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Habotan or Ornamental Kale: Not Just Another Pretty Face

Habotan (ornamental kale) getting ready for salad.
A little while back a friend asked me if it was possible to eat habotan or ornamental kale. My response was an immediate yes, especially as we'd been adding those bright frilly leaves to our house salads since landing in Japan seven years ago. "My wife," he replied, "says they aren't. She says you shouldn't eat them."

I sensed a bit of a spousal argument here that it might be best to steer clear of; however, I also wanted to know the answer. Had we been eating something technically inedible? Or were habotan off the menu simply because they were an ornamental plant? This time of year they appear in flower pots everywhere along with pansies and violas (two more edible ornamentals, by the way) signaling the winter growing season is upon us.

I turned to one of the many reference books I keep on hand for these occasions. Joy Larkcom came to the rescue as usual and let me know in no uncertain terms that the plant is not only edible but delicious. Other reliable sources said the same of this dolled up cousin of regular kale. So make the most of that nutritious and delicous beauty donning the front step and toss it in soups and salads to your heart's content!

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