Horticulture Magazine

Can You Eat Broccoli When It Starts To Flower?

broccoli plant with small yellow flowers

Have you left your broccoli a little too long?

You might wonder whether you can eat broccoli when it starts to flower. We have your answer…

Ideally, broccoli is best harvested when the buds of the flowers are still green (or purple for purple sprouting varieties), and closed, and the heads are tight. [source]

broccoli ready to harvest

However, all is not lost if you leave it too late.

You can still eat the stems, flowers and leaves from the plant, and they can taste great raw or lightly cooked in a stir fry or other similar recipe. [source]

Eating The Flowers & Leaves

Opinions can differ regarding the taste of broccoli flowers. Some people like them, others don’t.

Personally, I like their mild, slightly nutty flavour and like to eat just-flowering florets raw in a salad.

Don’t forget that broccoli leaves are edible too. [source]

broccoli leaves

It would be a shame to let your hard work go to waste altogether just because you missed the prime harvesting window.

Make sure you do not let any food go to waste in your garden, or in your home.

If Broccoli Flowers Before Heads Form

If your broccoli plants flower before they have formed tight heads (multiple smaller heads on sprouting broccoli, or one large initial head on Calabrese types) then this is usually a sign of a problem with environmental conditions.

bolting broccoli plant with yellow flowers

When broccoli plants are stressed, they will rush to produce seeds.

The stress can come from a range of causes but is often related to temperatures, water shortage, or a lack of nutrients.

Broccoli which bolts in this way is still edible.

However, in certain circumstances, the flowers and stems may have some bitterness, and might not taste that great – though the leaves should still be useful as a cooked green.

Unfortunately, if your younger broccoli plants bolt, you will not usually see any heads forming and it is too late to get the harvest you expected from your crop.

It is a good idea to try to identify where things went wrong, to help you grow healthy broccoli plants in future.

Sometimes, environmental issues may be beyond your control (extreme weather events, for example).

But often, you can make changes related to watering, or the soil, to make sure you can grow more successfully in future.

If your broccoli bolted early, then it is not a good idea to save the seeds.

If You Left Healthy Plants Too Long Before Harvesting

If, however, you grew healthy broccoli plants, which formed heads that you simply left a little too long, you cannot only eat the flowers, stems and leaves, but can also consider letting your broccoli go to seed and saving seeds for next year.

broccoli flowering outdoors

This is another reason why you should not always pull up flowering broccoli plants right away.

If you notice that the heads on broccoli are opening up and flowers are forming, then if you wish to eat your crop, the sooner you can get round to harvesting, the better.

The longer you leave it, the more the taste and texture will alter. Notes of bitterness can certainly sometimes begin to creep in. [source]

There is nothing wrong with the broccoli, and it is still edible later – it is just likely to be tougher, and often won’t taste as nice.

Letting the plants go to seed

If you try a little of the flowering broccoli and do not like the taste, but the plant seems healthy and did produce good heads prior to this stage, simply leave the flowers on the plant to allow seeds to develop.

Just remember that seeds may not come true if the flowers have been allowed to cross-pollinate with other members of the Brassica (cabbage) family.

After the flowers fade, thin pods will form. If you leave your plants in place, these pods will dry out and turn brown, and will have seeds inside.

hand holding broccoli seeds

Before these pods break open, cut the stems and place the stalks upside down over a box to let them dry fully.

Once they are completely dry, shaking and tapping the stalks should release all the seeds into the box below.

Dry the seeds fully, keep them in an airtight container, and they should last for a number of years.

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