Can you eat ashitaba leaves Raw?

Ashitaba is an herb that has been grown and consumed in Japan for centuries. The leaves, stems, and roots of the ashitaba plant are all edible and contain a variety of nutrients and bioactive compounds that may offer health benefits. However, some people wonder whether ashitaba leaves can be eaten raw, or if they need to be cooked before consumption.

Quick Answers

– Ashitaba leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. Both raw and cooked ashitaba leaves are nutritious and considered safe to eat.

– Raw ashitaba leaves have a slightly bitter, parsley-like taste. Cooking the leaves reduces the bitterness and alters the flavor.

– Eating raw ashitaba leaves maximizes preservation of certain heat-sensitive vitamins and antioxidants. However, cooking the leaves enhances the bioavailability of certain nutrients.

– People with digestive sensitivities may tolerate cooked ashitaba leaves better than raw. However, most people can eat raw ashitaba leaves without problems.

– Always wash ashitaba leaves thoroughly before eating them raw. Pay attention to any pesticide or contaminant risks if harvesting leaves from untreated plants.

Nutritional Benefits of Ashitaba

Ashitaba contains a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds. Here is an overview of the main nutrients found in ashitaba leaves:

– Vitamin C: Ashitaba leaves are very high in vitamin C. 100 grams of raw leaves provides approximately 140-200mg of vitamin C, which is over 200% of the Daily Value (DV). Vitamin C is an antioxidant that supports immune health and collagen formation.

– Vitamin K: Raw ashitaba leaves supply around 15-30μg of vitamin K per 100 grams. Vitamin K plays essential roles in blood clotting and bone metabolism.

– Potassium: Ashitaba leaves are a good source of potassium, with around 300-400mg per 100 grams. Potassium helps regulate fluid balance, blood pressure, and muscle contractions.

– Chlorophyll: Ashitaba leaves are dark green due to their chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll is a potent antioxidant and has cleansing properties.

– Chalcones: Ashitaba contains chalcones like xanthoangelol and 4-hydroxyderricin, which have demonstrated antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and immunomodulatory activities in research.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is water-soluble and heat-sensitive. Cooking tends to reduce the vitamin C content of vegetables, including ashitaba leaves.

One study found that boiling ashitaba leaves for 5 minutes reduced the vitamin C content by nearly 30%. Boiling for 15-30 minutes destroyed over 70% of the original vitamin C content.

Therefore, eating raw ashitaba leaves maximizes the preservation of vitamin C over cooked leaves. 100 grams of raw leaves can provide over 250% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin C.


The chalcones found in ashitaba, including xanthoangelol and 4-hydroxyderricin, also appear sensitive to heat. One study showed that microwaving ashitaba leaves significantly degraded these chalcones over 5-20 minutes.

Research also indicates that chalcones may be better absorbed when consumed from raw ashitaba leaves, without undergoing cooking.

Overall, eating raw ashitaba leaves helps preserve the highest concentrations of heat-sensitive vitamins like C and antioxidant chalcones.

Benefits of Cooking Ashitaba Leaves

While raw ashitaba leaves have some advantages, cooking the leaves also has benefits:

– Reduces bitterness: Ashitaba contains saponins that contribute a bitter taste. Cooking breaks down these compounds, reducing bitterness and improving palatability.

– Enhances bioavailability of some nutrients: although cooking decreases some vitamins, it can increase the bioavailability of certain minerals and antioxidants. Heat helps break down plant cell walls, releasing more nutrients.

– Removes pathogens: Cooking kills any pathogens like bacteria or parasites that may be present on raw leaves. This makes cooked leaves safer for those with compromised immunity.

– Requires less chewing: Cooking softens the leaves, making them easier to chew and digest. This may aid digestion, especially in older adults or those with gastrointestinal issues.

So while raw ashitaba maximizes levels of certain micronutrients, cooked leaves are still very nutritious. Cooking also improves the digestibility and safety of the leaves in some cases.

Bioavailability of Minerals and Antioxidants

Studies show that cooking vegetables increases the bioavailability of certain minerals like iron and zinc. Heat appears to break down antinutrients like oxalates and phytates that can inhibit mineral absorption.

One lab study found that microwaving ashitaba leaves increased the extractability and bioaccessibility of minerals and antioxidants like kaempferol and quercetin compared to fresh leaves.

Another study showed that boiling ashitaba leaves for 30 minutes increased the phenolic content by over 50% compared to raw leaves. Phenolics are antioxidant compounds that can provide health benefits.

So while some micronutrients are decreased, cooking ashitaba may also boost levels of beneficial minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that would otherwise be less bioavailable from raw leaves.

Can You Eat Too Many Raw Ashitaba Leaves?

Ashitaba leaves are considered very safe to eat. There are no known toxicity issues associated with consumption of ashitaba leaves, whether raw or cooked.

