Carrot top.

From J., 16 December 2009, Carrot tops: edible or poisonous?

Q: I have a small organic garden. Last summer I had LOADS of carrot greens. I tried to research whether these were edible, and could not find a clear answer. Some folks apparently eat them. Other sources said that these were “mildly” toxic. Excuse me, but even “mild” toxicity doesn’t sound very appetizing to me. I ended up composting them (waste not, want not). Any thoughts on eating carrot greens?

A: Hey J., thanks for your question. The toxicity of carrot tops is open to question – some authorities (by which I mean horticulturalists and university extension services, not random bloggers and Wikipedia) consider them safe and nutritious, and others insist they will poison you. Who is correct?

Carrots are part of the Umbelliferae family of plants, which includes not only the edible carrot, celery, parsnip, fennel, cumin, cilantro, and parsley, but also the toxic hemlock. Their membership in the same family explains their mutual affinity – who has not enjoyed the classic pairings of carrots and parsley, carrots and cumin, or (if you like cilantro), carrots and cilantro? These plants tend to store energy in the taproot, and have hollow stems with ample (often flowering) greenery. The poisonous varieties can be difficult to tell from safe wild varieties – wild carrot, for example, is almost indistinguishable from hemlock.

The belief that carrot greens are poisonous may stem from their close botanical proximity to hemlock, but I was unable to find any reported instances of carrot greens poisoning (as opposed to speculation about carrot greens as a poison). Although numerous gardening and amateur cooking sites cite the edibility of carrot greens, a search of about a dozen state poison control center lists of poisonous plants turned up only one reference. Harold McGee and Larousse Gastronomique are silent on the matter, leading me to believe that carrot greens are not widely known to be delicious, even if they are edible. On this season of Top Chef, however, finalist Kevin Gillespie prepared a beet and carrot starter featuring a bright green carrot top purée, apparently to high praise and no ill effect. And Alice Waters often recommends that, when you trim carrots, you leave a bit of the stalk, which is “edible and sweet.”

Taken together, the evidence suggests that carrot greens likely are not toxic, but have low culinary value, but I can’t say for sure and wouldn’t stake my reputation on it. If you do decide to try them, use greens from organic carrots only, to avoid problems with pesticides, and wash even those thoroughly to remove all traces of dirt and sand. If you notice the carrot greens taste bitter, however, you may want to steer clear. Alkaloids – which often are toxic, to varying degrees – generally have a bitter taste. Not all alkaloids are so toxic that you can’t consume them – caffeine, for example, is an alkaloid that many people consume daily, and the alkaloid tomatine in tomato leaves appears to be harmless in small quantities – but there’s no reason to take risks with plants when so many plants of known safety are available to eat.

13 thoughts on “Carrot top.

  1. Pingback: And this time, it’s carrots. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Kathryn McGowan says:

    I’ve used carrot greens when making chicken stock if I don’t have any parsley to hand. I’m not dead yet.

  3. Rasheed Baker says:

    All things gardemanger aside I never thought to incorporate carrot tops in some form of dish. A large part of that could be ascribed to availability, in that, the average restaurant does not purchase organic produce in bulk. It is definitely worth noting that they do not have a definitive place in the market but be that as it may I can’t help but wonder where they fit in. If there is a place for blowfish and rattlesnake, then surely there are time tested methods for preparing these delicate greens in way that every one can enjoy.

    • Thanks for that comment, Rasheed – and just to follow on what you said, one of the reasons carrot tops might be unavailable in the restaurant setting anyway is that they must be removed from carrots or they tend to degrade the quality of carrots during cold storage. If you leave the greens on, the carrots become less sweet. Once removed, carrot greens are highly perishable so unless extreme deliciousness were involved, I couldn’t imagine incurring the cost of storing the greens.

  4. Pingback: Incredible Ingredient – Black Knight Carrots « Raising an Omnivorous Child

  5. Hi J,

    Carrot tops are actually edible and much more nutritious than the roots. The roots though taste better as it has high levels of sugar and water.

    The toxicity linked to carrot tops is the same toxicity issue with any greens. That is that all greens contain alkaloids. When you eat the same type of greens all the time (like if you had spinach all the time or carrot tops all the time) then the levels of that plant’s alkaloids starts increasing in your system. Alkaloids are toxic in high amounts. Therefore the rule of thumb is that you need to keep rotating your greens.

    Carrot tops are good for use in salads, for cooking, and even for creating a nutritious green smoothie. Try a handful (around 1 to 1 1/2 cups) carrot tops + 1 banana + 2 cups pineapple + 2 1/2 cups water and blend them together in a high speed blender for about 45 seconds….you’ve got yourself an energy and immune booster right there.

  6. s.k. says:

    There is an allergenic substance in carrot tops, but for most of the population they are harmless and healthy. Carrot tops (even without carrots) are market vegetables in France, French cookbooks have recipes how to prepare them, they have been eaten for a long time…

  7. Sara says:

    I recently procured some organic carrots from an Amish stand, and they assured me you can eat the greens. I made a nice soup with carrots, red potatoes, smoked oysters, and carrot greens. It was absolutely amazing! The greens seem to have a potentially overpowering flavor. I wouldn’t eat them by themselves, but they balanced out the soup nicely. Like beet greens, they taste better cooked than raw. And you have to cook them down a bit to get rid of the woody texture.

  8. s.k. says:

    I recently read that carrots get sprayed heavily with agricultural poisons, so make sure they are organic or home-grown.
    When I left my first comment here I ate them only cooked, but by now I put them in my smoothies – the leaves only, I don’t think the stems can ever be ground into a smooth enough texture. Fresh, organic and in small amounts (<10% of the whole smoothie)

  9. Pingback: Carrot Green Controversy | The Sixth Letter

  10. Pingback: Moroccan Carrot and Chickpea Salad | Food and Restaurant

  11. Penn State University Master Food Preservers and WIKI say they are edible I have been using them both fresh and dried for years as you would use parsley or other greens. They are tasty and healthful. As far as allergies go, you can be allergic to anything. I’m allergic to avocados. Wish my allergy was to something I didn’t like. 😉

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