First and foremost, we engage in the debate that has run for a long time now of whether carrot leaves are good or not to our health. Despite a few reports that some people have had some adverse reaction when they’ve consumed carrot leaves – this has not been put in context of any related underlying health complication such people may have had such as issues related to the person’s metabolism or indeed the carrots themselves.
Debate has raged on both sides of this heated argument whether carrot tops are good for us or not. This of course calls for every individual to make their judgement based on their own findings on the subject. What’s important to note that there has been no official guidance from any government against (either in warnings of any potential hazards) consumption of carrot leaves which may be a good pointer into whether they’re actually harmful to us or not.
With little scientific research around this subject, debate has largely been informed by hearsay and personal anecdotes with little to prove or disprove it. While the debate has been allowed to continue, it’s useful to help draw some fundamental facts about carrot leaves. We know them to contain a significant composition of alkaloids and nitrates two compounds that some people in many populations are sensitive to. It’s equally to point out here that majority people are insensitive to these compounds if we consume them in reasonable amounts. In some cases, look-a-likes for wild carrots have been mistaken for the wonderful wild edible. These happen to be poisonous and should not have to weigh in to give a bad name to this old time vegetable. Additionally, the alkaloids group of organic compounds is related to such nasty poisons as strychnine, cocaine, and caffeine which further fuels arguments against the carrot leaves.
As the debated has raged, farmers on the other hand have seemingly made their minds up in the knowledge that since the leaves won’t ultimately be consumed, they might as well apply pesticides sprays to them something that doesn’t help their case for use in our recipes. This can introduce some risk of contamination to the leaves and root. But only in as far as application and use of pesticides is concerned as the Ontario authorities for Food and Rural Affairs guidance has shown, such as not following product label information, or where chemicals not registered for use are used. This seems to make a case for organic foods and carrots and their leaves for the case of this writeup.
The carrot family includes some poisonous and non-poisonous members such as - Apiaceae ("umbellifers") - are the well-known plants: angelica, anise, arracacha, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, celery, Centella asiatica, chervil, cicely, coriander (including cilantro), cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, lovage, Queen Anne's lace, parsley, parsnip, sea holly, and the now extinct silphium. While some are certainly poisonous, carrot isn’t!
The other myth around carrot leaves is their absence from our supermarket shelves. Well, this is explainable. Carrot leaves would continue to draw water from the root which would therefore make them dry out sooner. This is the reason supermarkets have removed the leaves from the roots to help prolong shelf life. Other supermarkets have in fact sold them at a premium by themselves.
The debate aside; the leaves of carrot are in fact considered edible and highly nutritious. Let’s try to start by making the case for carrot leaves.
1. First and foremost, because of their antiseptic qualities they can be juiced and used as a mouthwash.
2. They come rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. They contain 6 times the vitamin C of the root and are a great source of potassium and calcium. The tops of the carrots are loaded with potassium the reason they’re bitter.
3. These greens are packed with chlorophyll, a phytochemical that gives plants their green colour and pigmentation. Chlorophyll is an excellent source of magnesium, which promotes healthy blood pressure as well as strong bones and muscles, and has been noted to purify the blood, lymph nodes and adrenal glands
4. They are high in potassium, which can lower blood pressure, support your metabolism, and help prevent osteoporosis. People most at risk for heart disease are the ones who get too little potassium.
5. What's more, carrot greens are rich in vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrot itself and is vital to bone health. They have also been noted to deter tumour growth.
The Myth Busted
Carrot greens contain alkaloids (which are toxic bitter compounds produced by a plant) and all alkaloids are bad because substances like caffeine and cocaine are alkaloids. BUT! - all leafy greens (including “good for you” greens like spinach and kale) contain varying levels and types of alkaloids, some higher than others. Alkaloids are chemical compounds believed to be part of a plant’s defence mechanisms. This applies to both Wild Carrot leaves as well as domestic.
· Carrot tops are an outstanding source of chlorophyll, the green pigment that studies have shown to combat the growth of tumours. Chlorophyll contains cleansing properties that purify the blood, lymph nodes, and adrenal glands. Scientists have been unable to synthesize chlorophyll in the laboratory, but green plant foods contain sufficient quantities to protect the human body.
· The leaves do contain furocoumarins that may cause allergic contact dermatitis from the leaves, especially when wet. Later exposure to the sun may cause mild photodermatitis. (This is NOT the same as 'poisonous' - it will only affect susceptible people with allergies to the plant. Some people have the same reaction to yarrow, ragwort, chamomile etc.)
· Carrot leaves contain significant amounts of porphyrins, which stimulate the pituitary gland and lead to the release of increased levels of sex hormones.
· There is a distinct difference between toxins and allergens. Carrots (Daucus carota), whether wild or domesticated, are not toxic, they are allergenic. This is like peanuts, which are not toxic but can kill those who are allergic to them.
· It is however important that any wild plant be positively identified before it is used for food. The tiny tops have tiny almost feathery branches. Carrot seedlings look a lot like bindweed. It takes a while to figure out the differences. Bindweed is redder and the leaf arrangement looks sort of branchy.
Think of starting with simple menu ideas such as mixing carrot leaves with a mixed green salad, or adding to coleslaw. You can also use it for garnish. Imagination is the trick here but bottom line is common sense and creative skills can go a long way to help you introduce something new to your menus! It’s the reason why cooking is fun. It’s an art. Remember the immense benefits you will be introducing to your dishes such as the high vitamin K, which is happens to be more that in the carrot root itself.
1. Carrot leaves are an ideal addition to soups, salads and sandwiches in small quantities. They introduce heartiness to a recipe.
2. The second menu idea is to sprinkle some in a green mixed salad. What you get is a great unique taste and that added crunchiness. Stemming and chopping the leaves finely should take that rough texture off for those that it will affect.
3. Thirdly is to simply try decorating pate with it, and glace it with aspic.
4. Have you tried a "carrot top pesto vinaigrette"? Well, by hiding the bitterness under the tangy vinegar, and sweetening it slightly with some honey, you get something amazingly tasty.
5. Another great ideas is that of carrot greens cooked in butter, with a little garlic or smoked bacon. The taste is something out of this world!
6. Sautéing the chopped carrot tops lightly in olive oil with garlic and onion is another idea. Add other garden-grown veggies (the carrots themselves, zucchini, tomato, peppers, fresh herbs), sauté some more, then fold the entire garden mish-mash inside a whole wheat tortilla, brown it, and call it a quesadilla. Truly a great vegan treat, and the carrot tops gave a nice crunchy texture.