Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Carrot Green Controversy

After posting the recipe yesterday, I decided to do a little research on the nutritional value of carrot tops. Wow! Was I in for a surprise! While every site hails the nutritional benefits of the root, there are conflicting reports on whether or not greens are safe to eat. I must premise this information with the fact that I felt no ill effects after making my delicious recipe last night, nor when I ate the leftovers for lunch again today (YUM!). However, below I will present a summary of the information learned through my quick research.

First the good stuff: Carrot greens are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. They contain 6 times the vitamin C of the root and are a great source of potassium and calcium. The greens are an excellent source of chlorophyll, which has been noted to purify the blood, lymph nodes and adrenal glands. They have also been noted to deter tumor growth.

And the not so good: To understand where the concerns lie, it’s interesting to note that the modern carrot was originally cultivated from Queen Anne's Lace, also known as the "wild carrot." This plant is topped with fern like greens and contains a single root, which resembles a pale carrot, and is also edible. However, it's the greens of the Queen Anne's Lace that can get a person into trouble. The leaves contain alkaloids, a group of organic compounds that contain such nasty poisons as strychnine, cocaine, and caffeine. In the old days, the seeds from Queen Anne's Lace were even used to prevent pregnancies or induce abortions. While the greens of the common garden-variety of carrot aren't quite as deadly as that of the wild carrot, some still regard them as toxic due to the presence of both alkaloids and nitrates in the greens. While many report the greens leaving a bitter taste in the mouth, others experience some of the side effects of exposure to alkaloids or nitrates. These include a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, increased heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, agitation and possibly even death.
So why do some people get sick while eating carrot greens and others don't? Carrots pull nitrates out of the soil during its growth. The levels of nitrates fluctuate with the growing season. Since home gardeners have no way of knowing at when the nitrate levels are high and when they are safe, some recommend not eating carrot greens at all.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not experience any of the side effects mentioned. I, will, however stress the importance of eating organic carrot greens. One concern is the toxicity due to the high levels of nitrates in the carrot greens. I posted on an earlier occasion that carrots are like the sponge of the farming world and are often used as a throw away crop, to cleanse a field of dangerous nitrates. Again, whether or not you decide to eat the greens, always, always buy organic carrots!

6 comments:

Slowmow said...

Hi,

Could you post your sources about the nutritnnal value of the carrot tops? Couldn't find them...

Thanks!

Diane Morgan said...

HI,

This is Diane Morgan, author of the cookbook Roots and the one who developed the carrot top pesto recipe. I applaud your research and thoroughness and couldn't agree more regarding using organic carrots. I actually think everyone should be eating organic roots and vegetables but it is hard to be so strident in a cookbook whose reach is a broad audience.

I have seen additional research that applauds the nutritional value of the greens, outweighing the possibilities of the nitrates. I have eaten that pesto and served it to guests and taste testers, literally at least 100 times, with no ill effects.

Again, you did a really credible job of researching

Best,
Diane Morgan

Philip M. Ward said...

All greens contain Alkaloids when eaten raw. Its bad for you to eat the same greens repeatedly because the alkaloids can build up and are toxic. This goes for all greens, carrot greens, kale, lettuce, spinach, collard greens, etc. The way around it is to rotate out the greens you consume. Eating carrot greens is ok. Eating them every day is not.

Lynn M said...

What is the source of your information re. greens, Mr. Ward?

Unknown said...

Do any of you feel that if a gardener can get their soil tested for nitrates and finds that nitrate levels are "low," that it would be relatively safer to eat carrot tops? When I had my soil tested, I did not include the nitrate option (NO3-N), but I could do a new test. If I were to do so, what depth should I test?

Also, and perhaps alternatively, if I rotate carrots throughout my garden, should I avoid eating their tops until I've rotated them back to the original locations? ...on the assumption that the carrots have absorbed a lot of the nitrates during the 1st go-round?

gngr8s@gmail.com

Stasia Fisher said...

thank you for great research!