Are tea leaves edible? Can you munch down on a cactus leaf, or will it leave you running for the bathroom?
Following on from our first article on edible leaves, in this second section, we’re going to look at some of the common plants grown by homesteaders, including those you could be using more of and those you should leave well alone.
# 1 – Can I Eat the Leaves From a Tea Bag?
While some teas are edible and even have some health benefits when eaten, others may contain levels of lead and other heavy metals, making them, in my opinion, unwise for consumption during pregnancy and lactation.
I also appreciate the comments from the Live Strong blog regarding a tea toxic element study, “tea leaves contain much higher levels of contaminants than brewed tea.” Raw tea leaves may also contain traces of pesticides and bacteria.
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In some places, like Burma and Japan, however, “eating tea is not uncommon”, but only specific types of tea are prepared in this manner.
In other words, you can eat tea leaves if you really want to, but it’s not advisable unless you know where they came from and “are confident about their origin,” especially as “different parts of the world have higher concentrations of lead than others.”
# 2 – Are Zucchini Leaves Nice to Eat?
Not only is zucchini one of the easiest plants to grow for beginner gardeners – but they’re the gift that keeps on giving.
You can get a whole bunch of extra food from your garden by harvesting your zucchini leaves and adding these edible leaves to everything from soups to stir-fries, quiches to curries. Or sandwiches!
The young leaves of the zucchini plant are not just edible – they’re also delicious!
Zucchini leaves are tender and tasty and, harvesting a few will even boost your plant’s well-being by allowing “more light into the center of the plant which helps fruit development and improves air circulation.”
Leave the older leaves well alone! Though not toxic, these tend to be tough and bitter.
# 3 – Can You Eat Dandelion Leaves?
Although the humble dandelion is often mistaken as a weed, it’s a secret superfood with high enough vitamin levels that, like sorrel, can put the likes of “kale and spinach to shame.”
So – how many nutrients cram inside of a tiny dandelion-seed-collection-az/” linkid=”11632″>dandelion? You’ll find heaps of Vitamins A, C, E, and K. Dandelions also have soluble fiber – making them a surprisingly healthy plant!
You can eat any part of the dandelion plant, although mature leaves are often bitter and more easily consumed after blanching and adding a hefty measure of garlic.
People also take dandelion to handle a wide array of health ailments such as inflammation and kidney infection. However, in my opinion, there is no reliable scientific data to back up any of these claims.
# 4 – Can You Eat Fig Leaves?
The fig leaf acquired great status in our society after Adam and Eve supposedly “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7) to hide their nudity. In addition to their “spiritual and mythical symbolism,” fig leaves “can also be transformed into a delectable dish.”
Not only are they edible, but fig leaves also have many alleged health benefits, of which its “anti-diabetic properties” and its ability to lower triglyceride levels are among the most recognized.
Others say that fig helps their digestion considerably.
According to WebMD – fig has a wide array of many potential health benefits. However, there isn’t sufficient evidence available to confirm the alleged health benefits at this time.
Unfortunately, there aren’t that many fig leaf recipes around, and most of those only use the leaf as a wrapping, like Martha Stewart’s Salmon wrapped in fig leaves recipe.
A few experts I’ve read recommend making fig leaf tea with a mild flavor to get the most benefits from your fig leaves. Alleged benefits may include fighting insomnia, increasing sexual desire, and promoting “overall longevity and good health.”
# 5 – Can You Eat Kohlrabi Leaves?
Enthusiastic homesteaders and chefs often ask, “Are kohlrabi leaves edible?” The answer? Most definitely!
Cotyledons are the embryonic leaves that first appear from a germinating seed. For many, these are the highlight of the kohlrabi and are cultivated as a form of microgreen.
Other chefs and growers prefer to grow these wild cabbage cultivars to full size and then use the edible leaves to create a delicious side dish. Harvest in spring if you want “to get flavourful, tender greens.”
# 6 – Can You Eat Pumpkin Leaves?
Pumpkins are the unsung hero of any garden – and nothing lights up the final days of your harvest like picking a handful (or armful) of bright orange pumpkins!
You don’t have to contain your love of pumpkins to Halloween or just to the fleshy fruit, though. Pumpkin leaves are just as edible as the fruit and seeds and have a similarly impressive array of health benefits.
The pumpkin leaf can help you fight against cancer, lowers cholesterol, “increases fertility, prevents infection… combats diabetes” and also contains anti-aging agents.
As with most green leaves, the younger ones are more tender and tasty and can be “cooked like spinach.”
Did you know?
Pumpkins are an underrated superfood! Read this epic guide from WebMD that talks about the eleven unbelievable health benefits of pumpkins.
You’ll also discover one of the best and tastiest ways to eat pumpkin. Pumpkin pie is my favorite, of course. But, I’m not sure if pumpkin pie counts!
# 7 – Can You Eat Banana Leaves?
Everyone knows that banana leaves are edible, don’t they? – People use them to help steam meats and veggies all the time.
Banana leaves have a reputation in traditional recipes throughout Asia, South America, and Africa.
Banana leaves see much of their time used for cooking and serving. For example – you can use banana leaves to help steam fish, pork, vegetables, salmon, turkey, chicken – or just about anything!
Banana leaves probably find themselves getting chucked (hopefully in a compost bin) after fulfilling their serving purpose. But, make no mistake – using banana leaves in the kitchen is likely more common than you think!
Not only is cooking on banana leaves “economical and hygienic,” but they also “contain large amounts of polyphenols, which are natural antioxidants.”
