Can You Eat Tomato Leaves?

Peak summer tomato season is approaching, so we're gathering all the information we can on making the most of this sweet, juicy, and ultra-versatile garden bounty. You can devour tomatoes until they disappear for the winter, but here's a question you might not have asked: can you eat tomato leaves?

Now we're talking about the leaves of the plant itself, not the small leaves attached to the stem — those are generally too fibrous to eat. But the leaves of the plant are tender, fragrant, and, yes, completely edible. Contrary to popular opinion, you can eat tomato leaves just like any other garden green. They're tasty, abundant, and packed with phytonutrients. So why do so many people think they're poisonous? Leftovers from a less-informed era, and nothing more.

Tomatoes, like eggplant and chili peppers, are indeed part of the nightshade family. The family also includes plants famously toxic to humans, like oleander, hemlock, foxglove, and larkspur. That's why if you hear "nightshade," you might also think "deadly nightshade." And even though tomatoes do contain some of the harmful compounds in their poisonous counterparts, their leaves stems and fruit won't hurt you a bit.

So now that you know you can, how do you eat tomato leaves? We turned to Portland chef Jenn Louis' phenomenally informative cookbook, The Book Of Greens. 

"Do not throw your tomato leaves away when you harvest them from the garden! They can be gathered throughout the season and cooked like any of the greens defined as sturdy in the introduction to this book," says Louis. "Sturdy" includes vegetable tops like carrot, turnip, beet sweet potato, and cauliflower greens, plus collards, kale, cabbage, and other produce that generally takes longer to become tender.

The leaves do sport a strong herbal aroma, she adds, and recommends blending them into a pesto, combined with mint, basil, and other garden herbs. At the restaurant, she blanches, dries, and blends the leaves into pasta dough, and serves the pasta with butter and fresh tomatoes. Can you think of a better way to celebrate tomato season?