In all my years of eating carrots (which are many), I’ve never given a single thought to eating the leafy green tops. I’ve always cleaned and peeled my carrots, tossing away all the trimmings, because I assumed carrot greens were simply inedible. Oh how wrong I’ve been!
Are Carrot Tops Poisonous?
It has been rumored that carrot tops are poisonous and potentially deadly, but that's actually not true. In fact, they are very edible and loaded with vitamins and minerals. There is a persistent belief that the alkaloids in carrot tops make them slightly dangerous for consumption, but this isn't really true, as alkaloids are a substance found throughout nearly every leafy green vegetable.
- The Toxic Salad at The New York Times - This article from 2009 was responsible for some confusion about carrot tops. It talks about the presence of alkaloids in carrot tops and other garden greenery, but remains a bit vague on whether or not carrot tops are actually safe.
- Are Carrot Tops Toxic? (Short Answer, No) at Garden Betty - Linda Ly's piece does a much better job of explaining the myths surrounding carrot tops. (Did you know they're a market vegetable in Europe?)
Carrot tops are bitter, and bitterness has often been associated with poison, so we wonder if that's half the story. But that bitterness can be put to wonderful use in the kitchen.
What Can You Do with Carrot Tops?
The leafy tops, which remind me of parsley, taste herbaceous and vaguely reminiscent of, well, carrots. They can be eaten raw in salads, although their taste can be a little bitter. Consider softening the greens by blanching them; sautéing them with olive oil, garlic, and some of your other favorite greens; or cooking them into a soup or stock.
The cookbook author and food writer Diane Morgan, author of Roots, is a fan of carrot tops, too. She shared with me a story about a recent conversation with Deborah Madison, where they talked about vegetables, and in particular, carrot tops. "We bantered about carrot tops, and root tops in general," she told me, "and we both dispelled for the audience that carrot tops are poisonous. We laughed and said, 'If carrot tops were poisonous, we'd both be dead by now.'"
Diane thinks it's a waste to throw away the carrot tops. "Many root vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets, are grown for the roots, and the tops are discarded or composted. What a shame to waste all the nutrients and deliciousness of those bushy tops. Carrot tops, which some believe are poisonous, and they are not, are such a treat to use."
Check out Diane's recipe for carrot top pesto:
→ Get the recipe: Carrot Top Pesto at Culinate
Let's make a pact to keep our carrot tops out of the compost pile from now on, what do you say?
5 Carrot Top Recipes to Try
Updated from a post originally published July 2010.
(Image credits: Kelli Dunn)