The Extra Edibles


Today we have a Guest Rant from Willi Galloway, who has just published Grow, Cook, Eat, a vegetable gardening guide that includes recipes, too.  I particularly enjoyed Galloway’s intrepid way of looking at the entire vegetable plant, not just the parts that you can find in the supermarket.  That’s what she’s going to tell us about today: the forgotten bits of spring crops that make for surprisingly good eating.

GrowCookEat_CoverLittle baby beet leaves, fennel pollen, garlic scapes, and the tender tips of pea shoots are some of the very best reasons to grow your own food. When you plant a garden you have the luxury of harvesting and eating vegetables at different stages in their lifecycle—not just the one that is best suited to packaging, shipping, and displaying in a supermarket. Most vegetables are grown for a main crop (e.g. radish roots or sugar snap pea pods), but also produce what I think of as extra edibles—leaves, seeds, seedpods, and flower blossoms that taste delicious and almost never find their way into grocery stores. Some of these extra edibles are almost better than the standard crop! Here are three of my favorites:

Garlic Scapes

I would grow garlic just for its scapes—the slender stalk and beak-shaped buds that emerge in late spring. Scapes have the texture of a green onion and a mild, garlicky, slightly grassy flavor. You can harvest them at any time, but they have the best texture and taste early in their life. When scapes first appear their stalk grows straight up, then it curves into curlicues before eventually straightening up again. The bud itself swells in size as it matures. Clip a scape off just as the stalk begins to curl, when the bud is still compact. Use scissors and make the cut right where the stalk emerges from the leaves. Scapes make phenomenal pesto, but you can also grill them whole, or pickle the stalks. One of the dishes I look forward to making all year is garlic scape pesto tossed with freshly shelled English peas and pasta.

Link to the pesto recipe:

Pea Shoots

Last summer I planted some extra pea seeds in a little terracotta pot that was knocking around the garage and set it on our patio table as the centerpiece. For the next couple of months we would sit around the table and snack on the pea shoots while we drank beers in the garden. Pea shoots—the leaves, stem, tendrils, and blossoms at the tip of each plant—taste sweet with a subtle pea flavor. When you pinch the shoots back, new ones emerge in a matter of days, making this a great cut-and-come-again crop. To harvest, start at the tip of a shoot and follow the stem down past the new growth to the next lowest leaf. If you look close, you should see a little bright green nub at the base of the leaf, right next to the stem. Pinch directly above the leaf and the little nub, which will soon grow into a new shoot (you can see photos of exactly where to pinch here). We like to toss the shoots with lemon vinaigrette and thick shavings of Parmesan cheese or use them as a garnish on soups.

Link to the post with step-by-step instructions on harvesting pea shoots:

Green Coriander Seeds

Cilantro bolts up towards the sky and develops sprays of dainty white flowers as the days lengthen, or at the first hint of heat. This is a frustrating habit if you want to harvest cilantro’s leaves, but convenient if you like to eat its seeds, which are the spice, coriander.  The seeds are most often harvested when they are dry and brown, but they are a real treat at the green stage. They taste citrusy and herby and not at all like cilantro leaves. They are one of my very favorite secret ingredients for marinades and dressings. But the best way to enjoy green coriander seed is infused in vodka. My friend David Perry introduced me to this concept and for that I am very thankful. The vodka takes on the citrusy flavor of the coriander seed and tastes amazing with a splash of soda and a squeeze of lime. Harvest the green seeds just after they develop when they look like emerald green BBs. Use the seeds fresh or toss them into a little lidded glass container and keep them in the freezer. To infuse the vodka, toss a good handful of green coriander seeds into a bottle of vodka and infuse for a couple of weeks. Strain out the seeds and start making cocktails.

Many other spring vegetables produce extra edibles. Try eating arugula blossoms, radish flowers and seedpods, fava greens, and the small, broccoli-like flower buds of kale, mustard greens, and Asian greens like bok choy!

 Photo credits: Jim Henkens


  1. I love this. One of my favorite edibles is nasturtium seeds. Everyone knows about the flowers but the seeds are so much more intensely peppery. I eat them while they are still green. And if you don’t need lovely flowers, but just petals for your food, you can harvest the nasturtium flowers as they are going by, use the petals and still get the seeds. Fabulous!

