Tomato Plants – The Smell of Summer

By Mary Ellen Ellis | May 20, 2021
Image by SORA
by Mary Ellen Ellis
May 20, 2021

Tomatoes are a popular hot-weather staple of the vegetable garden. They thrive in the hot days of summer and provide a tasty bounty in late summer and into fall. For me, it is the quintessential plant of summer, and a big part of that is how it smells. 

Tomatoes Smell Like Summer

Yes, the tomato itself is a symbol of summer. A juicy, ripe, red tomato on an August day is a perfect snack. I like to slice a big tomato and sprinkle a little sugar on it. It’s the taste of late summer. 

It’s not just the tomato fruit, though, that gives me the summer feels. It’s the smell. The totally unique aroma of the plant itself is everything summer and hot days. I can sit in the garden on a pleasant day and just take it in for hours while I work. 

It isn’t easy to describe the smell of a tomato plant, but if you know it, you’ll recognize it immediately. The smell is grassy and green but also a little spicy and sweet. 

Why Do Tomatoes Smell Like That? 

The leading hypothesis is innate pest control. Trichomes, the little hairs on tomato leaves and stems, produce and store aromatic oils and volatile compounds. When you brush against them or crush them between your fingers, you’ll get that characteristic tomato smell. 

What smells good to me apparently does not smell great to most insects. The aroma of the oils produced in the plant are off-putting, protecting the leaves and stems from nibbling pests. 

Tomato Leaves in the Kitchen

Did you know that tomato leaves are edible? If you love the fragrance of the tomato plan as much as I do, you can use it in the kitchen for the ultimate taste and smell of summer in recipes and dishes. 

The myth that tomato leaves are poisonous is a hold over from another time. It probably comes from the fact that tomatoes belong to the nightshade family. But not all nightshades are deadly nightshades, and tomato leaves are perfectly edible. 

To enjoy tomato leaves in the kitchen, try drying them. Store crumbled like any other dried herb, in a sealed jar. Use it in tomato sauces to really enhance the flavor and add that unique, summery aroma all year long. You can also steep fresh leaves in broth or soup to get the flavor and smell. 

I realize that the tomato smell is not beloved by everyone. It’s one of those aromas that you either love or hate. I think most people love it, but I know others find it a bit intense. If you love tomato smell, I hope you’ll look at your plants in a new way now. And, try those tasty leaves.

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  • John
    Comment added September 3, 2022Reply

    I have two tomato plants I am not sure what they are. I think they may be Bradley, but whatever they are the leaves look like prehistoric leaves and my oh my the stink. The rest of my tomatoes have normal leaves with that distinctive Earthy smell that is not repulsive to me like those two other plants.

  • Milo
    Comment added June 4, 2021Reply
  • Tom Prosser
    Comment added May 26, 2021Reply

    Having trouble with the leaves on my tomatoes, they are curling up. Got any suggestions or reason for this....

    • alexander jewell
      Comment added June 12, 2021Reply

      cold or drafty place in your greenhouse could cause this

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