One way to maximize your garden harvest is by eating parts of the plants we normally throw away. It’s certainly true that much more of a plant is edible than we tend to think about, and one perfect example is pumpkin vine leaves.
Are pumpkin leaves edible? Yes, eating pumpkin leaves is a healthy addition to your diet, and they are a traditional feature in many culinary cultures around the world. The flavor is fairly mild, somewhat like that of a green bean, and pumpkin leaves are a rich source of various vitamins and minerals. Not only are pumpkin leaves good for you and tasty, eating them is a perfect way to get even more out of your garden.
In this article, you’ll learn more about the nutritional benefits pumpkin leaves have to offer, recipes to try and how to harvest and prepare the leaves for eating.
Can You Eat Pumpkin Leaves?
You can eat pumpkin leaves–and what’s more, you should! This is because pumpkin leaves, like pumpkin squash, are low in calories but rich in vitamins and minerals. Health Benefits Times lists these nutrients:
- Amino acids: Tryptophan, Threonine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
Adding pumpkin leaves to your diet can help support various body functions and systems, including heart health, skin and organ health, immune function and gastrointestinal health.
The flavor of pumpkin leaves has a very distinct vegetable taste. Most people notice flavor notes of green beans and spinach with hints of asparagus and broccoli.
Pumpkins are native to Central and South America, and their leaves have been a part of cuisine there for a long time. When pumpkins were introduced to West Africa, the leaves quickly became a common ingredient in soups, as well as an addition to stews based around other ingredients. Pumpkin leaves have also been adopted into Indian and Asian cuisine.
You can also buy dried pumpkin leaves online, usually under the name “ugu” or “ugwo” as they are called in Nigeria. Unlike many things, Amazon has no reputable suppliers of ugu as of the time of publishing this article. So we recommend these sellers from Etsy:
What Do Pumpkin Leaves Look Like?
Pumpkin leaves look like a very large heart with a pointy end and top arches that almost meet. Depending on the type of pumpkin, they can be 6 to 12 inches across. Some varieties have leaves with white variegation, while others are anywhere from dark green to light green.
Raw pumpkin leaves have an almost spiky or fuzzy texture, which helps protect the leaves from consumption by herbivores in the wild. To get rid of this, you can easily remove the toughest parts of this membrane by hand, while the rest is broken down in the cooking process.
How to Harvest Pumpkin Leaves for Eating
Prolonged contact with pumpkin plant spines can irritate your skin, so always wear gardening gloves when picking leaves or working with pumpkins. It might also be a good idea to wear pants and closed-toe shoes if you’re working in a dense pumpkin patch.
To harvest pumpkin vine leaves for eating, select the younger and more tender leaves. They still have small hairs that create a fuzzy texture, but they’re much softer. Also, the young leaves of actively growing pumpkin plants tend to have the best flavor. But even though young leaves are preferable, you can harvest leaves at any time throughout the growing season.
Choose leaves that are about the size of your hand or smaller. And don’t harvest the leaves that are close to any developing pumpkins- they provide shade to keep the pumpkin fruits from sunburn.
To pick a pumpkin leaf, use a sharp knife or scissors to cut it off at the place where the leaf’s stem meets the main vine. (The stem is edible too!)
Don’t take more than 25% of a pumpkin vine’s leaves at once; the plant needs its leaves to produce food through photosynthesis. And always pay attention to exactly where you’re cutting- you don’t want to accidentally cut off the vine from the root!
How to Prepare Pumpkin Leaves for Eating
Once you’ve got your leaves harvested from the garden, it’s time to do a little bit of prep work to get them ready for eating.
Pumpkin leaves have a tough membrane or fiber that protects the stem/leaf and gives the plant enough rigidity to creep over the ground. Removing this membrane layer makes the cooked leaves much more tender and easy to chew.
Cut or break the stem at the place where it meets the base of the leaf. Look for a thin, shiny layer at the edges of the cut. Pinch this between your fingers and pull it upwards toward the leaf tip.
This video from Cooking With Natty gives a helpful demonstration:
Then, fill your sink or a bowl with a few inches of water, and wash the leaves thoroughly. This removes any grit and also begins softening the leaf.
Once these two steps are complete, your pumpkin leaves are ready for you to cook!
Recipes With Pumpkin Leaves
Raw pumpkin leaves have a rough outer texture and fine spines. So unless they’re very small and tender, they’re not the best addition to a salad.
Soups and stews are a couple of the most common ways to cook pumpkin leaves. And that makes sense- the liquid-based form and longer cooking time give the leaves a soft texture that’s easier to eat. You could also sauté your leaves in a dash of olive oil or broth and add salt and herbs/spices for a tasty side dish.
If you’d like to try some global cuisine that features pumpkin leaves, here are some to try:
- Zimbabwean Delicious traditional Muboora at Zimbo Kitchen
- Indian Pumpkin Leaf Suzbi at Honest Cooking
- Indian Pumpkin Leaf Stew at Organic Terrace
- Nigerian Ugu Soup at Immaculate Bites
- Asian Stir-Fried Pumpkin Stems with Rice from RecipeYum
Other Edible Parts of the Pumpkin Plant
When you’re trying to get the most kitchen mileage out of your pumpkin, why stop at the leaves? Every part of the incredible pumpkin plant is edible:
- Soft interior rind
- Pumpkin fruit (obviously!)
Frequently Asked Questions about Pumpkin Leaves
Pumpkins are a popular garden plant for growers around the world, and for good reason. Even though pumpkins are best known for their fruits, edible leaves are just another reason to love them.
So don’t let a bit of that pumpkin plant (or your hard work to grow it!) go to waste. Add the leaves to your next soup or as a side dish- you just might find a new favorite way to enjoy the amazing pumpkin!
Do you have a great pumpkin leaf recipe? Or maybe you have some tips on eating other overlooked parts of the pumpkin or other vegetables? We learn best from one another, so share your knowledge in the comments below!