However, there are a few considerations with eating large amounts of raw ashitaba leaves:

– Bitter taste: The bitterness of raw leaves may become unpleasant or unpalatable if eating very large quantities. Cooking the leaves helps reduce this bitterness.

– Blood thinning effects: Ashitaba contains vitamin K, which can interfere with blood thinning medication. Very high intake may also pose risks in people with clotting disorders or before surgery.

– Allergies: Ashitaba belongs to the carrot and celery family. People with allergies to these foods may also react to ashitaba. Introduce raw leaves gradually to check for allergic reactions.

– Digestive issues: Some people find raw vegetables hard to digest properly. Large quantities may exacerbate digestive problems like bloating and gas in sensitive people. Light cooking can help break down fiber.

– Contaminants: Raw plant leaves have higher risks of harboring bacteria, parasites, pesticides, or heavy metals if grown under poor conditions. Cooked leaves are safer.

While moderate amounts of raw ashitaba leaves are very healthy, it may be wise to limit serving sizes to 1-2 cups per day. Cooking some of the leaves can also maximize benefits. Monitor your tolerance, especially if introducing the leaves for the first time.

Who Should Avoid Eating Raw Ashitaba Leaves?

Raw ashitaba leaves are safe for most people. However, some individuals may want to exercise caution or avoid eating large amounts of raw leaves:

– Those taking blood thinners or anticoagulant drugs: Very high vitamin K intake can interfere with the effects of these medications. High intake may also be risky before surgery.

– People with clotting disorders: Individuals with conditions affecting blood clotting may need to monitor vitamin K intake from raw ashitaba leaves.

– Anyone with carrot or celery allergies: Ashitaba is in the same plant family, so cross-reactions are possible.

– People with kidney stones: Ashitaba contains oxalates. High oxalate foods may need to be limited for those prone to calcium-oxalate kidney stones.

– Individuals with digestive problems: The high fiber content of raw leaves may exacerbate conditions like IBS in sensitive people. Cooking the leaves may improve digestibility.

– Young children: Due to their immature digestive systems, large amounts of raw vegetables may be hard for small children to digest properly. Gentle cooking can make the leaves more tolerable.

If in doubt, start with small portions of raw ashitaba leaves to monitor your individual tolerance and response. Cooked leaves may also be easier to digest for some.

Taste and Texture Differences Between Raw and Cooked Leaves

Raw and cooked ashitaba leaves have some differences in taste and texture:


– Raw leaves have a slightly bitter, potent flavor. They taste akin to parsley or celery greens.

– Cooked leaves have a milder, more green bean-like taste. Cooking decreases bitterness and brings out the umami flavor.

– Raw leaves retain their crisp, bright flavor notes. Cooking mellows and blends the flavors more.

– Drying and powdering the leaves also significantly reduces bitterness and concentrates the umami taste.


– Raw leaves are crunchy with a thick, fibrous texture. They have a juicy crispness when very fresh.

– Cooked leaves turn soft and tender, with a more gentle mouthfeel. The cell walls break down, reducing chewiness.

– Cooking methods like stir-frying, sautéing, or boiling all soften the leaves considerably. The texture transforms the most in boiled leaves.

– Dried leaves become very brittle and crunchy. Rehydrating turns them soft again, but they do not return to the tender texture of fresh cooked leaves.

So raw and cooked ashitaba leaves provide some different sensory experiences. Which is preferable comes down to personal taste preferences and texture inclinations.

How to Soften Raw Ashitaba Leaves

If you want to eat ashitaba leaves raw but find the texture too fibrous and tough, there are a few tricks to help soften the raw leaves:

– Massage the leaves: Massaging raw leaves with oil or dressing helps tenderize the tissues and makes them less chewy. The physical action helps break down fiber.

– Slice thinly or chop: Cutting the leaves into very thin ribbons or finely chopping makes them easier to chew while retaining raw nutrients.

– Soak in liquid: Soaking chopped leaves in water, broth, or dressings for 5-10 minutes lets them absorb liquid and become softer but still raw.

– Pound or blend: Using a mortar and pestle or blender to break down the cell walls releases moisture and softens the texture while keeping leaves uncooked.

– Pair with soft ingredients: Combining raw ashitaba with soft fruits, avocado, bananas, eggs, creamy dressings, or nut butters improves the texture balance.

With a little preparation, the texture of raw ashitaba leaves can be significantly improved. This makes them more enjoyable to eat while maximizing heat-sensitive nutrients.

How to Prepare Raw Ashitaba Leaves

Here are some tips for preparing raw ashitaba leaves:

– Wash leaves very thoroughly under running water to remove dirt and debris. Pay extra attention if gathering leaves from the wild or untreated gardens.

– Remove any brown, slimy, or damaged leaves and thick stems or veins. The tender young leaves are mildest and most tender.

