Are parsnip greens edible

Produce Spotlight: The Ultimate Guide to Parsnips

Is that a white carrot? No it’s a parsnip! In this Ultimate Guide to Parsnips, we will get to the bottom of several common questions about this tasty root. Where do parsnip seeds come from? Can you freeze parsnips? How about eat parsnip leaves? What is healthy about parsnips? Get answers and recipes below.

Parsnip Origin and Growing Information

Where do parsnip seeds come from?

Parsnips root vegetables from the Apiaceae family which also includes carrots, celery, parsley, angelica and Queen Ann’d Lace. Parsnips do most of their growing underground. However, as they mature, they sprout tall, yellow flowers. They’re biennials so, in their second year planting they’ll produce seeds. The make yellow flowers which have papery seeds in them.

What is a wild parsnip and is it the same as the parsnip we eat?

Wild Parsnip is an invasive species, that is related to cultivated parsnips. They’re not the same though! If you’ve been to the northern part of the US or Canada in the summer, then you have likely seen them on the side of the road in meadows and fields. They can even survive as far south as Louisiana.They look like tall very robust Queen Anne’s Lace but their flowers are chartreuse green as opposed to white.

Wild Parsnip is thought to be native to Eurasia, and may be a mutation of a variety of cultivated parsnip. While the roots of wild parsnip are technically edible, their greens are toxic upon contact with human skin and cause burning and rashes, especially when exposed to sunlight.

One concern about Wild Parsnips is that it grows in dense stands that outcompete native plants when left unchecked. The average lifespan for a wild parsnip plant is about two years.

Cultivated parsnips, or those that we eat are different from wild parsnips. Even cultivated parsnips require gloves when handling the foliage, as handling the greens can cause allergic reactions.

When are parsnips in season? When should you harvest parsnips?

This hardy root is unique in that the colder the temperature, the sweeter and nutty its flavor becomes. Parsnips prefer the cold, which makes their season the late fall through late spring, depending on the region. They can even withstand being frozen. Here in Vermont, chefs actually seek out spring-dug parsnips because they are so sweet! This cream colored veg is slow to grow, and can take up to 130 days to mature. Patience is a virtue, especially when it means having fresh produce all winter long.

Cooking and Preparing Parsnips

Can you freeze parsnips?

Parsnips, as with many root vegetables are great storing-crops. They have a low water content, and once the greens are removed can be kept in a cool dry place (like a root cellar) for months. Freezing parsnips is a great way to preserve them for long term storage. The texture of the parsnips will be changed once they are frozen and thawed however. Use thawed parsnips for mashed parsnips or in soups and stews. Frozen parsnips cannot be roasted.

To freeze parsnips, peel and cut them into desired shapes. Blanch for 1 minute in lightly salted water. Shock in ice water, and drain well. Try to remove as much moisture from the outside of them by laying them out on a clean towel. Freeze them in a single layer on a sheet pan. Then transfer the frozen parsnips to a re-sealable freezer bag.

What is the best way to prepare parsnips?

Parsnip skin is not only slightly bitter, but is a little tough as well, so parsnips must be peeled. Occasionally, when parsnips are very mature the central core can also become fibrous, and can be cut out if desired. But usually that is not necessary. The best and easiest way to prepare parsnips is to roast them. Roasting brings out their natural sugars. You can even cut them into “strips” to make oven fries!

They are also wonderful when steamed and mashed as in the classic Irish side dish, Green White and Gold. I also like to mash them with potatoes, add them to gratins or just steam them and toss them with butter and herbs!

Parsnips are great in soups just like their relative the carrot. We also enjoy them cut into larger chunks and added to stews and braises.

Can you eat parsnip leaves?

Do not eat parsnip leaves. If they can burn your skin, you sure wouldn’t want to put it in your body, right?

Do parsnips go bad?

Yes parsnips can go bad. When they start to get brown mushy or slimy soft spots on the skin and around the top, throw them in the compost.

How do you cut a parsnip?

When I roast parsnips or braise them in a stew, I like to cut them with an oblique cut. See above. An oblique cut is a great way to yield relatively evenly sized pieces from heavily tapered parsnips. Meaning ones that are really fat at the top and skinny at the bottom.

