October 30, 2015

Eat Your Carrot Green Tops

Can you can eat the green leaves of carrots? - This popular myth has been perpetuated through continual hearsay and personal anecdotes, but little scientific study to prove or disprove it. This has been a matter of debate for many years and the controversy and misguidance seems to continue. While it is true that carrot tops contain alkaloids and nitrates to which some people can be sensitive, they aren’t inherently toxic to most of us unless we eat them by the wheelbarrow-full.  The main reason there are conflicting reports is that there are poisonous look-a-likes that are often mistaken for Wild Carrot, please be familiar with all the characteristics of this wonderful wild edible before you enjoy them.  
There is further information here from the Well Preserved Blog - Are Carrot Greens Toxic? Deadly? Edible?  Many farmers consider that the greens will not be ultimately consumed and could well therefore apply pesticide sprays to them.
Included in the carrot family - Apiaceae ("umbellifers") - are the well-known plants: angelica, anise, arracacha, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, celery, Centella asiatica, chervil, cicely, coriander (including cilantro), cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, lovage, Queen Anne's lace, parsley, parsnip, sea holly, and the now extinct silphium.  Some of this family are poisonous, but not carrot!
IF carrot greens are toxic or "poisonous" then one would think that USDA or the UK Department of Agriculture would have concerns and introduce regulations to prevent stores from selling them, or at least enforce the display of a warning notice? One of the leading US food scientists, Harold McGee) has declared them as safe. People say "you don't see them in the supermarket" - very true - but this is mainly because the greens continue to draw moisture from the root and therefore dry out the carrot more quickly, and hence removed to improve shelf life.  In fact some supermarkets DO sell them with the tops attached, usually at a premium price.
A report on the Risk of Carrots from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs records the production phase of growing carrots as  a Low-High risk of contamination based on “Many agricultural chemicals applied to carrot tops would not contaminate the edible root.  Contamination may occur where errors are made in application, not following product label information, or where chemicals not registered for use are used. Health Canada regulates chemicals used in the production of food (46, and 64).”  This suggests we should eat organic, thus avoiding the farmers chemicals.
I have visited stores, markets, farmers markets of all sizes in 25 countries of the world and NEVER seen them banned or warned against.

 The leaves of carrot ARE considered edible and are highly nutritive, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. They contain 6 times the vitamin C of the root and are a great source of potassium and calcium. The tops of the carrots are loaded with potassium which can make them bitter, so the use of them in food is limited, but there some ideas and recipes below.  The leaves do have antiseptic qualities and can be juiced and used as a mouthwash.
These greens are packed with chlorophyll, a phytochemical that gives plants their green colour and pigmentation. Chlorophyll is an excellent source of magnesium, which promotes healthy blood pressure as well as strong bones and muscles, and has been noted to purify the blood, lymph nodes and adrenal glands
They are high in potassium, which can lower blood pressure, support your metabolism, and help prevent osteoporosis. People most at risk for heart disease are the ones who get too little potassium.
What's more, carrot greens are rich in vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrot itself and is vital to bone health. They have also been noted to deter tumour growth.
Carrot greens contain alkaloids (which are toxic bitter compounds produced by a plant) and all alkaloids are bad because substances like caffeine and cocaine are alkaloids. BUT! - all leafy greens (including “good for you” greens like spinach and kale) contain varying levels and types of alkaloids, some higher than others. Alkaloids are chemical compounds believed to be part of a plant’s defence mechanisms.
This applies to both Wild Carrot leaves as well as domestic.

A simple use of them is
 to mix some in with a mixed green salad, or add to coleslaw. You may also use it for garnish. Combine your common sense and your creative skills, and invent something! That's what makes cooking fun. It is a form of art.  Carrot greens are high in vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrot itself.
Carrot tops are an outstanding source of chlorophyll, the green pigment that studies have shown to combat the growth of tumours. Chlorophyll contains cleansing properties that purify the blood, lymph nodes, and adrenal glands. Scientists have been unable to synthesize chlorophyll in the laboratory, but green plant foods contain sufficient quantities to protect the human body.
The leaves do contain furocoumarins that may cause allergic contact dermatitis from the leaves, especially when wet. Later exposure to the sun may cause mild photodermatitis. (This is NOT the same as 'poisonous' - it will only affect susceptible people with allergies to the plant. Some people have the same reaction to yarrow, ragwort, chamomile etc.)
Carrot leaves contain significant amounts of porphyrins, which stimulate the pituitary gland and lead to the release of increased levels of sex hormones.

There is a distinct difference between toxins and allergens. Carrots (Daucus carota), whether wild or domesticated, are not toxic, they are allergenic. This is like peanuts, which are not toxic but can kill those who are allergic to them.
It is however  important that any wild plant be positively identified before it is used for food. The tiny tops have tiny almost feathery branches. Carrot seedlings look a lot like bindweed. It takes a while to figure out the differences. Bindweed is redder and the leaf arrangement looks sort of branchy. 

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