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Carrot greens, the leafy stalks and stems that grow atop the popular orange root, can be used in a variety of different ways — as a food item, a seasoning spice, and a compost aid, to name a few. The greens do not pack quite the nutritional punch that their roots do, but they are generally rich in a number of vitamins and minerals and are completely edible for both humans and animals. In farming communities, carrot greens are often used in livestock feed or added to compost piles. They can also be eaten by people, either raw or cooked.
Known scientifically as Daucus carota, the carrot plant is related to both parsley and fennel. Though the carrot’s distinctive root does not betray this relationship, its greens in many ways do. Carrot tops are tall, narrow stalks accented with wispy, branched leaves. They can be prepared and used in many of the same ways as parsley.
Greens can be eaten raw, but carry a slightly bitter, peppery flavor. The leaves usually have a slightly milder flavor than their stems. Carrot leaves can be added to salads, particularly those featuring herbs and spring greens. They can also be used as a garnish for roasted meats, pastas, and soups, or blended into other herb-based salad dressings.
Cooking carrot tops usually reduces their bitterness. Greens are often sauteed in a bit of butter or oil, then served as a side dish, often with garlic, nuts, or spices. Creative cooks can may also use carrot greens as a ravioli filling, as a replacement for green onions or chives in egg frittatas, or as a pesto base.
Finely chopped greens are often added to recipes as a seasoning, as well. Unlike parsley, which carries almost no distinct flavor, a bit of carrot greens goes a long way. Fresh or dried, carrot greens add a peppery freshness to a variety of dishes.
There are few limits when it comes to cooking with carrot greens. The possible uses for the leaves extends far beyond culinary endeavors, however. In ancient and medieval times, carrot greens were used to bind wounds, owing in large part to their mild antiseptic qualities. They were also chewed to promote fresh breath, as well as to relieve the pain of the common toothache and gum irritation. Leaves were also brewed into a tea, which was believed to have detoxifying effects.
Carrot greens are best when used within a few days of picking. Most of the carrots that arrive in supermarkets and food stalls throughout the world have already had their leaves removed. Those that come with greens must be thoroughly washed, as many commercial farms use harsh pesticides with the expectation that greens will be discarded. It is usually best to eat the greens from carrots that are certified organic or grown under fixed, known circumstances.
Greens that must be discarded tend to be excellent compost aids. Their naturally high mineral content helps the breakdown of a variety of food products. The result is usually a rich, dense soil prized by many gardeners.