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The Easiest Way to Get Rid of Broccoli Worms

Many years ago, when I had my first broccoli harvest from my very own garden, I was talking to my mom about the pesky green broccoli worms hiding in the nooks and crannies. She told me about the simple kitchen trick that she used that might just be the easiest way to get worms out of broccoli. Of course, you can eat the worms. My sister ate one last year on cooked broccoli and said it tasted like broccoli. 🙂  I’m just not that hungry – most of the time. I did fry up some one morning for breakfast with my eggs and broccoli.

broccoli worm on broccoli plant

The Easiest Way to Get Worms Out of Broccoli

Here’s mom’s tip to get worms out of broccoli:  Simply fill a basin with hot salt water and dump the broccoli florets in. Let sit around 20 minutes, swishing vigorously with your hand every so often to dislodge the more stubborn unwelcome guests. I don’t measure exactly, I just throw about a handful of canning or table salt in my Rubbermaid dish pan. (BTW, this dish pan is really handy for toting dish water and rinse water out to water my flowers. Salt water like this gets dumped on the gravel to kill unwanted weeds.)

Why warm water? When hit with cold temperatures, the natural react is to contract – or potentially hold on tighter. Warm water is relaxing, like a nice little broccoli worm hot tub. They relax, let go, and the salt does its job.

After soaking, drain in a colander and rinse with cold water. Use right away, refrigerate in a sealed container so it doesn’t get limp, or process for storage.

My friend, Chris, at Joybilee Farms uses a similar method to get rid of broccoli worms, but she uses cold salt water and adds 2 tablespoons of vinegar.

Soaking the broccoli. The pink canning jars are a batch of pickled beets I just finished.

soaking broccoli to remove worms

Draining the broccoli in my over the sink strainer.

straining broccoli to remove broccoli worms

All the worms that used to be hiding in a sink full of broccoli.

broccoli worms

Broccoli Worms in the Garden

I have used Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) spray in the past to keep the broccoli worms in check in the garden, but reconsidered after researching more about what effects Bt may have on healthy gut bacteria. (You can read more about this in the post, “Would You Feed Your Kids Pesticide Chips?“) You can also use a light dusting of diatomaceous earth.

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Right now, my worm control tactic is simply to make sure my broccoli and other related crops are in very rich soil with lots of nitrogen and ample water. (You can read more at 5 Tips to Grow Big Broccoli Heads.)  Healthy crops are naturally more pest resistant.  They get attacked less and can grow fast enough to overcome any damage. Companion plants such as strongly scented flowers (like chamomile) and herbs such as sage and dill can help ward off cabbage butterflies.

I also encourage birds, frogs, toads and beneficial insects in the garden to help with broccoli worm control. I’ve seen all of these critters hunting in the garden. Below is a yellowjacket removing a cabbage worm from a Red Russian kale plant. You can read more about how to encourage beneficial insects in the the post “The Ulitmate Guide to Natural Pest Control in the Garden“.

wasp eating broccoli worms

Broccoli Recipes

Once you have your broccoli clean, you may enjoy these recipes:

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P.S. In the time honored tradition of “crazy things I do as a blogger”, to get a good photo of the broccoli and the worm, I grabbed this critter out from where he was hiding underneath and had him strike a pose on the broccoli. If they all hung out on top like this, it would be much easier to get worms out of broccoli. 😉

get worms out of broccoli

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Originally published in 2014, updated in 2018.

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  1. Have you tried Spinosad? I’ve been using it for the last couple years and when used as directed find that it provides a 100% reduction in cabbage worms on brassicas.

    It is a certified organic pesticide and I haven’t been able to find any information indicating harmful effects in humans. It is commonly sold as a concentrate “Monterrey Garden Insect Control”. Make sure to apply in the evening so it has time to dry before pollinators show up in the morning.

    It’s supposed to control aphids as well, but it doesn’t seem to be as effective against them on my tomatoes this year . I recommend Neem oil for aphids.

  2. Back when I was growing broccoli regularly, I routinely used this method. It is not 100% effective, though. Some worms get stuck in the florets and cannot float out.

  3. Neem oil while the broccoli is growing is an organic way to get rid of the worms and their eggs so you don’t have so many to remove before eating

  4. Just found some worms when eating fresh broccoli, had dreams about last night. Picked some Florettes today, picked some out, tried to identify them. Guess the Texas ones look a little bit different. I’m going to use your cleaning method, warm to hot water salt and swish around. Next fall are use BT. Enjoyed your post, not sure how I found it, but intend to sign up with my email address. I’m a novice gardener

    1. If I remember correctly, there are a couple different butterfly species that are happy to feed on cabbage family plants, although I’ve only seen the one type in our area. The salty Jacuzzi option works with most insect hitchhikers.

