You don’t want to waste it.
But what can you do?
You grew vegetables and herbs with love and care.
But now there are holes in the leaves. And you wonder if you can eat them.
Should you wash the leaves? Will cooking them help? Or will they cause harm to you?
These are some questions you may have when you see holes in the leaves of your plants. In this post, I’ll help you understand in which cases you should and should not eat leaves when you see holes in them.
You can eat leaves with holes if insect pests cause them such as caterpillars, aphids, slugs, and snails. Wash the leaves and there is no harm in eating them. You should not eat leaves with holes caused by animals, chemicals, or diseases because they can harm you and affect the taste of the leaves.
Causes of Holes in Leaves
There can be many reasons that cause holes in leaves such as insects, animals, diseases, and even herbicides used on the plants. It is important to identify the cause before you can consider the leaves are safe to eat.
It’s easy to identify some pests such as snails, slugs, or caterpillars on the plants. They are big enough to observe. And you’ll find traces such as slime on the plant left by these pests.
I just wash it with vegetable soap/wash beforehand, especially if I got less yield of that crop than I had hoped (I’m looking at you, lone rainbow chard I’m harvesting today). – Ayala
Other insects like aphids are tiny, and you might not see them until there is a huge infestation. Inspect underneath random leaves to see signs of aphids. It’s a common sign to see ants collecting honeydew that these aphids leave on the plant.
That’s why I recommend checking your plant every morning as routine. You’ll figure out what causes the holes or marks on leaves. And be able to take care of the issues before they become worse.
Let’s look at the different problems in details and whether you can eat the leaves when they happen.
I asked 100+ gardeners if they eat leaves that have holes in them. 88.9% felt confident to eat the leaves after washing them well. Below are the results of this survey.
Insects eating the leaves
I think insects are the most common problem you’ll face in the garden chewing your leaves and causing holes. The good thing is they are easy to take care of and you can eat leaves after cleaning them well.
Snails or slugs
Snails or slugs are a common problem on leafy vegetables as they prefer to eat their leaves. You’ll be able to see them on the plants at night. And you’ll see the trail of slime that they leave on your plants.
The slime is not harmful to humans, but there have been studies that show the snails may ingest larvae found in rat feces that cause Rat Lungworm Disease.
So my suggestion is to wash the leaves really well with insecticidal soap if you suspect that snails or slugs have been eating them.
I find aphids are quite common in vegetable plants. They are tiny insects, so you won’t see them easily, especially ones that are green in colors and blend in the leaves.
Common signs of aphids are ants on your plants as they farm aphids to harvest honeydew that they leave.
You won’t find large holes in leaves infested by aphids because they are sap-sucking tiny pests. So the leaves continue to get damaged and slowly tiny holes may appear because of the tissue dying.
It’s not harmful to eat leaves that may have been affected by aphids. Do wash the leaves well before eating them. But even if there are a few aphids, it does not harm humans.
The US Food and Drug Administration states that a few aphids on vegetables and fruits won’t harm their consumption. For example, an average of 50 aphids, thrips and/or mites per 100 grams of spinach is harmless.
I don’t like caterpillars because they can destroy your plant leaves in just a few hours and days. They have a voracious appetite and keep feeding on the leaves, causing big holes and cuts.
You’ll find the caterpillars are leaving droppings known as frass on the leaves that appear like brown or black pellets.
The good thing is that the caterpillars and their droppings are harmless to humans. So you can wash the leaves and consume them without issues. Of course, ensure you clean the leaves well to remove any droppings that may have been left.
I have but it depends on the what ate them and how bad the damage is. If it diseased I won’t eat them. If I have plenty growing, I will compost the damaged leaves and harvest the undamaged ones. – Cynthia
Spider mites are another common pest similar to aphids you’ll find on your vegetable plants. They are even smaller than aphids and hard to notice until an infestation.
You’ll see webbing develop on your plants as the spider mites keep building their nests. They’ll poke small holes in the leaves, sucking sap out of them.
It’s safe to eat leaves that may have been infested with spider mites. Just clean them well with water before consumption.
There are beetles, such as flea beetles, that act as pests and chew up plant leaves, causing holes in them. They can quickly infest your plants and cause major damage. They will lay eggs on the undersides of the leaves that hatch into more beetles.
You can consume the leaves without issues as the beetles and their eggs pose no threat to humans. Wash the leaves well and with insecticidal soap if you want to be extra careful.
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Animals chewing the leaves
Plant leaves can become a target for animals such as deer, rabbit, squirrels, rats, and even pets like cats and dogs. You’ll find the leaves have been torn or chewed off when attacked by animals.
I would not recommend eating leaves that animals has chewed because you don’t know what animal it is and potential diseases it can cause.
Rodents can cause serious harm to human health, especially with their saliva, urine, and feces that would be present on the plant. Even pets like cats and dogs have harmful bacteria in their saliva, urine, and feces that can cause serious illness to you.
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Diseases affecting the leaves
Some times your plant leaves will get holes because of disease caused by fungal or bacterial infections. You’ll see patches of discoloration start on the leaves, followed by holes as the tissue dies.
We know that plant fungal and bacterial diseases don’t affect humans. But I would still not recommend eating diseased plants because they can still spoil the leaves, making you ill. At the least, the diseases will affect the texture and taste of the plant leaves.
Why the he!! wouldn’t I? Have we all been spoiled by growing up in a world of factory farms and pesticides? Holey leaves are a sign of good food. If a bug won’t even eat it, then why would I? – Paul
Chemical damage to the leaves
If the plants are sensitive to some chemicals in pesticides or herbicides, it can cause damage such as holes in leaves.
I recommend you test any pesticide or herbicide on a few leaves for 24 hours and don’t apply it on the entire plant. If there is no adverse effect because of the chemicals, only then should you use it.
If you have already used the chemicals and the vegetable plant leaves are damaged, I would suggest you don’t eat the leaves. These chemicals are harmful to the leaves and can be harmful to humans as well.
And please consider using natural, organic methods to prevent or get rid of pests and diseases before you reach for that chemical pesticide. They are far safer for the plant, the environment, and for you.
Environmental damage to the leaves
Sometimes the environment in which the plant grows can cause damage such as holes in leaves. One situation is if you water the plants when the sun is out. The water drops on the leaves will heat and cause burn spots. If the heat is intense, it will cause holes in the leaves.
I’ve seen an instance of holes in the leaves because the plants were close to a factory that was dealing with welding works. The sparks from the welding caused burn holes in the plant leaves.
In such situations, there is no actual issue in the plant leaves and you can consume them with no issues. The hard part will be to understand that the holes in the leaves are because of such environmental damage.