Last Updated on July 5, 2020
Root to stem eating is the perfect way to stretch your food budget and cut food waste. You may not realize that you’re throwing away some tasty and healthy food!
From the greens on your turnips to the seeds of your melons, there are some terrific ways to make the most of all that great produce. Here are more than 40 ideas for eating root to stem!
Why Eat Root to Stem?
Some of what people toss is actually more nutritious — and especially good for gut health — than the parts most folk eat.
An estimated 40% of food in the United States (worth $165 billion!) gets thrown out every year. I expect that does not include some of the parts of plants discussed here, so the waste is likely even bigger.
Why is this a problem? Besides the wasted money, all that tossed food means completely wasted inputs of energy and water to grow and transport it, with alarming consequences for the planet. Further, when food waste breaks down in the landfill it creates methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than CO2.
If you’re composting your scraps — good for you if so! — that’s far better than sending them to the landfill, since at least your home compost isn’t producing methane and provides your garden with some valuable nutrients that would otherwise be lost. (Not a composter yet? Here’s a good overview from Small Footprint Family to get you started.)
Better still, don’t throw valuable food away! Learn how to use more of your produce to save yourself money and help shrink the environmental impact of your diet.
For the uninitiated, below are some very simple ways to get started eating root to stem, like carrot top pesto and roasted squash seeds. But even you veteran root to stem eaters should find something here to surprise you! (I’m eagerly awaiting brussels sprout season so I can try cooking those gigantic stalks, which always seemed like such a huge part of the plant to throw away.)
Check out the inspiring root to stem ideas below, and you’ll surely be motivated to stop throwing out great ingredients!
Root to Stem Eating: Edible Stems and Leaves
♦ Broccoli and cauliflower leaves are not only edible but as nutritious as kale! Cook them like kale chips or use in soups.
♦ Broccoli stems can be chopped to make broccoli slaw or peeled and used as crudites. I like to use frozen cooked broccoli stems in my green smoothies when there are no greens to forage. You can also pickle or roast peeled and sliced broccoli stems.
♦ Jessica at 104 Homestead uses her broccoli stems for homemade veggie hush puppies.
♦ Many cooks use the whole cauliflower cut into "steaks" and roasted, rather than tossing the perfectly tasty inner parts of the cauliflower. I like this recipe for grilled cauliflower steaks from Food 52 that's topped with pesto, just sub in one of the greens below for the basil for an amazing root to stem dish!
⇒The tops of a number of roots are edible, if you’re lucky enough to find some still attached (or grow your own). The leaves and stems of beets, radishes, and turnips are all edible, nutritious, and delicious.
♦ Butter For All has a wonderful recipe template for using up greens and other veggie scraps in a Detoxifying Green Goddess Soup.
♦ Try this radish leaf pesto from Chocolate and Zucchini.
♦ Attainable Sustainable makes a wonderful homemade salad dressing using radish greens.
♦ Here's how to make sautéed beet greens for a tasty side or addition to your omelet or pasta dish.
♦ Turnip greens are a traditional southern dish. Here's how to cook turnips and their greens from Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment. You can also use them in soups, egg dishes, and gumbo.
♦ Carrot tops can be used in place of parsley and can be finely chopped and added to bean salads and soups. Or try some carrot-top pesto, (like this one from Don't Waste the Crumbs) which you can serve on top of your carrot soup, roasted carrots, spread on toast, or anywhere a pesto is called for. Love and Lemons also has a beautiful carrot green chimichurri I'm dying to try!
♦ Victoria at A Modern Homestead dehydrates carrot tops and uses them with all sorts of things.
♦ If you grow your own sweet potatoes, Christina at Little Sprouts Learning reports that you can eat the greens.
♦ Anna at Green Talk taught me that you can eat the leaves of your bean plants! Check out her bean leaf recipes!
♦ Grape leaves are a popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Check out this cool tutorial on fermenting grape leaves for winter use from Joybilee Farm.
♦ Chard stems are very tasty in all sorts of soups! I love them in any broth-based veggie soup. Here’s a recipe starring chard stems in chard stem soup from Anna at Green Talk.
♦ Shared Appetite explains how to pickle swiss chard stems. Aren't they gorgeous?
♦ Even kale stems can be ground into a pesto (recipe from Love and Lemons here), grilled, sliced and sautéed, or added to soups and stews.
♦ Some intrepid eaters even steam up brussels sprouts stalks! See the interesting discussion about how to cook them in the comments of this post.
♦ Strawberry stems can be thrown in your next smoothie or used to infuse water or vinegar. The leaves of many berry plants -- raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, and strawberry -- can be brewed into delicious teas with useful medicinal properties.
♦ The stems of many herbs can be finely chopped and used along with the leaves, or save them to add to your next homemade stock.
Storage Tip: Separate the green tops from the roots when you get them home for better quality and shelf life. Use the greens as soon as possible after removing.
Root to Stem Eating: Don't Toss Those Seeds!
♦ Be sure to take out the seeds from any winter squash or your fall pumpkins and roast them for an incredibly healthy and tasty snack full of fiber, magnesium, and lots of other great nutrients. (Seed roasting instructions here.)
