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I was picking some home-grown basil for a simple pasta dish yesterday, and like many people who grow in home-made compost find tomato seedlings are very common weeds. Obviously the leaves of basil and tomato are very different shapes, but the colour is very similar and it was only as I ripped up the leaves that I noticed they weren't all basil.

So I started wondering whether tomato leaves can be eaten. By this I mean whether they're safe to eat, and also whether they're pleasant to eat, in the sort of quantities we might use for herbs or salad.

I've looked online and there's disagreement: NYT says they're edible, even tasty when done right. Many sources make the same claim as Modern Farmer, that the leaves are actually toxic (in quantity -- I linked to a more cautious article than some).

I'm ideally looking for something definitive.

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    Pepper leaves steamed with lemon and butter taste better than tomato leaves. The taste varies with type of pepper, but I've never met a "hot" variant. This is a project to engage in when you've picked the last pepper from the plant. – Wayfaring Stranger May 21 '18 at 23:36
  • @WayfaringStranger I've got a few chilli and pepper plants growing this year so might try that. Maybe stir-fried as well. If the heat doesn't make it through, I wonder if the citrus flavour of the Aji Limon I'm trying will be noticeable. I only realised just now it's a different species to the usual Capsicum annuum – Chris H May 22 '18 at 8:29
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Tomato leaves are edible, both the articles agree on that. The Modern Farmer article says you'd have to eat pounds and pounds of them before you'd get appreciable amounts of toxins to make you ill, and even then it's more of an upset stomach issue. Some people might react more to Tomatine, which is the mild toxin in the leaves, and is also in green tomatoes. People eat fried green tomatoes enough without getting sick.

For me the cooking issue is flavor, the leaves are pretty pungent and I haven't seen a recipe that uses them without burying them in the middle of a host of other ingredients. They're too strongly flavored to be a salad leaf, and they generally need to be cooked as they're tough.

The flavor thing can work out, you can put a couple of tomato leaves in a tomato sauce to boost flavor in the last few minutes of cooking, then pick them out. They can also be put into a pesto, adding a strong tomato flavor.

The message is you can eat them as long as it's not very large amounts, which you'd probably not want to do anyway because they're so strong.

EDIT: if you grow tomatoes you'll have tomato leaves for weeks, not one single harvest. Once the plants mature and you start to get tomatoes you'll typically prune many of the leaves off to concentrate the plant's energy on ripening the tomatoes, that's actually when you get most of the edible leaves off the plant, a good time to make a pesto if you want to try it. You don't want to harvest many leaves when the tomatoes start ripening as the plant needs what's left for photosynthesis, but you could prune one or two to put into a sauce. As the last tomatoes ripen the plants start to die back and you probably wouldn't want to eat them then.

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    The flavouring a sauce idea is interesting, especially if you're going to be picking out bay leaves anyway. I normally make my sauce in big batches so wouldn't chance it but I might experiment (simmer for a few minutes when reheating, with and without). In this case it was a sort of desconstructed green pesto of basil, pine nuts, blue cheese, chilli flakes, & olive oil (i.e. whatever I had lying around) assembled over the pasta so a strong tomato flavour would have taken over. – Chris H May 21 '18 at 8:23
  • That's a good approach @ChrisH, a blind taste test. – GdD May 21 '18 at 12:39
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    It won't be a problem if you don't pick them out. It just means somebody gets a surprise. If you really want you can make a bouquet garni by wrapping them in cheesecloth (along with the bay leaf and parsley stems), which is easy to locate and remove. – Joshua Engel May 21 '18 at 16:53
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    It is a bit like running into a bay leaf, you probably wouldn't want to eat it though unless it got cooked tender @JoshuaEngel – GdD May 21 '18 at 19:31
  • I've seen recipes from both Raymond Blanc and Heston Blumenthal that use tomato stem and leaf as a herb - infusing for quite a short time, as far as I remember. – Robin Betts May 21 '18 at 21:45

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