The carrot is from the botanical family ‘Apiaceae’, with Latin name of ‘Dacus Carota’. Carrots are a common root vegetable with a traditional orange color. Though the orange variety is the typical favorite, there are white, purple and red varieties also. The original ancestor of the carrot was grown in the wild in Europe and Asia and it had an unpalatable woody cored root. The sweet juicy carrot we know today was bred from this wild variety. The crop plant grows to around 1 meter, including the flowering stalk. It is a biennial, flowering in its second year.
These plants tend to store energy in the taproot and have hollow stems with ample greenery. The poisonous varieties can be difficult to tell from safe wild varieties – wild carrot, for example, is almost indistinguishable from hemlock.
Over the years, there has been some debate as to whether you can eat the green leaves. Yes, you can! Despite the presence of celery and carrot in the ‘Apiaceae’ (umbellifers), many other members are highly poisonous, but not the carrot. They are edible and highly nutritious, rich in protein, minerals and vitamins. The tops of the carrots are loaded with potassium which can make them bitter, so use of them in food is limited.
Many buy carrots with the long greens attached, only to chop them off and give to parakeets and finches who love to eat them.
But today, we know that the tops of vegetables are not just for the birds. The green tops of many veggies are edible and yummy. Just like the vegetable they come from; the green tops have distinctive flavors and textures.
COMPOSITION OF CARROT LEAVES
Carrot greens contain:
- Alkaloids: Alkaloids are toxic bitter compounds produced by a plant. They have a wide range of effects and are often used as medicines and poisons. Morphine, quinine, strychnine, codeine, caffeine, cocaine and nicotine are all alkaloids. But, all leafy greens including spinach and kale contain varying level and types of alkaloids, some higher than others. Alkaloids are chemical compound believed to be part of a plant’s defense mechanism. This applies to both the wild and domestic variety.
- Vitamin K: Carrot greens are rich in Vitamin K, which is lacking in the vegetable itself.
- Chlorophyll: Carrot tops are an outstanding source of chlorophyll. The green pigmentation, studies have shown, combats the growth of tumors. 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.
- Furocoumarins: The leaves do contain furocoumarins which may cause allergies when there is contact to the skin from the leaves.
- Porphyrins: Carrot leaves contain significant amounts of porphyrins, which stimulate the pituitary gland and lead to increased levels in sex hormones.
GROWING CARROT LEAVES
Growing carrots is not hard if you make sure the soil is well prepared. Carrots grown in rich sandy loam are full of vitamins and taste better that store bought carrots, which have travelled a long way since being picked. Carrots grown in hardy clay gumbo will be stunted and look funny.
In growing carrots, the following should be noted:
1. Till the soil down to a depth of six inches and work three inches of compost into it.
2. Now make a mound which is four to six inches high and about three inches wide.
3. Leave a furrow between this mound and the next one. This helps to make sure that the carrots have proper drainage and that they grow straight and tall.
4. Plant the seed along the top of the mound in a furrow that is ½ inch deep.
5. Keep the carrots weed free or the antioxidants will take all the water and nutrients and the carrots will be unable to thrive.
6. Carrots should be ready for harvest 70-80 days from planting. They should be 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter. Any bigger and they will be tough.
7. Loosen the dirt around the carrots before pulling to make sure the root does not break off.
8. To store carrots, remove the tops. Wash the carrots and store them in the bottom of the refrigerator. They will store longer if you place them in a plastic bag.
WHAT TO DO WITH CARROTS?
And best yet? They can easily be incorporated into your diet in many ways. Here are some tasty ideas for carrots:
- Carrot juice is a super nutritious drink to start the day it can be mixed with other juices for a simple lunchtime treat.
- The pulp from carrot juice can be used in soups or added to rissoles.
- Carrots can be boiled or steamed and used as a traditional side vegetable. They are ideally served with a drizzle of honey. Leaving the skins on adds to the nutritional value.
- Baked carrots are an excellent addition the any roast meal. Par boiling them first will help speed up the baking process and prevent them from burning due to their high sugar content.
- The leafy tops are not just rabbit food! Their texture can be a little tough so go for the leaves rather than the stems. Add them to salads, stocks, homemade pesto, and lasagna or just use an edible garnish.
- Adding carrots to your diet, whether if the form of raw juice, salads or cooked will help improve your overall health, as well as your eyesight.
- Grated carrots are perfect for mixing in salads and sandwiches with a light dressing. They can also be added to rissole and vegetable patties.
- Carrot seed oil is used in skin care, hair care and cosmetic products. The oil can be used in creams, lotions or added to massage oil bases.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF EATING CARROTS AND THEIR LEAVES
The following are the health benefits of eating carrots and their leaves:
- Eating the leaf of the carrot will assist in maintaining good heart health and may assist in keeping the blood running through cleaner veins. The level of cholesterol, which is a major reason for heart disease, reduces by 11% when the carrot is taken daily.
- Carrots provide beta-carotene which is converted into Vitamin A in the liver, after which it goes to the retina where it is converted into rhodopsin, which aides us with our night vision and prevents visual impairment.
- Frequent consumption of carrots will aid in the regularity of bowel motions and will assist in cleansing the digestive tract.
- Carrots leaves act as an anti-oxidant and anti-cancer….especially cancer of the colon.
- The leafy tops have antiseptic qualities and have been added to mouthwashes. Mixed with honey they help to disinfect wounds.
- They are also a diuretic (increases flow of urine) can help in the treatment of kidney disease and edemas.
- Hewing the leaves can help to heal mouth injuries, bad breath, bleeding gums and mouth ulcers.
- Carrots are rich in fiber and fiber is low in fat. Fiber also helps with weight loss as the body does not digest it. It simple passes through the body.
There is new movement in the food world of ‘root to stem’ and ‘root to stalk’ cooking. The leaves, greens, stems and stalks we tend to throw away are completely edible and instead of wasting them, we should all be using them to cook amazing and unique dishes that will help to nourish our bodies.