The Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable closely related to the carrot. It is a biennial plant usually grown as an annual, and a favorite with gardeners in areas with short growing seasons. Parsnips are grown for their fleshy, edible, cream-colored taproots that are generally smooth and cylindrical.
Parsnips need to be planted in sandy, loamy soil because they produce short, forked roots in heavy soils, clay and/or stony soils. The viability of Parsnip seed significantly deteriorates if stored too long, so it is advisable to use fresh seed each year. Seeds can be planted in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked in the garden.
Harvesting can begin in late fall after the first frost, and continue through winter. The foliage dies back, so it is best to mark each row. Parsnips are winter-hardy vegetables, and colder soil temperatures enhance their flavor since some of the carbohydrates stored in the roots convert to sugars.
Parsnips can be used much the same as carrots, but they have a sweeter taste, especially when cooked. They can also be eaten raw, or baked, boiled, pureed, roasted, fried or steamed. When used in stews, soups and casseroles, they add a rich flavor. Parsnips are high in vitamins – especially the B-group – and in minerals – especially potassium. They also contain dietary fiber and antioxidants.