You can also cut them just as you would a carrot. Besides removing the core (mentioned above) there is nothing different from working with carrots.

Nutrition of Parsnips

Are parsnips good for you?

Like many vegetables and root vegetables, parsnips are a powerhouse of fiber. Each ½ serving contains nearly 4 grams, or 15%, of your recommended daily fiber needs. Parsnips are a starchy vegetable, so they contain slightly more calories than non-starchy vegetables. For this reason, they make for a great side or hearty vegetable base to go with a meal. Parsnips are a great source of vitamin C to help you fend off cold and flu season. This tasty root is a great addition to a health-promoting diet that contains a variety of vegetables.

Are parsnips low FODMAP?

For those of you who are not familiar, a low FODMAP diet is commonly used to identify food sensitivity and to manage the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. “FODMAP” stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. Foods that contain high amounts of FODMAPs can be poorly digested in people with gut disorders. Luckily, parsnips are low FODMAP and typically easy to digest by all! Try using them as a low FODMAP alternative to mashed potatoes.

When should I introduce parsnip to my baby?

Once a baby is over six months old, it is safe and encouraged to start introducing them to solid foods. Mashed fruits and vegetables are a great place to start. It is perfectly safe and healthy for you baby to try parsnips when they are seven months old. Remember, it may take up to 15 exposures to a food for your little one to realize they enjoy the taste! Don’t get discouraged or defensive if they don’t like a food right away. Simply keep offering and see what happens. The best way to feed your child well is to offer a variety of health-promoting options.

Why are parsnips sometimes bitter?

As mentioned before, experiencing cold temperatures or a frost gives parsnips a sweet and nutty taste. Conversely, parsnips grown in warm temperatures can become bitterer, similar to arugula or other greens. If the bitter taste is off-putting to you, try buying or eating parsnip in the winter months and avoiding early or late season parsnips.

Parsnip Recipes

morning glory parsnip maple coffee cake

simple roasted parsnips

Mashed Carrots and Parsnips

parsnip, potato and leek gratin

chicken vegetable soup {paleo}

Michael Tortorello

Thinning plants is a job for the callous. The row of carrot greens in my vegetable garden, for example, was looking as crowded as the Hummel cabinet at auntie’s house. The carrots were not to blame for their predicament. Having failed extravagantly in my first round of sowing vegetables, I’d reseeded by the fistful. Now, a month later, the thriving greens were competing for space, sun, and probably some basic dignity. Dozens of carrots had a date with the reaper—or, to be less dramatic about it, a pinch of the thumb.

And so I went to work, plucking this plant and sparing that one. I endeavored to leave the tall and robust plants and disinter the short and spindly ones. Like it or not, I fear, a eugenicist lurks in the heart of every gardener.

After decimating the Danvers carrots I moved onto detangling the rows of beets, turnips, and American rapa (a mild cousin to the collard green). Thirty minutes later I had a fistful of leaves and greens as big and floppy as a mop. I began to schlep them over to the compost bin when I experienced one of those flashes of raw genius that has characterized the human animal over the millennia: I could eat the plants in my vegetable garden.

The mixed greenery filled the biggest salad bowl in the kitchen and I topped it with a cup of fresh raspberries from a snarl of stalks in the backyard. How did it taste, this first morsel of food from the Starter Garden? It tasted good. The rapa leaves were pliable and carried the faint funk of a Brussels sprout. The immature carrot greens were cheerfully bitter—say, like a $150 million Powerball winner paying his tax bill.

If you can’t quite taste that simile on your tongue, here’s another adjective I could use to describe those carrot greens: toxic.

That’s what I learned when I called Judith Sumner, author of “American Household Botany” and a faculty member at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain, Mass. I wanted to ask what other edible greens might be hiding out in my vegetable patch. Ms. Sumner, while no scaremonger, was something less than encouraging. “I wouldn’t just go outside and look in the garden when everything is lush and green, and take something back home and eat it,” she said.

Times Topics
Gardening Resources

The New York Times offers a list of resources for people who are pointing their green thumbs outdoors and tending their gardens.

  • Gardens and Gardening
  • Organic Gardening
  • Composting
  • