Did you know that when it comes to your garden veggies, many are totally edible? But with most veggies we grow, we eat some of it and toss or compost the rest. We are growing lots of perfectly edible food, then wasting most of it. Most disturbingly, the practice is so ingrained in us, that we are doing it in our gardens too. There are some exceptions, such as vegetables from the nightshade family, which have poisonous flowers and foliage, but most plants are full of food, from root to stem. Take a look at these two veggies—carrots and sweet potatoes. What’s edible may surprise you!
Carrots (Daucus carota) were originally derived from Queen Anne’s Lace, a wild-growing weed with a white taproot that is becoming increasingly popular for its own culinary value.
Although most of us would recognize carrots as orange, they come in a diverse range of natural colors that would outdo your favorite floral summer dress, from deep purple, to red, white and yellow. It was the Dutch who first domesticated carrots as sweeter, less fibrous roots, and, over the years, carrots have been selectively bred to be more palatable.
Aside from the root, the foliage is a much-wasted part that can be used instead of parsley as a garnish or for greens in a stir-fry. While all parts of the stem are edible, the younger foliage tips are the most delicate and palatable. The flowering heads of the plant, which form in an upside-down umbrella shape, can also be eaten alongside the dried seeds, which can be used as a spice.
Carrots’ Health Benefits
Carrots can help balance intestinal gas, prevent constipation and treat indigestion. Carrots are also thought to improve skin health and contain potassium and antioxidants.
Despite its name, the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is not that closely related to the regular potato or its assumed cousin, the yam. Likewise, it is not a member of the poisonous nightshade family, which is another common misconception. Instead, it is a bindweed; a member of the morning glory family that includes approximately 1,000 fast-growing, flowering vines.
The skin and flesh of the tuber come in a variety of colors, from the more common orange and purple, to yellow, white, and pink. Although it is the tuber that is most commonly consumed, the leaves are edible too and, due to their prolific nature, should be more valued as a willing and able substitute for spinach. It is best wilted when used in dishes.
Cuttings from a sweet potato vine are often grown as ornamental indoor plants, and roots will rapidly form from the cutting when placed in water and allowed to grow in good light and at a consistent temperature. Its rapid growth is fueled by toxic ammonia and nitrates—the waste product of aquatic life—and so, the sweet potato vine is ideal for use in home aquariums or hydroponic systems.
Sweet Potatoes’ Health Benefits
Regarded as one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables, sweet potato is high in vitamins A and C, and is a very good source of antioxidants, particularly the varieties with the darker orange flesh.
The above is excerpted, with permission, from Root to Bloom by Mat Pember and Jocelyn Cross, published by Hardie Grant, March 2019.
Be sure to check out Farmers’ Almanac’s Gardening by the Moon Calendar to see the best days to grow and harvest your carrots and sweet potatoes!