They’re green. They’re leafy. They contain a great supply of chlorophyll, protein, potassium, and vitamin K (something you can’t get from the roots). They taste a little like ginger and I think that they make a fabulous edition to a fruit smoothie. However, some people say they may be toxic… even deadly.
What is the controversial smoothie ingredient that am I talking about? Carrot tops — that much overlooked end of the sweet, crunchy, orange (or yellow, or red, or purple, or white) root that we are all so familiar with.
Until I started looking into “green foods”, I had no idea that they were even edible. Yet, after doing some internet research I found out that both culinary and medicinal uses for the leafy, green tops abound.
Here are just a few ways that I’ve found they can be put to use: Prepared in the same manner that you would any other leafy green such as turnip greens, spinach, kale or collards; added to soups and stews for extra flavor; Sauteed with seasonings such as garlic, ginger, salt and pepper; sprinkled over cooked dishes or casseroles as a garnish; Added to salads for a bitter crunch, or smoothies for extra nutrition; and juiced to create an antiseptic mouthwash. You can read more about it here: http://www.livestrong.com/article/554177-cooking-green-leaf-carrot-tops/#ixzz24WwuLbyE
So, after reading all about the nutritional benefits of carrot tops, I decided to give them a try in a green smoothie with bananas, mangoes, peaches, lemon juice, water, and a little agave nectar…
…believe me, it really did taste good — I loved the unexpected gingery taste that the carrot tops added! After consuming nearly two full quarts of the stuff, I experienced no negative side effects whatsoever.
Yet, the World Carrot Museum says, “There is some debate about whether you can eat the green leaves of carrots.”
According to the museum, the leaves contain furocoumarins that may cause allergic contact dermatitis, and later exposure to the sun may cause mild photodermatitis. Also, the toxicity issue related to carrot tops is one that all greens face – alkaloids, “a group of organic compounds that includes caffeine, cocaine, and strychnine” (Judith Sumner, author of “American Household Botany” and a faculty member at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Mass.), whose effects, according to Ms. Sumner, range from “slightly elevated blood pressure, and slightly elevated alertness and heartbeat, all the way to death.” According to the University of Idaho extension office, the risk of death by nitrate poisoning is highest in pregnant women, young children, and individuals with immune disorders. Yikes! That is a tad bit scary!
However, as the World Carrot Museum points out, as far as they know, there is no documented evidence “of a single person, ever, who has been poisoned by the consumption of carrot greens”, and when asked if carrot tops are safe to eat, a responder at the College of of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State answered, “I don’t see any problem from a food safety point of view.”
It’s also interesting to note that Kevin Gillespie, season six winner of Top Chef, won an elimination round with a recipe for Roasted Beets and Carrots with Carrot Tops, which used one full cup of carrot tops for the puree base.
So, what’s the verdict when it comes to eating carrot tops? It seems such a shame to toss the tops onto the compost heap when they provide such an easy way to add vitamins, minerals, and protein into one’s diet, but perhaps a little caution should be exercised before diving in head first…
Here are some guidelines, I found in conducting my internet research on the topic, that would be wise to follow, if you decide the benefits outweigh the risks:
- use only the tops of organically grown, pesticide-free carrots — not only does the good, healthy stuff get concentrated in the leaves, but the bad stuff can, too. Your best bet is to grow your own, so that you know exactly what’s in them. Carrots are fairly easy to grow, especially if you’re only growing them for the tops. For more information on how to grow them, check out this link.
- do not consume carrot tops on a daily basis (I suspect this is the number one reason why people may get into trouble with greens). As with other greens that have the potential to accumulate a lot of nitrates and alkaloids, you need to rotate them in your diet so they do not have a toxic effect – did you know that, if you’re not careful, you can potentially even be poisoned by consuming too much Romaine lettuce, or chard? For more information on why it’s good to rotate greens in your diet, check out this blog post at Incredible Smoothies.
- some people may be allergic to carrot tops — you should be able to tell just by rubbing them on your skin.
- make sure that it is actually carrot tops that you are consuming, and not another member of the same family, which includes Queen Anne’s Lace and Hemlock (again, growing your own will take care of this).
- According to the World Carrot Museum, “If you notice the carrot greens taste bitter, you may want to steer clear” because this could be a sign of high levels of alkaloids.
So, what do you think? Do you feel confident that it’s safe to consume carrot tops – especially if you follow the guidelines I mentioned above? Have you ever eaten carrot tops? If so, how do you prepare them, and have you ever experienced any negative effects from them? If not, do you think you’d like to try them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!