  5. Used netting for the first time. No cabbage moth, no green bugs. A few snails got into the leaves but not one green worm anywhere near the broccoli head so far !! Very happy!

  6. We have a small fish tank at home, and our fish LOVE these juicy green treats. So whenever I find them in my broccoli, I drop them into the fish tank and they are instantly devoured. We also feed them any mosquitoes we catch sneaking into our home.

  7. What is “stressed broccoli”? I bought some 2X2 plants at a local nursery I trust & finally got broccoli to grow this year. When it was just starting to produce heads I found a few green caterpillars on on so diligently removed all I could find. It was the only of 4 plants. Later I transferred them into our new raised bed w/ great soul-(no chemicals) & I picked one the other day cause it was bolting. I didn’t have time to prepare so laid them in frig. Next day I picked it up & saw several little caterpillars! I cleaned it & found more!! There was no visible sign initially, so now I’m grossed out! I cut the florets off the 3 that looked “bolts”-I hope to clean & eat them but I’m a bit nervous. I sprayed the 4th & other 3 plants with water, vinegar & soap. (?) will the caterpillars invade rest of our raised bed?

    1. Stressed broccoli is a broccoli plant that is under stress.

      This stress can be caused by bad weather (too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry – dry and hot tend to be worse than wet and cold) or other factors, like a lack of nutrients in the soil or transplanting.

      I would never recommend moving a broccoli plant after it started making a head. They should only be transplanted when small. Also, even if the plants are small, if they are badly root bound (roots circling tightly in the pot) they will likely fail to thrive. Odds are if the plants were moved after they had started to make heads, they will be unlikely to make any significant heads – they will bolt instead.

      The worms hide amazingly well – and yes, if they are on one or more plants, they will likely spread (the butterflies will lay more eggs and make more babies). I know they’re creepy, but you know for certain that your veggies support life, unlike chemical coated veggies. They’ve also been eating a gourmet vegetarian diet (your broccoli), so they taste like broccoli.

  8. I just started growing broccoli this year, and the first bunch I picked I used this trick and got a few worms – my second bunch I picked haven’t had any worms yet so my question is are there always worms in every bunch of broccoli?

    1. No, there aren’t always worms in the broccoli. For instance, fall grown broccoli tends to have fewer worms, because it can be too cold for the cabbage butterflies. Stressed plants also tend to have more worms.

  9. I had wormy corn last week…I soaked it in vinegar water after I thought I had them all…There were 3 more that crawled out and died in the water…Glad I soaked them.

  10. It doesn’t have to be hot water and salt , I do it with cold water and alot of salt it always worked for me . We grow broccoli for a few years and that’s the way I did it.

  11. I used to work in the fast food world when I was a teen and they had broccoli on their salad bar. This is the exact way I was taught to rid the broccoli of the worms 30+ years ago!

    1. Typically, you only see worms in organically grow broccoli, and then only sometimes, depending on conditions. I’d rather know my broccoli is safe for bugs (and me) to eat than to have it sprayed with so many pesticides that nothing wants to eat it.

      Fall grown broccoli tends to have less worm issues.

      1. I’m in the UK and was forced to pick my cauliflower earlier than I would have due to it being infested with caterpillars. When I washed them, using hot water and salt, some were still securely attached to the florets. Is there a way to loosen them up better (and I don’t mean by giving them a massage – they’re too comfortable on my veggies already!).

        Looking forward to suggestions.

        1. If relaxing them doesn’t work, blasting them with water is another option, either via the hand sprayer (if your sink has one) or faucet. A quick blanch will kill them, then you can rinse the florets and proceed with other recipes.

          1. Thanks for the reply.

            Unfortunately, I tried everything you suggested and some of them still were ‘glued’ to the veg by their back end. I’m just going to try prevention methods from now on to stop the adults from laying their eggs in the first place. I hadn’t realised that there were some large caterpillars in the cauliflower, so it was not a very nice sight seeing them floating like seaweed when I gave them a sal water and vinegar bath. Prevention is better than cure, as they say!

          2. Boosting your soil health may also help. The more healthy and vigorous your plants, the less they tend to be bothered by pests.

            The worst infestations I ever had were the first year we broke ground for our garden. The worms were thick. Since then, we get a few, but never as bad as you’re describing, and I don’t cover the plants at all.

  12. So you say your porcupine came out tough? Think pot roast, i.e. braise it. Porcupine, and probably old geese, will come out perfectly tender.
    I grew up in Cambridge, Vermont. There were so many porcupines that the town center (Jeffersonville) put a bounty on them. After you dispatched the porcupine, you snipped off its ears for the 15 cents a pair bounty. The town clerk wouldn’t touch the ears. She also didn’t know that if you pinched the belly skin, lifted, twisted and snipped … you could get about a dozen “ears” off of one porcupine. Maybe she did know!

  13. Since I have made a frame and covered my broccoli and cauliflower garden beds with
    Pest Net, or Pest Screen, provides cover protection for the plants. It is a physical barrier that stops many pests.

    It has the following properties:

    1. It is made from HDPE and UV stablised.
    2. Non-toxic and no smell
    3. Strech resistent
    4. Heat resistent
    5. Water resistent
    6. Erosion resistent
    7. Light weight
    8. Normal life span 3-5years.

    I haven’t had any grubs on my vegetables. It is also great for tomatoes and corn as the wind pollinates the flowers – no insects required. Haven’t had to spray anything toxic. great value

    1. WOW! I would love to see pictures of your garden bed covered as you described. Chemicals cause more problems than they ‘solve’. This is one of those, “…now why didn’t I think of that?” kind of ideas. Thanks for sharing!
      BTW, I’ve been washing all my veggies in a solution of cold water and white vinegar. Fast and easy the worms simply drop without having to shake them down.

      1. Grow broccoli in the colder weather. As long as you don’t get snow. Here in NZ the broccoli grows better in winter I find No butterflies around then

  14. My one plant has a infestations of these warms they are everywhere on one plant out of six plants. What best way to get rid of them? Do I just pick them all off? Please help,first year growing broccoli.

    1. Your broccoli will be more likely to get worms and be badly damaged by worms if the plants are stressed. Make sure your plants have plenty of nitrogen. You can top dress the soil with composted manure or compost, and/or feed with fish emulsion, compost tea or weed tea to strengthen the plants.

      To deal directly with the worms, hand picking is the most reliable non-toxic method, but it’s time consuming. Dusting the plants with food grade DE (Diatomaceous Earth) will decrease the number of worms because the sharp edges of the powder cut up the worm’s underbelly. Be careful not to breathe the DE, as it’s not good for your lungs for the same reason.

      You can also try Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) sprays, which can be found online or at many gardening centers. These sprays will kill all caterpillars that are exposed to them, so use sparingly.

  15. I was thinking about signing up for your newsletter but I don’t want to get bombed by a bunch of spam mail or any offers from other sites ,is this what will happen if I signup or just your newsletter coming my way ????

  16. My mom used salt water to get worms off plants. She also sifted flour on vegetables instead of bug spray. The worms would eat the flour, swell up, and explode. I don’t think it works on all worm types, but I remember her doing this on cauliflower and possibly broccoli.

      1. I wonder if this is due to the round-up ready corn. The glyphosate (sp?) makes the bugs’ intestines explode (or something like that). I was thinking this because regular wheat, non- organic, is harvested with glyphosphate (round up). Perhaps, that is why the wheat works as well (to kill the bugs).

        1. That could have something to do with it now, sicne they have been finding glyphosate residue in many products, but if her mom was using this method years earlier, then it was probably simply because it was so dry.

        2. Why would a herbicide kill caterpillars? Makes no sense. Plus, from wheat farmers I know, most wheat is harvested without spraying it with RoundUp. RoundUp is expensive. They avoid using it as much as possible. Same for insecticides.

          Consider that this article is coming from Farm Babe and that she is usually critical of standard agricultural practices.

    1. I might need to try that. My wife wanted me to plant brocali for her. The worms are wreaking havoc on them.

  17. Great post! Definitely using your tips next time. BTW-my chickens would have feasted well on your pile of worms!

  18. One year they were really bad, I did the salt water sdoak, but still found a few in the blanching water. I did the best I could to get them out and then blended the broccoli and called it “Cream of Catapiller Soup”…No one thought it was funny!

    1. I have borage all over my garden, including in and around the broccoli. The cabbage butterflies just laugh, but the bees sure enjoy it. For the bunnies, try strong scented herbs like catnip and other mints, or cats themselves (or dogs).

