Tomatoes on the vine
(Image credit: Mykhailo Hrytsiv / 500px / Getty Images)

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.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.