Are Carrot Greens Toxic? Deadly? Edible?

NOTE – READ THE FOLLOWING BEFORE PROCEEDING: There are several comments below this post which support – and dispute – the safety of carrot tops.  There are a few reports of people having very bad reaction to them – I don`t know if this was due to the individual, the carrots themselves and variables (such as organic or not).  As the article states, many people make arguments on both sides and it`s essential that you do your own research (I provide resources on both sides of the argument in the following article) and make the decision for yourself to their safety.  This article draws neither conclusion and it`s main point is to do research before consuming.

We recently wrote a post about using ‘left unders‘ – foodbits normally associated with compost rather than cuisine.  In that post we shared our use for pea pods, garlic stocks, onion roots and carrot tops.  Carrot tops.

We received a comment on the post yesterday mentioning that they may be toxic and asking for clarification.  The truth is I hadn’t thought of any potential danger with the tops, know of several others who also use them in cooking and posted about it.  But it was a good question and one that I had no way to answer other than simply state my experience and I’ve learned that the size and knowledge of our audience makes that generally a pretty bad idea (meant as a compliment to the amount of knowledge people have here).

I called upon my research assistant, Google…

I found out that carrots are in the parsley family and thus the tops closely resemble the herb – as well as looking like hemlock (which is toxic and deadly).  My initial search revealed one vote per side in the battle of “eat me” vs “run for the hills.”

Further reading suggested that most farmers expect you NOT to eat them so non-organic carrot greens are likely heavily sprayed and should be avoided.  Perhaps a decent tip but definitely inconclusive.

A report on the Risk of Carrots (who knew such reports existed?) from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs) records the production phase of growing carrots as  a Low-High risk of contamination based on “Many agricultural chemicals applied to carrot tops would not contaminate the edible root.  Contamination may occur where errors are made in application, not following product label information, or where chemicals not registered for use are used. Health Canada regulates chemicals used in the production of food (46, and 64).”  This collaborates the advice above but doesn’t outright their eating (though that was not the focus of the report so it’s also not an endorsement).

My first search was less than exciting; ” “Effects range from slightly elevated blood pressure, and slightly elevated alertness and heartbeat, all the way to death.”  Surely this was something to be taken seriously.  This was the report of an author of a book on botany.

My next stop was opposite of my first.  One of the leading food scientists (and my personal favourite reference point for such questions, Harold McGee) has declared them as safe.  At least this explains why I didn’t die when I ate them.

A newspaper article from the UK (in the Hackney Citizen) actually shares a recipe for carrot tops and quinoa in a salad.

A search on “Carrot tops” and “Homeopathy” reveal that carrot tops appear rampant in natural health and are listed as being high in vitamin K.

My final conclusion?  It’s important to do your research and I’m not qualified to recommend what’s best for you on this one.  My plan is to continue to research and see what I learn.

A big-time thanks to Anna for sharing her question – was a lot of fun looking this up and fascinating to see the different takes on the subject that ranged from delicious to death!  Sometimes it feels like food science is more of an art. 🙂

Have your say below:

  1. Been eating and cooking with them for years, and they’re commonly used in salsa verdes or similar sauces in various countries. Hell, Kevin Gillespie, on Top Chef a season or so ago, made a carrot green puree for one of his winning dishes. Pesticides might be a problem, but that’s true of any above ground plants.

  2. Carrot greens are not the problem. As you say: it’s pesticides. People have been eating carrot greens forever.

    Find an organic farmer you trust or grow them yourself. The greens are wonderful in soups and sauces.

  3. Alright! I’ll consider myself schooled. One more ingredient for my stock pot, then… 😀

  4. I feel like variety is the spice of life. Carrot greens are fabulous in their nutrients but rotate all types of other greens too. I juice them fresh from my garden – couldn’t feel more healthy 🙂

  5. I would like to have a food scientist’s perspective on this one as I would happily try organic carrot tops if they were given the all clear. There is little hard science on this to be found on the internet, I too had a look last night and came up with the references that you discuss above. Good post! Thanks.