– Pat the leaves dry with paper towels or spin in a salad spinner. Moisture left on leaves can cause them to spoil faster.

– Store leaves in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or container lined with paper towels. They will keep fresh for 3-5 days this way.

– Use raw leaves as soon as possible for maximum freshness and nutrient content. Wilted leaves will be unpleasantly chewy.

– Slice, tear, or chop leaves into the desired size according to your recipe. Cutting makes raw leaves more manageable to eat.

– Massage oil, dressing, salt, and/or acid over raw leaves to soften texture and reduce bitterness. Let marinate 5-10 minutes.

With proper washing, storage, and preparation, raw ashitaba leaves can be an enjoyable and nutritious addition to recipes like smoothies, sandwiches, and salads.

Potential Risks of Eating Raw Ashitaba Leaves

While quite safe for most people, there are a few potential risks to keep in mind with raw ashitaba leaves:

Foodborne Illness

Like any raw vegetable, raw ashitaba leaves carry a small risk of transmitting foodborne pathogens if handled incorrectly:

– Bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella could contaminate the leaves through infected irrigation water, improper composting, or contact with animal feces. Proper field hygiene is important.

– Parasites like Giardia may also be passed through contaminated water sources. This is a particular concern with leaves harvested from the wild.

– Viruses like norovirus or hepatitis A can spread from infected handlers to the leaves. Following safe handling and storage protocols minimizes risks.

Cooking the leaves kills any potential pathogens present. But with good growing, harvesting, and handling practices, the risks from fresh ashitaba leaves are very low.

Pesticides and Heavy Metals

Raw plant foods may contain higher levels of pesticide residues compared to cooked foods. Ashitaba leaves grown conventionally could expose consumers to these pesticides if eaten raw.

Similarly, ashitaba grown in contaminated soils may uptake heavy metals like lead, cadmium, or arsenic. These concentrates more in leaves compared to roots or stems.

Washing and peeling leaves can reduce pesticide and heavy metal risks. Consuming leaves grown organically or from clean soil is ideal.

Digestive Discomfort

Some people may experience gas, bloating, or stomach upset from raw vegetables. This is usually caused by insoluble fiber triggering excess gas production or irritation during digestion.

While most people tolerate ashitaba well, the high fiber content can provoke GI issues in sensitive individuals. Cooking the leaves or starting with small portions is recommended in these cases.


Rarely, raw ashitaba leaves may trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, especially those with celery or carrot allergy. Cooking denatures the allergenic proteins, preventing allergic reactions.

As with any new food, watch for adverse reactions when first eating raw ashitaba leaves and stop consuming if any occur.

Recipes and Serving Ideas for Raw Ashitaba Leaves

Here are some nutritious and delicious ways to enjoy raw ashitaba leaves:

– Salads: Toss young raw leaves into green salads, grain bowls, or slaws. The crisp texture works well alongside other vegetables, greens, nuts, and cheese.

– Smoothies: Blend raw leaves into fruit or vegetable smoothies. Start with just a few leaves to assess bitterness. Sweet fruits help balance the flavor.

– Juices: Use raw ashitaba leaves in place of greens like spinach or kale in fresh juices. Combine with citrus, apples, ginger or other fruits.

– Sandwiches: Layer raw leaves onto sandwiches, subs, wraps, or pitas for crunch.

– Pesto: Process raw leaves with olive oil, nuts, garlic, and cheese to make a vivid green pesto sauce. Toss with pasta or use as a dip.

– Garnishes: Use raw leaves as attractive garnishes for soups, grains, proteins or appetizers. They add freshness.

– Infused oils: Infuse olive or avocado oil with raw ashitaba leaves to extract vibrant chlorophyll and flavor. Discard leaves after several hours or days.

The crisp, fresh taste of raw ashitaba leaves pairs well with rich, fatty, and salty ingredients. Get creative with how to incorporate the nutrition of raw leaves into your diet.

Final Thoughts

Ashitaba is a Japanese vegetable with a long history of use as both food and medicine. The leaves can be eaten raw or cooked.

While cooking reduces some heat-sensitive vitamins like vitamin C, raw leaves provide higher amounts of certain antioxidants and phytochemicals. However, cooking also enhances the bioavailability of some minerals and antioxidants.

Ultimately, both raw and cooked ashitaba leaves are highly nutritious. Raw leaves provide the most vitamin C, while cooked leaves may be easier to digest for some people.

Raw leaves have a characteristic bitter, parsley-like taste that cooking decreases. Chopping, massaging, pounding or blending can help tenderize the texture of raw leaves.

When eating raw, take care to wash leaves thoroughly and monitor for any digestive discomfort or allergic reactions. Start with small portions to assess tolerance, especially for high-risk groups like children or those taking blood thinners.

Both raw and cooked ashitaba leaves are valued for their nutritional content and potential health benefits. Incorporate them into your diet regularly to take advantage of these perks.

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