One of the best reasons to grow kale is that it produces a delightful extra edible: broccoli-like flower buds. Kale belongs to the Brassica (cabbage) family and it is a biennial, which means that it spends its first growing season developing a strong root system and leaves. In most climates it survives the winter (it needs a bit of protection in colder zones) and then it flowers and goes to seed in the second year. Right now all the kale in my garden is topped with a loose topknot of buds. I recently pinched some of the top buds back to encourage more to form at the leaf axils—the point where the leaves join the main stem. I’m also continuing to harvest the kale’s leaves, which we saute, roast, and puree in smoothies.
Sometimes the flower buds of brassicas are referred to as rabe or raab, which is derived from rapa and means turnip in Italian. Kale, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, turnips, bok choy, chinese cabbage, and broccoli rabe (pictured below) all produce delicious flower buds that absolutely deserve to be eaten instead of tossed into the compost pile. I harvest them when the buds are tightly packed, just ready to burst open, and flowering—they are delightful at every stage. The yellow blossoms taste like their parent plant, only sweeter with a floral undertone. We like to lightly steam rabe or saute it with garlic and olive oil and then finish it off with a squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and sea salt. Yum!