The parsnip (botanical name, Pastinaca sativa) is basically a root vegetable having close relation to carrot. Although parsnips have a resemblance to carrot, they have a lighter hue compared to carrots, but a sweeter flavor, particularly after they are cooked. In fact, the cooked flavor of mature parsnips is buttery, somewhat spicy and sweet that makes one recall the taste of honey, butterscotch and delicate cardamom. Usually, parsnips are harvested after the first frost of the season is over. Similar to carrots, parsnips are also indigenous to Eurasia and have been consumed by people since prehistoric times.
Initially, the size of fully grown parsnip was that of a baby carrot. However, as the Romans extended their empire northwards through Europe, they carried the parsnip along with them. To their astonishment, the Romans discovered that the parsnip grew bigger in size when the plant was grown in places farther north where they extended their empire.
A biannual plant, the parsnip has a chunky root, simple or somewhat branched having a white or yellowish hue. The fleshy tissue of the root is juicy and has a particular taste. The leaves of this herb are glossy on one side, while the other side is distended. Compared to the leaves of carrot or parsley, the leaves of the parsnip are larger in size.
Although parsnip can be consumed in its raw state, generally they are served after cooking. Parsnips can be consumed in various forms – you can boil them, roast them, or use them in soups, stews and casseroles. Occasionally, solid parts of boiled parsnip are removed from stews or soups, which leave behind a delicate flavor compared to using the entire root. In addition, they add starch to the dish making it thicker. It may be noted that in a number of regions inhabited by English-speaking people, roasted parsnip is deemed to be an indispensable part of Christmas dinner and it is often included in the customary Sunday Roast. In addition, you may also fry parsnips or make them into a crunchy edible item.
The nutritional benefits offered by parsnip are similar to those of potatoes. However, there are a number of notable dissimilarities, including the fact that they provide lesser calories and enclose just about 50 per cent of vitamin C and protein contained by potatoes. Nevertheless, compared to potatoes, parsnips enclose more fiber. While parsnips as well as potatoes offer significant quantities of B vitamins, parsnips actually are a superior source of folic acid.
Parsnip is often prescribed to cure kidney ailments, as well as to regulate fatness and cellulite (lumpy fat accumulation, particularly in the buttocks and thighs). Consuming parsnip in the form of a food is beneficial for people who are enduring anemia or asthenia (debility). In addition, parsnip is also recommended for treating convalescence conditions as well as for promoting growth.
Parsnips enclose natural sugars that give the vegetable a sugary flavor. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, people in England used parsnips in the form of a sweetmeat by adding honey and spices to it. In addition, they cooked the thick root of the plant and served it as a vegetable. In parsnips, carbohydrates are stored as natural sugars. This is something different from potatoes, wherein carbohydrate comprises 90 per cent starch. In effect, compared to carrots, parsnips are considered to be sweeter, as nearly three fourth of the sugar enclosed by parsnips is sucrose – the same sugar which is extracted from sugar cane. Comparatively, in carrots, sucrose forms just one third of the root vegetable’s sugar content. When sucrose is consumed in its natural form along with the parent plant, it is not harmful for our health.
Parsnips enclose a high level of soluble fiber and this is the reason why this root vegetable is a valuable element of a healthy diet for the heart as well as that for lowering blood cholesterol levels. At the same time, folic acid contained by parsnip is of immense benefit to pregnant women. In addition, it is believed that folic acid also helps in fighting dementia (serious loss of intellectual capacity), heart ailments and osteoporosis.
It is interesting to note that parsnips are also believed to enhance the functioning of the bronchial system and, hence, it might be especially beneficial for those enduring asthma. The diuretic and antioxidant actions of this root vegetable are attributed to the high amounts of vitamin and minerals enclosed by it. Hence, parsnip has been used in natural medicine for centuries to cure kidney ailments as well as for lessening fatness as well as cellulite.
As mentioned before, parsnip is an excellent natural resource of soluble fiber – the kind that facilitates in lowering cholesterol and, at the same time, maintains a healthy blood sugar level. In addition, parsnip is also a very good source of B vitamins and folic acid which women require during pregnancy to diminish the risk of certain incapacities/ disabilities. Parsnip possesses outstanding properties that help in augmenting bowel action and is extremely favorable for the liver. It may be noted that the mild diuretic action of parsnip leaves behind a limy ash in the body. During the Roman era, people believed that parsnip possessed aphrodisiac (arousing sexual desire) properties.
- Purchasing tips
- While buying parsnip you ought to go for the one that is shiny, compact and has a size approximately equal to that of an average carrot. If the parsnip is soft, often it is a sign of the vegetable beginning to rot, which may look like watery soft rot or gray mold. If the parsnip roots are large and coarse, their core is likely to be woody.
- Storage tips
- Generally, parsnips that are available in the market have their tops (leaves) removed. In case you buy parsnips that still have their tops, cut them prior to storing them to prevent the tops from extracting dampness from the roots. This way, you can store parsnips in a refrigerator for a few weeks.
- Cooking tips
- In order to get the complete flavor of parsnips, you need to steam them in their skins till they become soft. Subsequently, you may peel off the external skin and cut the parsnips along their length. In case the core of the parsnips is large, it is advisable to scoop it out using the point of a knife. On the other hand, if the parsnips are young, you may consume them raw.
Habitat and cultivation
As frost is essential to develop the flavor of parsnip, this root vegetable is generally not grown in places having warm climatic conditions. In fact, places where there are brief growing seasons, parsnips are popular among gardeners. This plant has a preference for sandy, loamy soil, while sedimentary, clay soil as well as mountainous soil is not suitable for growing this plant since when the plant is grown in these soils it produces small, forked roots. In addition, parsnip has a preference for flat ground and calcareous soil (soil containing calcium carbonate). Parsnips can be found growing along the sides of roads and even in high altitudes of 1600 meters. The parsnip plant bears flowers between June and August. It may be noted that only the roots of this plant are edible.
Parsnip can be propagated by its seeds, which may be sown during the early part of spring, immediately after the ground is prepared. Harvesting of the roots can start in the later part of fall following the first frost of the season, and continue throughout winter until the ground becomes frozen. Compared to most other vegetable seeds, the viability of the seeds of parsnip depreciates considerably when they are stored for a prolonged period. Hence, it is suggested that fresh parsnip seeds should be used every year to propagate the plant.
Larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species, counting its namesake – the parsnip swallowtail as well as the common swift, ghost moth and garden dart, use parsnip as a food plant.
Chemical analysis of parsnip has revealed that it is a very good natural resource of fiber, vitamin C, pantothenic acid, manganese and copper. In addition, parsnips are also an excellent source of thiamine, niacin, potassium and magnesium. This root vegetable also encloses significant amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin E, folic acid and riboflavin.
Side effects and cautions
While parsnip is used in a number of herbal formulations to cure several medical conditions, remedies prepared with this root vegetable need to be used with caution, as it encloses polyacetylenes that have demonstrated cytotoxic (any substance having toxic effects on specific cells) actions. People who are taking anti-cancer medications should be careful while taking remedies prepared with parsnip as this permutation is likely to result in chemical effects.
In addition, parsnip may also result in photosensitivity. Patients who are taking additional medications that result in sensitivity to light, for instance, St. John’s wort, should be cautious while taking parsnip as this mixture is likely to augment this adverse side effect of the herb.