Your mom probably shared the benefits of broccoli each time you turned your nose up at the bright green stalks lurking beside your meat and potatoes as a kid.
If you listened, you continue to eat a healthy amount of the vegetable, perhaps finding creative ways to prepare it as broccamoli or hidden beneath cheese sauce.
Prepare yourself for a new twist on an old favorite: Academic research undertaken by food agronomists proves that broccoli leaves deserve your respect, too.
You may not understand every word of the 2016 abstract describing research into broccoli leaves undertaken by science, but you may not care when you learn about anti-amnesic benefits your brain receives every time to put broccoli leaves on your plate.
Adding them to your diet, say food scientists, may help you remember more and learn more efficiently, too.
About raw broccoli leaves
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutritional Database, raw broccoli leaves aren’t biologically complicated.
Over 90-percent of the leaf structure is composed of water while the remaining plant properties are a mix of carbohydrates (5-percent), protein (almost 3-percent), fiber (2.3-percent) and 1.48-percent sugar.
Like the stalks and flowers to which they’re attached, leaves contain 48 micrograms of calcium.
Prone to conditions like black rot and Fusarium Wilt, triggered by hot, humid conditions and parasites that destroy broccoli stems, midribs and veins, broccoli plants have endured their fair share of Mother Nature’s wrath over time.
But as plant-destroying conditions are eliminated, the world is discovering the benefits of once-discarded broccoli leaves.
What benefits do you derive from eating broccoli leaves?
Whether you wouldn’t put a fork-full of cooked broccoli leaves into your mouth if they’re not culled from your market’s organic section or you’re just as happy eating pedestrian broccoli leaves, dieticians tell us that there’s health gold in what we used to rip off and discard.
Leaves “are a richer source of beta-carotene than stems or florets,” noted Registered Dietitian Karen Donaldson, MS, RD, LD said during her “Idaho State Journal” interview. (1)
Broccoli leaves taste sweeter and milder than florets and stalks and contain more fiber than other broccoli plant parts, too.
These nutrient-dense leaves are packed with healthy vitamins and minerals that include Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folate, Thiamin, Niacin, Calcium, Iron, Selenium, Riboflavin and Pantothenic Acid, say the experts at Plant-Smart Living.(2)
These nutrients help the body ward off cancer and heart disease and boost the immune system, delivering anti-inflammatory benefits that offset toxins that routinely attack the human body.
It’s not hard to understand why food scientists call broccoli leaves “the next super green.”
How to choose and harvest broccoli leaves
If you patronize a specialty market or shop farmer’s markets, you may find bundles of broccoli leaves near the usual stalks and florets.
On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to have access to broccoli plants and can pluck your own leaves, you’ll get fresher produce.
To harvest the leaves by removing the central crown from the plant, say the folks at Garden Mentors (3).
Then approach the plant as you would kale, peeling away lower leaves first because they’re the most mature.
If you want to make sure the plant continues to produce, don’t cut all of the leaves, because they’re the secret energy source of broccoli plants. Without leaves, a broccoli plant won’t undergo the photosynthesis process that keeps them alive.
It’s not all good news, broccoli fans
Reporter Andrea Perry, writing for the U.K. online newspaper “The Daily Mail,” authored an article that may be of interest to you.
It’s called “The Bad News About Broccoli” and sums up a U.S. Agriculture Department study that analyzed 71 different types of broccoli plants currently being grown throughout the planet.
Not all of these broccoli leaf types are created equal, she found, especially when it comes to cancer-prevention claims.(4)
Some types, Perry found, “had virtually none of the compound glucoraphanin,” the agent that is purported to prevent some types of cancer.
Further, some broccoli plants are deficient in Vitamin A, despite claims made to the contrary on other government website pages.
This revelation is actually good news for fans: super-broccoli strains are now being created (especially in England) that could turn this situation around profoundly, so keep tabs on breaking broccoli updates to find out how and where to get your hands on leaves from those super-strains.
Pros and cons of eating broccoli leaves
- These leaves are nutrient-dense, low in sodium and fat-free.
- The fiber in broccoli leaves is highly-concentrated, delivering a boost of hydration.
- Eat up. There are only 31 calories per serving of broccoli leaves.
- These greens are a good source of lutein, a potent antioxidant that aids vision.
- There’s no cholesterol in this veggie.
- One serving of leaves delivers 220-percent of your daily Vitamin C intake.
- Research on broccoli leaves is relatively new and requires more study.
- Not everyone tolerates raw broccoli leaves; even cooked, gastric issues could develop.
- People prescribed blood thinners shouldn’t eat broccoli leaves without a doctor’s okay.
- Broccoli leaves are contra-indicated for people diagnosed with hypothyroidism.
- Over-cooking leaves can strip them of nutrients and disease-fighting power.
- Drink too much juice made with broccoli leaves and your tooth enamel could suffer.
Fun broccoli facts
Impress others when you sidle up to the salad bar by dropping these broccoli factoids:
- Before there were broccoli plants, there was cabbage. Sixth century farmers are responsible for this evolution.
- California farmers produce 90-percent of all broccoli plants grown in the U.S.
- Thomas Jefferson was such a fan, he imported seeds from Italy for his Monticello garden.
