Am I Eating the Right End?

For a vegetable gardener, the definition of “exciting”

A few years ago, I interviewed a gardener from Bangladesh who grew exotic gourds like fuzzy melon and snake melon in the Fenway community garden in Boston.

She pointed out that the growing season is short, certainly compared to her home country, so before she got the gourds, she made sure to enjoy eating the flowers and the tender shoots of the vines.  Huh, I thought stupidly.  I didn’t know squash vines were edible.  That same summer, my Thai sister-in-law Na wandered my garden and pinched off and ate some carrot tops.  She told me her dad would make a delicious egg dish with them.  Huh, I again thought stupidly, I didn’t know those were edible.

The truth is, what we do eat is severely limited by custom and by no means captures the full bounty of nature. In The Diversity of Life, E.O. Wilson points to chronic “underutilization,” estimating that while just 20 species provide 90 percent of the world’s food, there are 30,000 species of plants that have edible parts.

And in my experience, we underuse what we do use.  I recently glanced through a vegetable how-to that said the leaves of kohlrabi were worthless.  Not true!  Kohlrabi, possibly the world’s best soup vegetable, makes an even better soup when the black-green of its chopped-up leaves is there for contrast. Kohlrabi leaves are like the world’s tenderest kale.

Friend of Rant Willi Galloway’s recent book Grow Cook Eat is particularly good at encouraging the gardener to try some new bits of familiar vegetables.  Thanks to Willi, I used pea shoots for the first time, in a fried rice.  And thanks to Willi, last night I harvested two million radish seed pods after yanking the gone-by radishes out of the school garden, which I then pickled.

Radishes–well, I should admit that I adore a variety called ‘Chinese Red Heart.’  But otherwise, they hold only limited interest.  They are a long-day crop that always bolts in June.  They have to be thinned…there, two major strikes against them.  But radish pods!  A subtler radish flavor, but just as delicious.  And while one plant will produce just one root, it will produce dozens and dozens and dozens of tender pods.  There is actually a variety of radish called ‘Rat Tail’ bred just for its long flavorful pods.  Next year, ‘Rat Tail’ in the yard.



  1. I keep trying to broaden what I think is edible. Carrot tops! And I love that Beauty Heart radish – even though I kept telling my Chinese colleagues it MUST be a turnip. Oh well, live and learn. And eat more widely.

  2. Love this–green coriander seed is another revelation. I think I may have left my radish pods on too long to enjoy, they are less green and turning reddish. Oh well, I love the flowers, as do beneficial insects.

  3. Just got done picking all my radish seed pods. Some are more flavorful than others. They are great on salads. Here I thought this was my secret!

  4. Corn silks and the inner corn husks, if properly prepared can be delicious. So to heck with the ear of sweet corn. eat the husks.
    Will anybody actually fall for this? Now here’s the bottom line, a pet guinea pig is the correct recipient for carrot tops, corn husks, and the rest.

  5. Great post–I look forward to checking out Galloway’s book. Black spanish radish also produces tasty pods (and I don’t think I’ve seen more honeybee activity on any plant!) Alas, I was going to try rattail radish pods this year (from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) but my plants were devoured by flea beetles. As were my mustards. 🙁

  6. I bought some of those rattail radish seeds from Baker Creek also, but i forgot all about them. I’ll have to dig them out and give them a try. I would not have thought to pickle them. But now I think I’ll do it.

  7. Tried carrot tops & didn’t care for them, but I may have to plant even more peas now that my kiddos have discovered how fab pea shoots taste ! We used to lament the wait for peas to grow big enough to flower & set pods. Now we’ll have something else scrumptious to anticipate. Radish pods ? Can’t get the kids at school to eat more than a radish or two (and every plant show & garden club seems to give away free radish seed !), but I bet I can get them to eat the pods!

    Have Grow Cook Eat on my wishlist, but perhaps I’ll just buy it for myself today.

  8. I just added this book to my must get list. I hate to let any part of my relatively small garden go to waste. If I can get more subsistence from it, all the better.

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