Leaves, Shoots, Roots: The Basics of a Plant-Based Diet

Market stall vegetables - D Perstin (Flickr)

I have a new found respect for plants from all over the world; the whole plant, from its roots up to its leaves.

I recently learned that there are nine different parts of plants that we can eat, in Foods That Heal, by Dr. George D. Pamplano-Roger. It makes you realize that a plant-based diet is probably more comprehensive than you could have imagined.

The new information I’ve been soaking up comes at the right time, as I’ve been spending a lot of time with my daughter and her husband, who are vegetarian (he is vegan)! I hope you also get inspired about how much nature’s plant life can contribute to our healthy bodies and minds.


Guess what – they’re actually plant stalks that thicken and develop underground. Not to be confused with roots. Think onion, garlic and fennel. They give us carbohydrates (starch) and add an aromatic flavoring to our cooking.

Flowers and Buds

Broccoli, my favorite, broccolini, and cauliflower instantly come to mind when you think of flowers and buds, but did you guess artichokes? What a coincidence – they contain vitamins A, B and C. Meanwhile, Broccoli rabe (known as rapini) is an in-betweener – it contains the flowers and the buds.


We’re talking fruits from plants here, not fruit trees in a traditional sense (oranges, peaches, apples, etc.) Front and center is the tomato, and others include chili pepper, eggplant (aubergine), pumpkin, squash, zucchini and cucumber. Avocado could be a “vegetable fruit” or “regular fruit”? You decide…


Spinach and kale (a great source of iron), lettuce, and herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, parsley, rosemary and sorrel. Cabbage and Brussel sprouts are also included in this group. Have you ever tried cooking the leaves of beets, turnips, parsnips or pumpkins (popular in Africa) as a side dish? I tried beet leaves for the first time and they were delicious!


These are the stems connecting the leaves to the stalk. Think of chard, and cardoon (used in Mediterranean cooking). Bok choy (called pak choi in England) is a cross between a petiole and leaves, in my opinion.


A good source of fiber, carbohydrates and vitamins, root vegetables are great in salads or stews. Roots include carrots, beets, parsnips (tasty when blanched and then roasted), and radishes and turnips, which are a good addition to soups and stews).


Beans and peas provide protein and fiber.  Corn can be cooked and eaten right off the cob, or used in your baking as corn flour.Grains such as aramanth (from South America), millet, quinoa, rice (brown rice, wild rice), sorghum, and wheat (whole wheat, or couscous)should be essentials in your food pantry if you are a vegetarian or vegan.


Celery, rhubarb (a vegetable that’s usually used in desserts), leeks and asparagus are popular stalk vegetables. Sometimes only the shoots of stalks are eaten – like bamboo shoots and palm hearts.


Never eat these raw. Cook to destroy any toxins. These starchy foods, like bulbs, are actually parts of the plant’s stalk that develop underground.They include the ever-popular potato and sweet potato, and tubers that are more popular internationally, such as yam, cassava (yuca) and ginger. Did you know, ginger works wonders for the digestion; have you ever tried ginger tablets for sea-sickness?

As you can see, plants offer so much and there is so much plant-based bounty on this earth. I hope you will be encouraged to try more new (to you) vegetables. I know I will be.


About the Author

10352040_10154746082447355_4709563614041700620_nMarilyn Deen is a PR/marketing communications professional based in Fort Lauderdale, FL. She has created and managed effective campaigns for tourism, disaster response and youth development for corporations and community benefit organizations in the US and internationally. She currently heads up MARKUS Writing. You can follow her on Twitter.



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