- On another presidential front, Obama loved it while George H.W. Bush never hid his hatred for broccoli.
- China grows and exports over 8 tons annually, making it the largest broccoli grower on the planet.
- Americans eat 4 pounds of broccoli annually. That number could go up as leaves become more popular.
- If the smell of cooking broccoli leaves offends you, try throwing a slice of bread into the pot.
How to cook broccoli leaves
If you’re already a pro at preparing kale as a side dish, in a salad or you’re a kale smoothie pro, you can substitute broccoli leaves in any recipe.
On the other hand, the following recipes get you off to a super-green start.
Since a bunch of broccoli leaves may only set you back a dollar or so, says Bethany Gumper, writing for “Fitness Magazine” you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy this trendy veggie.(5)
We “dug up” five recipes, each of which is worth your consideration.
Especially the cake!
Recipe #1: Broccoli leaf stir-fry
- Mix 1 cup broth, ¼-cup soy sauce, 1-tsp. hoisin sauce and 1-Tbsp. sesame oil in a bowl.
- In a smaller bowl, mix 1-Tbsp. each of cornstarch and water.
- Remove stems from 1 bunch of broccoli leaves.
- Roll each leaf up and cut it into ½-inch strips.
- Place oil in a heavy fry pan or wok (peanut oil is best) and heat the oil.
- Sauté ½-cup each sliced onion, carrots and red peppers until browned.
- Add the chopped broccoli leaves and sauté long enough to wilt them.
- Add 2-tsps. each minced garlic and ginger plus 2-Tbsp. basil and mix well.
- Add the water/cornstarch mix. Turn off the burner and keep stirring until the stir-fry thickens.
Recipe #2: Broccoli leaf smoothie
- Wash, remove mid-ribs and chop up 3 large broccoli leaves (per person).
- Place 1 pitted, chopped peach, 6 strawberries, ½-banana and 3 or 4 ice cubes into a blender.
- Add 1 Tbsp. each: hemp seeds and either coconut butter or coconut milk.
- Before blending, add a thick slice of peeled lime and a 1-inch piece of ginger root.
- Blend from 1-to-2 minutes. If the smoothie is too thick, add a little water or coconut milk.
Recipe #3: Pasta with broccoli leaves
- Boil enough water to cook ¾-pound of farfalle or another pasta type.
- Chop up ½-pound (around 5 cups) de-stemmed and chopped broccoli leaves.
- Heat 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil in a heavy skillet.
- Saute ½-cup chopped red or yellow onion in the oil for about 5 minutes.
- Add 2 minced garlic cloves and ½-tsp. red pepper flakes to onion; cook for a minute.
- Add 1 pound peeled, diced tomatoes and 1-tsp. thyme leaves to the onion mixture.
- Add a pinch of sugar and salt before cooking mixture 10 minutes over medium heat.
- Add the pasta to boiling water and cook to al dente consistency.
- Reserve ¼-cup of water when draining pasta and mix it with ½-cup ricotta cheese.
- Combine pasta, veggies and ricotta mix; top with chopped parsley and serve.
Recipe #4: Quick braised broccoli leaves with bacon and sweet onions
- In a large soup pot, bring heavily-salted water to a rolling boil.
- Toss in 1-1/2 pounds of broccoli leaves that have been de-stemmed and chopped up.
- Cook the leaves until tender (around 5 minutes).
- Slice 4 ounces of bacon into ½-inch pieces.
- Cook the bacon until it’s brown and crisp (around 3 minutes).
- Add ¾-cup minced sweet onions to the bacon, stirring and frying for another 4 minutes.
- Toss broccoli leaves into the pan and coat well to distribute the bacon juices.
- Add enough chicken broth (about 1-1/2-cups) to cover greens; cook 15 minutes or until tender.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve as a side dish.
Recipe #5: Chocolate broccoli leaf cake with sea salt
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.
- Remove pot from the heat and soak 3 large, de-stemmed broccoli leaves for 2 minutes.
- Strain the water (retaining 2 Tbsp.) and puree leaves and water in a food processor.
- Whisk together 2 eggs and ¼-cup sugar with 1 tsp. each of sea salt and vanilla.
- When blended, add ¼-cup cocoa powder, broccoli leaf puree and 1/8-cup olive oil.
- Mix ingredients thoroughly before adding ½-cup rice flour plus ¾-cup ground almonds or almond flour.
- Grease a circular cake pan and swish finely-ground almonds over the area.
- Pour batter into the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.
- Remove from oven and top with either ¼-cup chopped dark chocolate or chips.
- Allow the chocolate to melt over the warm cake, using a knife to spread it around.
- Sprinkle the icing with a light dusting of course sea salt and serve.
Bet you thought we were going to take you down a boring road, adding to the lessons you learned as a kid that “broccoli is good for you.”
In fact, it is.
And that means every part of the broccoli plant.
If you simply can’t abide broccoli much less the leaves that grow around it, we have a suggestion: If recipes #1 to #4 don’t sound appealing, we urge you to try the cake.
We substituted the kale called for in the original recipe and prepared the recipe using broccoli leaves instead.
For some reason, we felt healthier than we usually do after “eating our vegetables.”
Wish we got more of these vegetable assignments to test out!
Further reading: How much potassium is in broccoli?
References and Recipe Resources