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Eat Broccoli Greens

Updated on April 30, 2011

The Bonus of Broccoli

Image A - I can now harvest the crown of buds AND the surrounding leaves from this mature broccoli plant.  Thus, broccoli provides two tasty treats instead of just one.
Image A - I can now harvest the crown of buds AND the surrounding leaves from this mature broccoli plant. Thus, broccoli provides two tasty treats instead of just one.

Harvest Those Broccoli Greens Also

Most people identify broccoli solely as a cluster of tasty green buds--the crown--that you normally steam or eat raw. Indeed, the crown is the only part of the plant that most retailers offer to consumers. However, many individuals now raise broccoli in their gardens. Consequently, they know that broccoli plants closely resemble collard plants. Of course, this close resemblance is due to the fact that both popular vegetables are members of the hearty cole family of crops, which are ideal to cultivate during the cooler seasons of the year. The primary difference between the two plants is the crown of buds that broccoli produces but collards do not. Consequently, most growers typically raise broccoli plants to harvest their tasty buds only. They then simply discard the remainders of the plants, preferably by composting. Nevertheless, broccoli plants also produce broad, tasty leaves just as their close relatives collards do.

I am not exactly sure why broccoli leaves, or greens, have not earned the widespread recognition as a delicacy that they so richly deserve. However, as an experienced gardener and cook, I can assure you that broccoli greens taste just as scrumptiously as collard greens taste. In fact, because I can harvest its tasty buds in addition to its tasty leaves, I have been raising broccoli instead of collards for almost two decades now. Here in north Georgia, I usually plant two crops of this cool-weather vegetable each year: one in late winter or early spring and another in late summer or early fall. Believe me, if you raise broccoli plants and fail to harvest their leaves in addition to their buds, you are missing a truly delicious treat.

When and How to Harvest Broccoli Leaves

Commercial growers typically harvest collards, broccoli, cabbage and other cole crops by removing the entire plant at maturity. While this method may be the most economically feasible for commercial growing, a less drastic and perhaps more productive alternative exists for residential gardeners and other smaller-scale growers. Simply cut the leaves from each plant as they mature and are needed, leaving the remainder of each plant in the field so that it can continue to produce edible leaves.

This method especially suits the harvesting of broccoli. At its maturity, the broccoli plant will bear its primary crown of buds and some mature leaves. By cutting off the crown and the mature leaves only, the remaining plant will continue to produce offshoots of buds and additional mature leaves.

While immature broccoli leaves are edible, the proficient gardener cuts only the mature leaves. This practice ensures that he or she is taking the leaves at their maximum size and peak flavor. It also prevents these older leaves from being lost as a source of food, because broccoli leaves will eventually slough off the plant. In addition, permitting the younger leaves to continue to grow provides an oncoming supply of premium greens while it preserves the vitality of the plant.

Most gardeners establish their broccoli crops by installing transplants. These seedlings typically reach maturity approximately fifty days after they are placed into the field. However, just as with any approximation, this period can vary, so the gardener must rely on his or her own judgment as to when the plants have matured.

Timing is especially crucial in harvesting broccoli buds. To capture the buds at their peak flavor and texture, the grower must remove the buds before they begin to flower.

Also keep in mind that broccoli plants do not tolerate extended periods of extreme subfreezing temperatures very well. Thus, you should harvest any edible portions of the plants before they are subjected to such harsh conditions.

Image A above displays a mature broccoli plant. Thus, the ideal time has arrived to harvest its crown and its mature leaves. Nevertheless, experience remains the best teacher in learning to determine when to harvest broccoli.

Use an extremely sharp knife or other device to harvest broccoli. For example, I use a fresh single-edge razor blade. Like a skilled surgeon, you want your incisions to be clean and precise. Slice the stem as closely as you possibly can to the point where the desired leaf begins. This practice reduces the amount of the stem that you will have to remove from the leaf later. Unless you anticipate a prolonged interval of subfreezing temperatures or need to remove the leaves before they slough, take only what you need for now. Leave the rest for a fresh supply of greens that you can harvest in the future.

Ready to Cook

Image B - Prepare broccoli greens just as you would prepare collard greens: wash thoroughly, rinse thoroughly and chop appropriately.
Image B - Prepare broccoli greens just as you would prepare collard greens: wash thoroughly, rinse thoroughly and chop appropriately.

Preparing and Cooking Broccoli Greens

Prepare broccoli greens just as you would prepare collard greens. Thus, you must wash and rinse them thoroughly. Accomplish this crucial task through whatever method you prefer.

However, I simply wash my backyard-grown leaves in used dishwater that has not become excessively cool, greasy or polluted. I clean any especially dirty spots with a nylon brush. To eliminate the possibility that any of the leaves might absorb some of the dishwater, I minimize the period during which any leaf has contact with the dishwater.  In other words, I allow each leaf to stay in the dishwater strictly just long enough to clean it.  After this washing, I thoroughly rinse each leaf in clean, fresh water.

Of course, some individuals might prefer to clean their leaves with Fit Fruit & Vegetable Wash, a reportedly 100% natural produce wash. I have not yet tried this relatively new product, so I cannot comment on its effectiveness or worthwhileness. However, if you decide to try Fit, you should carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions and recommendations.

After you have thoroughly washed and rinsed the broccoli leaves, cut out the remaining stem of each leaf and then slice the leaf into smaller, more manageable portions. Of course, you would slice or chop collard leaves the same way. As you chop the leaves, place them in an adequately sized bowl or colander until you are ready to cook them.  For uniform cooking, dump the entire quantity of chopped greens into the pot at the same time. 

If you plan to cook them right away, the pot of water with your selected seasoning should be over a flame on the stove. Simply dump the filled container of chopped greens into the pot when the water begins to boil.

On the other hand, if you plan to cook them later, store the filled container of chopped greens in the refrigerator until your desired cooking time arrives. Doing so preserves their freshness.

Cook broccoli greens just as you would cook collard greens. Of course, the exact cooking time will vary according to the quantity of greens that you are cooking, the level of your stove flame and the degree to which you want to cook the greens. However, the consensus is that you should boil the greens until you can easily penetrate them with a fork.

We cooks of the Deep South tend to season our greens by slow-cooking them with smoked or cured pork or turkey parts. However, other perhaps healthier alternatives do exist. For example, you may choose to season your greens by cooking them with bullion cubes. Do follow the course that best fits your requirements.

However, I can only attest to that with which I am familiar. Thus, I can assure you that broccoli greens that have been slow-cooked with smoked or cured pork or turkey parts look, feel and taste just like collard greens that have been cooked the same way. In other words, they are irresistibly tender and absolutely delicious.

So, don't neglect this tasty treat. Eat broccoli greens!

Delicious Broccoli Greens

Image C -  These cooked broccoli greens look, feel and taste just like cooked collard greens.  Try some!
Image C - These cooked broccoli greens look, feel and taste just like cooked collard greens. Try some!


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      Ahmad 3 years ago

      I'll give them the space they need! I'm going to move the watermelon. They're not gtteing much sun at that end because of the potatoes. I'm going to move them to the other end. The cantelope are doing fairly well even though they have the same shade problem. Now, summer gardening. Hmmmmm. Me out in the heat? We'll see..