♦ Watermelon seeds can be sprouted or roasted (instructions here.)
♦ Canteloupe and honeydew seeds can be juiced or roasted.
♦ You can use citrus seeds to make your own pectin!
(If you are one of the millions who viewed a viral video on preparing avocado seeds, you're probably expecting that here, too. But some have reservations about consuming them, so I'm not recommending it for the time being. But by all means plant your seed and grow some new avocados!)
Root to Stem Eating: What to do with Edible Peels
♦ Watermelon rinds are often used to make pickles, though they have a decent amount of sugar. Check out this recipe for watermelon rind pickles from Small Footprint Family.
♦ My Heart Beets has a recipe for a watermelon rind curry.
♦ Banana peels are eaten in many parts of the world. You can add them to smoothies or cook them for savory recipes, like this banana skin curry from Eat My Thoughts.
♦ If you peel potatoes, save the peels and make tasty oven chips. Apple peels can be used this way, too, though you can also simply leave them on for your applesauce or crisp. I don't peel the apples or pears in my apple-pear fruit leather.
♦ Kiwi peels are edible, if a little odd-tasting. Use in smoothies if you're not into the fuzz.
♦ Squash and sweet potato peels can be consumed right along with the sweet flesh. Don't bother peeling your sweet potatoes before making homemade sweet potato fries!
♦ Corn silk can be used to make a healthy tea. (More from The Nerdy Farm Wife here.) You can use the husks for wrapping up cooked food, but they're unfortunately not edible.
♦ Citrus peels can be candied, or used to make homemade citrus peel cleaners. (How-to from The Prairie Homestead here.) And of course you can "zest" them too. Orange peels also have useful medicinal properties, which are put to use in this easy cold-busting ginger tea with orange peel. Here are 30 savvy ways to use orange peels next time you have them on hand.
♦ Reform Stead has instructions for using citrus peels to make a DIY vitamin C powder
♦ Living Awareness has a recipe for an orange peel tea.
♦ Or make your own vinegar: You can make your own homemade vinegar from the peels and cores of apples leftover from your next applesauce-making. Pear, pineapple, and berry leftovers also make tasty and unusual vinegars. Here's a recipe for apple scrap vinegar from the Prairie Homestead to get you started. You can also infuse already-made vinegar with fruit using these instructions for homemade fruit-infused vinegar from Rootsy.
Root to Stem Eating: What to Do with Less than Perfect Produce
♦ Remember that dehydrating turns meh fruit into amazing sweet treats. You can also dehydrate an overabundance of greens into a homemade greens powder that will add a serious nutritional punch to your smoothies.
♦ Less than ideal specimens can also go in your next smoothie or juice.
♦ Tomatoes and other veggies that are a little too mushy can be turned into a tasty sauce or thrown in your next soup.
♦ Make homemade stock: If nothing else, hang onto those scraps to make a delicious homemade stock in the crockpot or on the stove, with or without leftover bones from dinner. Parts that don't even make the cut for turning into pickles or side dishes can still be used to add richness and nutrition to your next soup. You can collect the ends of asparagus, tougher parts of leeks, onion skins, bits of celery, and the end of carrots in a bag in the freezer till you have enough for your stock.
Here’s some more info on rescuing the still-eatable bits of fruits and veggies a bit past their prime and how to use them in cooking and baking from They're Not Your Goats.
Root to Stem Eating: How to Use Nut Milk Pulp
If you make your own nutmilk, that pulp you’re left with is too nutritious and useful to toss! The meal left over from almond milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk can get added to muffins, made into crackers, and put in granola. Check out some of these recipes and keep those valuable ingredients out of the trash:
♦ Nature's Nurture has a bunch of great uses for leftover almond pulp.
♦ The Coconut Mama makes flour from her leftover coconut pulp.
♦ Rachl Mansfield uses cashew pulp in these energy bites.
♦ (If you're a juicer, your veggie pulp can also be used in soup, baked goods, fruit leather and more. See ideas here.)
You can even regrow some of your veggies!
♦ Save the bottoms of lettuce, bok choy, napa cabbage, and scallions and place them in soil to grow a whole new plant. More info here.
♦ Sprouty potatoes can head to the garden as seed potatoes, and a sprouty garlic can be transformed into delicious garlic greens.
♦ Have a sprouting onion? Here's how to regrow a sprouted onion from Happy Mothering.
So what did I miss? Let me know your favorite ways to #WasteLess and I'll update the post!
Related: If you like getting something from nothing, read this post on edible weeds to find free food in your yard! Dandelion salad or purslane stirfry, anyone?
Pin to save these root to stem recipes for later!
Photo credits: Skeeze, Hans Splinter, Love and Lemons, Chris Cockren, Rebecca Siegel, davitydave, Kent Goldman, mayapujiati
Susannah is a proud garden geek and energy nerd who loves healthy food and natural remedies. Her work has appeared in Mother Earth Living, Ensia, Northern Gardener, Sierra, and on numerous websites. Her first book, Everything Elderberry, released in September 2020 and has been a #1 new release in holistic medicine, naturopathy, herb gardening, and other categories. Find out more and grab your copy here.