • English and Southern peas
  • Pepper
  • Radish
  • Pumpkin
  • Turnip

And if you haven’t yet explored the delights of stuffed squash flowers, I highly recommend it! This flower is delicious, like many other edible flowers, from marigold to nasturtium. Many of us cut the flowers from our basil plants to create a bushier plant and leave all its energy to produce these delicious leaves, but don’t throw them away! Use basil flowers in your tea or in foods that you normally flavour with basil. The taste of the delicate buds is just a more delicate version of the robust flavor of the leaves and perfectly useful – as are the buds of many other herbs.

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