The Other Edible Parts of Common Vegetables

Several common vegetables

By Larry Hodgson

We’re used to eating just one part of most common vegetables, two at the most. Immature flowers from cauliflower plants, fruits from cucumber plants, roots from a carrot, etc. When you buy vegetables, most often all other parts have already been removed, so you eat what you get. But in the home garden, you have access to the entire plant, so you can easily experiment with its other edible parts. 

And the choice is vast! On many vegetables, almost the entire plant is edible. Indeed, when you’re thinning seedlings, you can almost always eat them … the major exception being those in the Solanaceae (tomato family). 

Below you’ll find a list of common vegetables and some of the other parts you can eat.

Do note that there can be certain restrictions on using unconventional parts. You’ll often find, for example, that the leaves are indeed edible, but especially when young, or that they need cooking to be palatable. Or that the plant part has a stronger taste than the one usually eaten, or an insipid taste, a taste that may not be to the liking of some people. So, experiment a bit … or look up recipes for the “plant part” on the Internet!

VegetableUsual Edible PartsOther Edible Parts
AparagusSpear (young stem)
BeansPod with seedsLeaves, flowers
Beet (beetroot)Swollen rootLeaves, stems
Broad beansPod, seedsLeaves, flowers
BroccoliFlower budsLeaves, flower stem
Brussels sproutsSprout (bud)Leaves, stem
CabbageLeavesCore, stem
CauliflowerImmature flowerFlower stem, leaves
CeleryLeaf stems (petiole)Leaves, seeds
Corn (sweet)SeedsYoung ears, unfurled tassel, young leaves
CucumberFruit with seedsStem tips, young leaves
Eggplant (aubergine)Fruit with seedsLeaves (in small quantities)
GarlicBulbLeaves, flower scape
KohlrabiSwollen stemLeaves
LeekStalk Leaves, young flower stalk
Lima beansSeedsPods, leaves, flowers
ParsnipRootLeaves, stems
PeasSeeds, podsLeaves, flowers
PepperPodsLeaves after cooking, immature seeds
RadishRootsLeaves, seed pods
RhubarbLeaf stalk
RutabagaSwollen rootLeaves
SpinachLeavesStem, flowers
Squash (pumpkin, zucchini, etc.)FruitsFlowers, seeds, young leaves
Sweet PotatoesRootsLeaves and stem shoots
Swiss chardLeaf petioles and bladesStems
TomatoFruits with seedsLeaves (in small quantities)
TurnipSwollen rootLeaves
WatermelonFlesh of fruitsRind of fruit, seeds

Warning: I’ve included tomato and eggplant (aubergine) leaves as “edible in small quantities.” Both are known to contain toxic substances, but not enough to cause poisoning when used in moderation.

Their cousin the potato, on the other hand, is an example of a vegetable where only one part can be used (the tuber). All other parts—and even green parts of the tuber!—are poisonous. 

Two vegetables with poisonous parts are rhubarb, whose leaf stem (petiole) is edible while the leaf blade itself is slightly poisonous, and asparagus, whose red berries are likewise slightly poisonous and could cause stomach upset if eaten.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

3 comments on “The Other Edible Parts of Common Vegetables

  1. We had pigs & chicken on the farm, so nothing went to waste. My mother would cut the core out of cabbage for the pigs, I tried it one day when mother cut it out & I liked it. I Later learned that Asian eat sweet potatoes leaves wilted in a pan with salt & pepper. That in Africa some people eat tender bean leaves like mustard greens.
    Another good video.

  2. Just about all parts of all of the cole crops are edible. I mean, only the toughest stems, roots and seeds are inedible. That is why I do not grow turnip greens. I can get plenty of greens from other related vegetables, although I do not grow turnips. Eventually, I will get around to growing real turnip greens, just because they are better. Many of the male squash flowers are also taken from the garden.

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