  2. There are some lovely ideas here, and fortunately looking at the whole vegetable plant is developing into a trend, just like eating the whole animal has for meat-eaters.

  3. Garlic scapes are wonderful and I’ve been thrilled with the pea shoots I’ve been growing regularly since January, as part of my 52 Week Salad Challenge this year.

    Taking the whole plant concept even further: I heard a programme on the BBC a while ago about coriander (cilantro) where some chefs at an Indian restaurant revealed they set even greater store by the plant’s roots over and above the leaf and stems. I haven’t had the courage to try for myself yet though!

  4. I agree. We look at food in general too narrowly here in America. I was wandering around my garden a few years ago with my Thai sister-in-law. She looked at my carrots with interest and said that her aunt would make a a delicious egg dish with carrot tops.

    My partner in our elementary school garden–a really intrepid cook–also always puts carrot tops into the salads we make with the kids. She also eats the leaves of broccoli just like kale.

  5. I’ve noticed there’s a push on the “whole plant” movement here in France. Last week the French version of Top Chef made them use the entire vegetable and now I’m itching to try deep-fried carrot leaves.

  6. Some of these I was already aware of – pea shoots are 2nd-place in our household & the school garden only to the whole pods themselves. Green cilantro/coriander seeds – this I will do ! Students always ask me what’s edible & there are times when nothing seems to be, or at least not in great enough abundance for a few dozen kids to try. We should have a new crop of cilantro seeds very soon, given the warm winter we’ve had.

    I’m so curious about the many other veggie parts that are edible ! This book is definitely going in my shopping basket – It’s as if you wrote it just for me.

  7. Definitely try the cilantro root, VP–it has a subtle, earthy taste. Lots of Thai recipes call for it too.
    The last thing I need is another gardening or cookbook, but this new twist may just make this book a must-buy!

  8. I grow pumpkins every year more for the fresh green shoots than for the pumpkins (which are available at every farmstand inexpensively, but the shoots never are!)

    I love coriander in “both” its forms — now I know 2 more forms to try!

    I have added this to my list to buy next time I am in an independent bookstore!

  9. Hmm. . . Good to know about the green coriander seeds. I’ve always just left them to dry completely. The infused vodka sounds amazing! I’ll have to try it this year.

  10. Water Garden Godd-I love nasturtium seeds (and the whole plant) too. They have such an amazing floral spicy flavor.

    VP and Val–I had no idea that the cilantro roots are edible. I will definitely try them!

    Michelle–Carrot tops taste a lot like parsley (which isn’t a surprise because they are in the same plant family) and broccoli leaves are great–we use them as a wrapper around risotto.

    Kate–I also really like the tips of the squash vines. They are so tender and I also just get a kick out of eating unusual plant parts (and also thanks for shopping for the book at your local bookstore!)

    Erica–Aren’t radish seedpods so good! There is actually a variety with the unfortunate name of ‘Rat Tail Radish’ that is grown just for the pods. It is really a fun one to try!



  11. I have pea shoots at my small vegie garden too! It just grew in one of the pots so I really didn’t plan to have more of it until I’ve read your blog. Now I could enjoy my own home cooked recipes of pea shoots and tendrils! Can’t wait to harvest.

  12. What a nice ‘rant’!
    I totally agree that one of the best things about growing your own vegetables are the little things you all mentioned. Last summer I added garlic scapes to my bread & butter style zucchini pickles. I also let some cilantro plants go to seed and when the seeds have dried I scatter them around; they come up on there own schedule and there are always a few plants growing and sprouting nearly year round here in my West Seattle garden. Did you know that fall planted arugula can be cut-and-come-again through winter? Also, bolting broccoli flowers are pretty tasty too.

  13. Hi everyone,

    I have a question Willi. I start my veggies from seeds in late Jan through to late March, depending on the crop. I was at our local Rite Aid this morning and the veggie starts they have on their outside shelves are HGUE compared to my tiny little seedlings. Where to they grow these? In South America? They must have been started in December to get so big already. I can’t believe I’m jealous of Rite Aid veggie starts but I can’t stop thinking about them.

  14. Love garlic and it good for the blood pressure. I planted some last Aug. We will see if it comes up this spring. I have started planting seeds inside. It looks like it will be a warmer sprig.

Comments are closed.