Creatively Eating What You Normally Throw Away – From Corn Silk to Radish Leaves

squash-blooms-and-fruitI spend countless hours tending my garden because I enjoy digging in the dirt and watching the plants grow.  My primary reason for having a garden, though, is to cut down on food costs.  With that in mind, it makes sense to use as much of the plants as I can, and yet I’ve spent years ignorantly throwing edible parts into the compost pile.

Last summer, I made corn silk tea, which is supposed to be helpful for bladder and urinary tract health.  Then I found a company who used dried corn silk as a high-fiber flour extender, so I put the silky strands in my dehydrator, then crumbled them in the food processor, and added the powder to baked goods.  I also made corn stock from the used up cobs.  In a large stockpot, I covered a dozen cobs with water and simmered on the stove until the water was reduced to about a third of the original.  The sweet, concentrated corn flavor was a good substitute for the liquids in cornbread, corn chowder, and homemade corn tortillas.

I started wondering about the rest of my plants.  What else could I eat?  I read about the usual, like the greens from beets and turnips, but I also learned I could eat the young leaves of kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, and radish.  Radish leaf pesto with pasta was a hit in my home.  The list of edible leaves doesn’t stop there, though.  Young okra leaves are edible, and a little goes a long way since they are mucilaginous like the seed pods.  Sweet potato leaves and pumpkin leaves are well-known side dishes in various countries around the world.  Red raspberry leaf tea is beneficial for female reproductive organs.  Stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades, is a common Greek dish.

Beyond the leaves, the flowers and seeds make interesting additions to the table.  The flowers of many vegetables are edible, including squash, pumpkin, okra, radish, and turnip flowers.  The immature seed pods of radishes and turnips can be eaten raw or cooked.  Cantaloupe and other melon seeds can be roasted and eaten just like pumpkin seeds.

A whole new world of food has appeared in my garden.  My list to try this year includes watermelon rind sabzi – a savory dish with herbs and vegetables – and Thai-styled stir-fried pumpkin shoots.  Digging in the dirt has become even more enjoyable as I anticipate the “new” vegetables that I get to try soon.

Note: If you decide to eat the uncommon parts of your plants, use caution and wisdom.  Just because one person or one culture eats something, it doesn’t mean the food is right for you.  Start with a small amount and see how your body responds.


Thanks to Nikki King for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest. We have over $1,500 in prizes lined up for the current writing contest, with more to come. Here is a list of the current pot of prizes:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $380 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $279 value
– 1 year of free membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $240 value
– A copy of The Summer of Survival Complete Collection from Life Changes Be Ready, a $127 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $60 each
– The complete 2014 Grow Your Own Food Summit interview series, a $47 value
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $42 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $40 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $32 each

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10 Comments
  • christi

    Mom made watermelon rind pickles, when i was growing up.

  • Christy

    I’m curious if you’ve eaten parsnip greens. I’ve found conflicting info on the web. They look fabulous for juicing/salads!

    • I’ve never grown parsnips, so I haven’t looked into the greens yet. It’d be interesting to find out.

  • Patricia

    Very interesting article! I want to try the extender and the corn cob stock. That makes so much sense. Remember to stay away from tomato leaves, and there are probably other leaves we should avoid.

  • I hope that you’re eating organic corn etc.

  • Great Grey

    Remember that just because one part of a plant is safe to eat does not mean other parts are safe. But there are many editable plant parts that are not commonly used. Also remember that just because you can eat it does not mean you should.

  • Great Grey

    Remember that just because one part of a plant is safe to eat does not mean other parts are safe. (i.e. rhubarb) But there are many editable plant parts that are not commonly used. Also remember that just because you can eat it does not mean you should.

  • That last comment can be very import ion ,another ideal will be watermelon wine the rind makes good whiskey too.

    • We planted beets, turnips, and Sweet potato just for the leaves,wish I had known about Swiss Chard back then.

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