    • Joanna,

      The link to the article with Harold McGee would be a starting point – he is widely seen as one of the leading food scientists in the US, if not the world… He’s the one I trust though I still maintain it’s important each draw their own conclusion as I’m no expert. 🙂

  6. HaHa I wonder If a 10 yr. old started the rummer because they didnt want to eat thier carrot tops .. sounds like something one of my boys would try.

  7. Don’t eat it!
    I just chopped a 3-4 small sprigs in my salad the other day after reading about how beneficial they were. I woke up at 2 am with my heart pounding like crazy. My heart was beating 160 times/minute at rest (my pulse is usually in the low 70’s). Instinct told me to drink water to flush out my system of whatever it is that’s causing this. After half an hour and 5 glasses of water my pulse was 88 at rest. This lasted for about another 4-5 hours. Still high but my heart was not jumping out of my chest any more!! One of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. Was it an allergic reaction? I don’t know. BUT DO NOT EAT IT if there is not a scientific research behind it is all I have to say….

  8. I just juiced the tops with my recipe… my throat feels like it is swollen and i feel a little dizzy with bitter taste in mouth and throat. The carrot tops were less than 1% of my total juice of carrots, apples, kale, oranges, cucumber, lime and celery. I just ruined 20 dollars of juice and I feel like crap. Don’t listen to those quack sites that are saying it is okay to eat carrot tops. Trust me, my juice don’t usually make me feel like I just OD’d on some bad drug. (must be why Poison Control center lists them as mildly toxic)

    • Thanks Dan- have updated the post to ask people to read your comment as it may help them make an informed decision as well. Out of curiosity, do you know if the tops were organic or not? Another commenter mentioned eralier that could lead to that. I wonder if some are more sensitive than others as I know people who do consume them as well… Sounds like an awful experience; thank you for sharing yourta!

  9. There is a difference between toxicity and sensitivity. I find carrot greens highly astringent and use in moderation. Just as peppercorn is widely considered safe you wouldn’t use it more than a mild seasoning. when trying something new always start small and watch for reactions. I have found over indulging in carrot green a laxative.

    10% is actually quite strong of a concentration in a juice. When extracting juice you are concentrating all of the chemicals, enzymes, and vitamins that make up the plant. The fiber dilutes it to a degree. A teaspoon of juice is much more potent than a teaspoon of veg.

    • Great point Bonnie and thank you for sharing – I really do enjoy the vast quantity of feedback and approaches that carrot greens bring about.. Very neat indeed!

  10. Pingback: Carrot Tops and How My CSA has Changed My Dinner | The Urban Tender

  11. Some people are photosensitive to carrot leaves, and almost everyone has phototoxic reactions to parsnip leaves. This is, when we touch the leaves the skin blisters some hours later, after reacting with the sunlight.
    I tried both. Carrot leaves only redden and irritate my forearms but not my hands. Parsnip leaves do provoke significant burns; I have tried and I promise I will never repeat it! Eating it? I am a bit scared of putting something in my mouth that irritates my skin.

    But some relatives of carrots are really toxic and even deadly. Think of hemlocks. Just a bite is enough to kill several people. Don’t play with plants from the carrot family.

    Celery: nothing ever happened with me, eating it raw or touching it, but some people has skin reactions after eating or touching it. Guess these are also person-specific.

  12. hmm..i juiced carrot tops (from organic carrots) into juice last week…noticed nothing but a sweet carrot-y note in my juice…never would have thought they could be a problem. probably won’t do that again, though.

    just as a note…it was once thought that tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant were deadly as they are all in the nightshade family. stinging nettle is unpleasant for ones skin, but when cooked is perfectly safe to eat…

    • I have eaten them. Great taste…no adverse effects. Good point regarding tomatoes and potatoes.

      • I had the same fortune Greg, thanks for the comment. Perhaps some are sensitive to them! Good to know I’m not the only person immune to them. 🙂

  13. I’d say just to be safe rather than sorry, if one is uncertain put a few of the carrot tops in the blender and just wait for a few hours longer after drinking it to see if any reaction pops up.
    It would be unfortunate to miss out on any potential benefits of the greens just because there have been a few bad reactions…anybody who is moniteering their blood pressure is likely taking meds so that increases the possibility of reaction with certain kinds of foods…think about it.