Tomatoes are a great addition to our diet, but those concerned about waste might consider consuming its leaves as well. With so many people wanting to cut costs and eat healthier, thinking about eating tomato leaves is not such a strange consideration.
We might have grown up thinking that tomato leaves aren’t safe to eat, but the right preparation process might help to make them edible. The same goes for other fruits such as peepal.
If you grow your own tomatoes, it might be especially tempting to use the leaves in a productive way. The vines are long and run all over the place, so it’d be nice to have a useful option for them. Let’s now have a look at how to add these leaves to our everyday cooking and kitchen routine:
1. Correcting Assumption about Nightshades
In popular culture, we usually think that tomato leaves are poisonous because they belong to the nightshade family. However, it might be a good idea to actually look into the matter of nightshades and see if they’re really as deadly as we imagine.
Nightshade is also referred to as the Solanaceae plant family. Within these are common veggies like eggplants, potatoes, tomatillos, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and tomatoes. There are also the known toxic members like foxglove, hemlock, oleander, larkspur, and the deadly nightshade itself (also called belladonna).
In fact, belladonna is a perennial that has a history of being used in herbal medicinal practices. It’s been utilized as a pain reliever, muscle relaxer, a beauty aid. Women used to put drops of its juice in their pupils to dilate them and hence look more attractive (according to the standards in those times).
Of course, such practices were highly dangerous and are now thankfully outdated. Tomatoes, while they might be related to nightshade, don’t have the same poisonous chemical compounds.
When the tomato was first introduced in Europe during the 16th century, however, it was seen as a poisonous plant that could cause hallucinations. It’s also important to understand here that the tomatoes in those times were as small as blueberries and looked very much like belladonna berries.
Today, tomatoes are cultivated in a different way and look very different from belladonna. Scientific research has also established that the tomato plant is not the same as the toxic verities of the nightshade family.
2. No Toxic Compounds
Another myth surrounding tomato leaves is that they contain alkaloids that are toxic. Alkaloids make you the defense mechanism of any plant, protecting it from fungus growths, bacteria, viruses, insects, and even some animals. So yes, alkaloids are present in tomato plants, but they’re also present in any other plant that we might regularly consume. Kale, beans, and leafy greens–all contain a significant amount of alkaloids that are perfectly safe for consumption.
There are certain alkaloids that aren’t good for consumption, such as cocaine and nicotine. Caffeine and theobromine (a stimulant included in chocolate) are also not the healthiest choice, but they’re fine when you consume them in moderation.
Tomatine is the major found in tomato plants. This is an alkaloid that’s bonded with a type of sugar. Tomatine can be found in all the green parts of a tomato plant. It’s present in the leaves, stems, and even unripe tomatoes. The roots have the lowest concentration of tomatine, while the senescent leaves have the highest.
3. The Absorption of Glycoalkaloids
While glycoalkaloids aren’t really good for human consumption, they’re also not absorbed too well by mammals. Since humans also fall into this category, it’s safe to say that the glycoalkaloid will exit your body through natural waste in a very short time.
Some people might be more sensitive to such compounds, in which caste they might experience some stomach irritation. Other than that they have to ingest a very large amount of tomato leaves before any serious ill effects arise.
4. Studies and Books
In a book called ‘Toxic Plants of North America’, the writers have looked at the effect of tomatine on the human body. They concluded that it would take around a pound of leaves from the tomato plant to make the tomatine dose toxic for an average human. Even then, they concluded that the hazard was relatively low.
Just typing in ‘tomato leaves wikipedia’ on a search engine will also give you access to several sources about whether tomato leaves are edible for us or not. One of the studies you might find is a food safety study that compares the glycoalkaloid toxicity in potatoes, tomatoes, and eggplants. The results concluded that tomatine is one of the more benign glycoalkaloids out there. When the researchers fed tomatine to mice subjects, there was no major change in their body weight or liver.
5. Potential Benefits of Eating Tomato Leaves
Now that we’ve covered the relative safety of consuming tomato leaves, let’s see the potential benefits from this food source. After all, they’re green and might have many nutrients that can benefit our body instead of harming it.
According to at least one study, we know that tomato leaves and stems have a higher concentration of antioxidants than the rest of the plant. These parts also contain more polyphenols, while are plant-based micronutrients. When taken together, these substances can help our bodies fight off diseases and enjoy improved health in general.
One very surprising concept that’s come to light is that tomatine might actually be a kind of cancer inhibitor. This is because the glycoalkaloid is known to suppress or even kill cancer cells within the stomach, colon, liver, and breasts.
The study that shows these findings also suggests that we should eat more items that are high in tomatine, such as tomato leaves and green tomatoes. There might also be a future need to cultivate red tomatoes that have high levels of tomatine in order to treat cancer.
6. Toxicity for Dogs
You might have heard about someone’s dog getting very ill or even dying after eating some tomato leaves or green tomatoes. This might have you worried about consuming these leaves and feeding them to your family.
While tomato might be toxic for dogs, it only has that effect when consumed in very large quantities. If the dog in question is a small one, the toxic tolerance might be lower for them. In any case, it’s quite unlikely that ingesting even whole tomato plants will do anything worse than cause vomiting and diarrhea for even small puppies. Plus, there are several plants that are toxic to dogs but good for humans; these include milkweed, chamomile, lemongrass, and tarragon. Some parts of grapefruit, peaches, and apples are also dangerous for canines.
We also have to consider that what’s toxic and dangerous for a dog doesn’t necessarily have the same effect on humans. Grapes, chocolate, raisins, onions, and garlic are just a few examples of these. Since we consume all these items without giving them a second thought, there’s no reason why we should avoid tomato leaves just because they might cause harm to a dog.
7. Tomato Leaf Sprays
If you’re into gardening, you might have heard about making an organic pesticide spray using tomato leaves. This involves chopping up the leaves, soaking them in water, and then using the resulting spray on plants to prevent and control pests like aphids.
All of this is true, so why are tomato leaves toxic enough to be a pest killer but not enough to affect humans? The answer lies in the fungicidal properties of tomatine. This compound provides natural protection against pests, especially when you extract it and make a solution.
In theory, such a spray can be made with the tomato stems or the green part of unripe tomatoes as well. At the end of the day, unless someone is allergic to tomatoes, tomatine content in the leaves won’t hurt them.
Many cultures and lifestyles promote commuting every part of any animal, vegetable, or fruit. This not only prevents waste, but also ensures that we get the maximum amount of nutrients and good calories from a food item.
While eating tomato leaves might be a bit unconventional, the change might be very welcome in a monotonous diet. The next time you have some tomato leaves left over from making a salad or tomato-based curry, consider cooking them up for your next meal. Composting them might also be an environmentally-friendly option, but having a tasty, unique meal isn’t bad either. Try out a tomato sauce with mint and tomato leaves, or a pesto that uses these leaves to enhance sandwiches, chicken strips, and many other dishes.