Learn how to use nutrient-rich broccoli and cauliflower leaves from the garden, and don’t let them go to waste!
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Can you eat broccoli and cauliflower leaves?
We usually eat the tender parts of the plant, the broccoli and cauliflower unopened florets, and the center head of the cabbage. But what about all of the leaves and outer leaves of the plant? Can you eat broccoli and cauliflower leaves?
The answer is yes! In fact, according to Registered Dietician Karen Donaldson, MS, RD, LD, the “leaves actually are a richer source of beta-carotene than either the stems or florets.”
“Superfood” is not too strong a word for these nutrient-dense leaves. They are packed with healthy vitamins like A, C, and K, and calcium, fiber, iron, niacin, potassium, and thiamine.
Don’t let all this nutrition and garden goodness go to waste. The part of the plant we usually eat is quite small compared to the abundance of outer leaves and stems.
How to use cauliflower and broccoli leaves fresh:
Here are some ideas for using fresh broccoli, cauliflower, and other brassica stems and leaves.
- Add the leaves to stock or soup.
- Make chips! Kale isn’t the only green that packs a crunch as chips.
- Grate and use for coleslaw or salads (peel center stems before using).
- Add leaves to smoothies.
- Sauté and use the small tender leaves like chard or spinach.
- Juice them.
- Use leaves in wraps.
- Feed them to your chickens.
How to preserve broccoli and cauliflower leaves:
Even with all the ways to use broccoli and cauliflower leaves, you may still have an abundance. What is the best way to preserve broccoli and cauliflower leaves?
Preserve them by dehydrating or freeze-drying them and then use the leaves as a powder. This process makes the bulky leaves simple to use and store. Here’s how I do it:
1. Collect the leaves after harvesting the heads and florets
Don’t harvest the leaves too soon; they provide energy to the growing plant. The best time to harvest the leaves is when you are ready to remove the plant. Use the harvested leaves right away.
2. Prepare the cauliflower and broccoli leaves
- Give leaves a rough chop.
- Remove the stems if desired and freeze dry or dehydrate them separately.
- Soak in a bowl full of water for 5-10 minutes. Stir with your hands to dislodge any dirt or unwanted visitors.
- Lay flat and allow to dry on a dish towel.
3. Process the leaves in a freeze dryer or dehydrator
You can learn about the difference between freeze-drying and dehydrating here. Both processes will work, but freeze drying preserves the most nutrients.
To Freeze Dry:
- Fill trays up to the sides with the prepared leaves.
- Processing times may vary. Freeze drying can take 12-18 hours if you leave the stems in the leaves intact. If you remove the stem from the leaves, they will take 6-8 hours.
- Remove from freeze dryer when complete and put in an airtight container as soon as possible.
- Fill trays evenly with prepared leaves.
- Process on the low heat setting (95°F / 35°C) until the leaves are crispy.
- The process may take 12-48 hours.
Freeze drying or dehydrating items of the same thickness prevents leaves from being processed longer than necessary.
If you have a large amount, process the stems together, then process all the leaves.
4. Grind the dried leaves into a powder
Once the leaves and stems are completely dry, they should crumble easily.
I use my Vitamix to grind the dried leaves into a powder quickly. You can also use a potato masher.
The volume decreases significantly, making storing them simple. I store the powder in an airtight jar.
5. Use the superfood green powder in everything
Adding the greens powder to smoothies, soup, chili, or whatever you want is simple. Add as much or as little as you would like.
Experiment and try adding the powder to different foods.