Texas Cooperative Extension,
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

May, 2005


Secondary Edible Parts of Vegetables


by M. J. Stephens, Department of Horticulture
University of Florida

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.

The following is a list of ordinary garden vegetables with both commonly-eaten parts and less-frequently eaten parts. Obviously, in a list such as this, there may be quite a few omissions.

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 peopleís taste.

The edible leaves and stem tips of sweet potato vines are well known in many parts of the world. Often considered a poor manís food, sweet potato foliage has a rich protein content that helps 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.


Vegetable Common Edible Parts Other Edible Parts
Beans, snap pod with seeds leaves
Beans, lima seeds pods, leaves
Beets root leaves
Broccoli flower leaves, flower stem
Carrot root leaves
Cauliflower immature flower flower stem, leaves
Celery leaf stems leaves, seeds
Corn, sweet seeds young ears, unfurled tassel, young leaves
Cucumber fruit with seeds stem tips and young leaves
Eggplant fruit with seeds leaves edible but not flavorful
Kohlrabi swollen stem leaves
Okra pods with seeds leaves
Onions root young leaves
Parsley tops roots
Peas, English seeds pods, leaves
Peas, Southern seeds, pods young leaves
Pepper pods leaves after cooking, immature seeds
Potatoes, Sweet roots leaves and stem shoots
Radish roots leaves
Squash fruit with seeds seeds, flowers, young leaves
Tomato fruits with seeds ----------
Turnip roots, leaves ----------
Watermelon fruit -- interior pulp and seeds rind of fruit

Note: This article reprinted from Vegetable Production & Marketing News, Dr. Frank J. Dainello, editor, April, 2002.