Last weekend, I picked up some beautiful carrots—the kind that Bugs Bunny would drool over; classic orange cones topped with plumes of greenery—at an organic farmstand. From childhood experience, I already knew that the sweet crunch of garden-grown carrots tastes far better than those mass-produced "baby" carrots, so I lopped off their tops and prepared to munch. But my hand hesitated as it hovered over the garbage can, holding the greens; they looked like perky parsley. Couldn't I eat them, too?
After a bit of online research, I concluded that, like most of the world's brilliant ideas, someone else had thought of this first.
The blog White on Rice recently featured a salad of radish, carrot, and/or beet tops with vermouth vinaigrette.
A site called the "Carrot Museum" offers several more recipes, calling carrot tops "edible and highly nutritive, rich in proteins, minerals and vitamins."
Historically, the first reference I found to edible carrot greens—excluding recommendations to use them as garnish, rabbit or chicken feed—was a 1917 Washington Post article. In a one-paragraph entry titled "Do Not Waste," the unnamed author exhorts readers to "Cook carrot tops as greens. Use your own ingenuity to convert every bit of food into a healthful, tasty dish."
In 1924, they get another mention in the same publication, but this time the motivation is waist management rather than waste management: "Turnip tops, carrot tops, tender leaves of lettuce, radish leaves, the leaves of Swiss chard and even watercress may be prepared in a similar way" to boiled spinach, which "folks like" because "it is good for them, helps to fill 'em up, and yet is very low in caloric value," writes the author of an article titled "Control Your Weight Via the Kitchen."
This 1974 article from Backpacker magazine notes that wild carrots and their greens—the plant more familiarly known as Queen Anne's Lace—are also edible, although the nicest adjective the author can muster about them is "rough."
I'm not a scientist, so I don't know for sure what to make of the claim that carrot tops may contain toxic compounds (although Harold McGee, who writes about the science of food, says he's not worried). This notion may be rooted in the fact that carrots are in the same family (Apiaceae, also called Umbelliferae) as poison hemlock, but so are innocuous herbs and vegetables like celery, coriander, fennel, dill, parsley, and parsnips. However, I would caution against eating greens from non-organic carrots—since most farmers don't expect people to eat the tops of carrots, they may apply pesticides there.
I used my bunch of carrots, greens and all (sans stems) to make this hearty Carrot Top and Quinoa Soup, substituting shallots for onion, vegetable for beef bouillon, and adding some chopped rainbow chard. It was delicious, and I'm still feeling fine!