  19. This is how I’ve done it for many years except I’ve always used COLD salt water. (the salt will dissolve even in cold water if you swish it around) I do also put a plate and weight (say bowl of water) on top to keep the broccoli fully submerged so the critters can’t crawl to safety.

    And, if you don’t catch all the worms…. it’s nice that they turn nicely tan in the blanching process and the broccoli turns bright green. B-)

    1. That reminds me of a funny story a friend told me. She was visiting an older male relative, and he was blanching broccoli for freezing. He said he didn’t understand why people talked about worms in their broccoli, because he NEVER had any in his. I’m not sure if he was color blind or perhaps his vision wasn’t as sharp as it may have once been, but as he’s telling her there are no worms in his broccoli, she’s spotting an assortment of them floating at the top of the blanching water. Since she didn’t want to be impolite and contradict him, she was trying to casually nab the worms out of the boiling water while he wasn’t watching. I think she avoided eating broccoli there after that.

  20. Does this also work for Cabbage? I’ve seen little green worms on my kale (with wasps buzzing happily around every day) but I might not know if they are in my Cabbage until I pick – hoping this will be useful with cabbage also!

  21. I just harvested my first broccoli cooked it up and the realized the worms. Cold water soak afterwards removed them too. I may have eaten one though. Also do you have a post on growing broccoli? Like when to pick and where to cut?

    1. No, I haven’t done a broccoli post yet, but I did snap some photos and could probably put one together. You want to pick when the buds are still tight and deep green. If they are loose, starting to open or turning into flowers, your broccoli is overripe. Cut just below the head, and many varieties will produce side shoots. Nutribud is one of my favorites.

  22. Love this post, although the worms are gross, lol. I can’t believe your sister ate one, yuck!
    I love the new header on the site too. looks good.

    1. It was hilarious! We made up broccoli for lunch and hadn’t bothered soaking it because I hadn’t seen many butterflies around, and she spotted a worm in the broccoli on her plate.

      First, she picked out and tried to find a spot to put it to the side, but she had grabbed a small plate and there was no room. Instead, she just shakes her head and says, “It won’t kill me!”, puts it back on her broccoli and eats it. I guess a little cabbage worm is nothing to someone who’s cooked porcupine. My sis can make nearly anything into a meal, but the porcupine was beyond even her skills. She slow roasted it for hours, but it still tasted like shoe leather.

      1. <porcupine was beyond even her skills. She slow roasted it for hours, but it still tasted like shoe leather.

        LOL–Well, thanks for saving me the trouble!

        1. I would also suggest avoiding very old, mean ganders. We had an on old African gander who could no longer service the geese in the flock, and attacked anyone who turned their back on him. Mom got tired of being attacked (plus we needed to introduce a new gander to get baby geese), so into the roasting pan he went. Again, hours of roasting, and he was still inedible. I was pretty young when this happened, and at first I couldn’t eat him because I was crying. (He was mean, but he was a fixture on the farm.) Then I couldn’t eat him because he was impossible to chew. Mr. Pupper got a special treat that night.

  23. Wow…good to know,although I don’t grow my own ,is it necessary to do that with store bought broccoli ??

    1. Most store broccoli has been treated in some fashion to get rid of any worms before it gets to you. Exactly how it’s treated, I can’t verify, but I’ve never encountered a worm on anything but fresh, local broccoli and related crops.

      1. I’m a CDM (Certified Dietary Manager) I have managed this kitchen for 9 yrs. It is a critical care hospital in a rural area. So I order from a produce company once a week. All our vegetables and fruit we wash in a strainer with just cold water. Last week an employee found a small live worm in a piece of broccoli from our salad bar. I’ve never had this happen before. Apologies & money returned. Been doing research on this matter.
        My dietary unit & myself were reported on our company’s SAFE Program. Now I have to have a resolution for this pkt.
        Any comments or literature would be awesome.
        Thank you

        1. The soak methods I’ve presented above are what I and my friends use. I’ve never seen any professional documentation on the subject.

          Most commercial crops are so heavily treated with pesticides that the worms don’t survive, so it’s likely that the broccoli you received was actually safer for those in the hospital because it wasn’t coated in chemicals. I do understand that it looks unappetizing to many, and appreciate your concerns with food safety. My only additional suggestion would be to pair one of the warm water soaks of the chopped broccoli with a high pressure wash. (Maybe the sink has a hand sprayer or the tap could be turned on high?) Cutting the broccoli before washing should minimize hiding spaces, and the pressure wash should help dislodge any stragglers.