You can also branch out and try eating the stems, which is an effective diuretic and can help to “combat cholesterol and high blood pressure.”
The banana flowers are also edible. Although fairly bitter, the flowers can be “soaked in lemon juice” and transformed into a tasty and effective treatment for menstrual cramps.
# 8 – Life Beyond the Sprout – Can I Eat Brussels Sprouts’ Leaves?
A bit like Marmite, most people either love or hate Brussels sprouts, but even those with a passion for this tiny cabbage-like creation rarely think, “Are Brussel Sprouts leaves edible?”
Interestingly enough, however, they are edible! And – there are plenty of recipes available to turn them into something special.
Try them sautéed, charred, roasted, fried, or, if you’re a big fan of leafy greens, just raw in a smoothie or salad. Not only do they taste great, but they’re also “a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C”.
# 9 – Can You Eat Nasturtium Leaves?
Nasturtium leaves are edible! Not only do I eat them myself, but I also feed them to my chickens and use them in the herbal tea I make for my horses.
Said to boost the immune system and help prevent colds, flu, and fevers, it’s worth getting a taste for the nasturtium’s peppery flavor.
I like to add a few nasturtium leaves to my morning smoothie but you can also use them in stir-fries, salads, and pestos.
They’re also great for your garden, both as a companion plant and for ground cover in arid conditions!
# 10 – Can You Eat Squash Leaves?
Don’t leave them alone. Eat them. They’re delicious!
As with pumpkin leaves, squash leaves are edible, tasty, and versatile.
While their tremendously scratchy texture makes them less than pleasant when eaten raw, they lend themselves to “boiling, stir-frying, and steaming.”
Alternatively, add a few young leaves and sprouts to a soup or stew and get their “immune-boosting benefits” that way instead.
# 11 – Can You Eat Lavender Leaves – A League of Their Own
Everyone knows you can eat the aromatic flowers of the lavender bush!
But – are lavender leaves edible?
Yes, they are!
And their uses “are limited only by your imagination!”
Lavender leaves can be eaten fresh or dried and have a wide range of alleged health benefits, from its antiseptic qualities to its efficacy in treating insomnia and depression.
The only toxic thing about lavender is the essential oil, so don’t start chugging that down by the bottle. Stay clear!
I made a delicious pumpkin and lavender soup last year and am addicted to my evening cup of lavender and fig tea, which is guaranteed to send me off into a restful sleep.
Lavender can also be added to desserts, made into a syrup out of it, or used to transform a traditional chicken into a sweet and savory treat.
Wild for lavender!
A lot of people think we’re kidding when we talk about eating lavender. But, lavender is edible and can complement many sweet and savory dishes. For sure!
We invite you to read a handful of delicious lavender recipes from The Old Farmer’s Almanac – one of our favorite homesteading resources from New Hampshire, USA.
# 12 – Can You Eat Bok Choy Leaves?
One of the most popular Asian greens, bok choy is edible but only in small quantities, as a Chinese woman discovered when she was admitted to the hospital after consuming two to three pounds of the stuff raw every day for several months.
Like most cruciferous vegetables, bok choy “contains an enzyme called myrosinase” which can “can hinder thyroid function by preventing the body from absorbing iodine”.
Bok Choy can be added to stir-fries and soups or roasted to bring out its naturally “rich and nutty” flavor. But please – be careful!
# 13 – Are Hibiscus Leaves Healthy or Harmful?
Hibiscus flowers are commonly used in teas, jellies, and relishes, but are the leaves safe to eat?
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture says, yes. While hibiscus plants can be dangerous for dogs, “the plant and its blossoms are considered nontoxic to humans.”
Like the flowers, hibiscus leaves have several culinary uses and alleged health benefits.
“Hibiscus leaves are more nutritious than spinach and have more iron, calcium, and vitamin A.”
# 14 – Can You Eat a Cactus Leaf?
While I’ve been using the leaves of the Prickly Pear cactus to thicken homemade paint, I’ve never really thought about eating them.
These prickly leaves, also known as pads, are, in fact, edible – if you can get past the spines and prickles, that is.
Not only are cactus leaves edible, but they also have some great health benefits and demonstrate “strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.”
Popular in Mexican cuisines, cactus leaves can be made into a “nutritious Ensalada de nopales” or mixed into scrambled eggs for a healthy breakfast.
Cactus leaves aren’t the most straightforward ingredient to prepare, but they are tasty and highly nutritious so why not give them a whirl and turn your eggs green with envy?
Read more – The Ultimate Guide to the Edible Food Forest
# 15 – Can You Eat Rhubarb Leaves?
My husband warned me off rhubarb leaves as soon as we started growing them, telling me in no uncertain terms that they were poisonous.
Although the stalks are fine to eat (and delicious with custard), the leaves themselves “are considered inedible due to their high concentration of oxalic acid.” Consumption “can lead to the formation of kidney stones and eventually kidney failure.”
Rhubarb leaves have been eaten in the past, however, “during World War I, people were advised to eat rhubarb leaves as a substitute for vegetables that were unavailable at the time” – this led to at least one death and “several poisonings.”
Which Plants Are Edible? Please Share Your Homesteading Insights!
Now you’ve made it to the end of our epic two-part series on edible leaves – you should know precisely when to take it and when to leave it.
Not only that, but hopefully, we’ve opened your eyes to a variety of new food sources in your garden, increasing your edible plant yield and making you more self-sustainable.
We’d also love you to share your homesteading experience!
If you have any tips or advice on other edible leaves or unlikely greens that you’ve discovered add new flavors and nutritional benefits to your meals, please share them with us in the comments below.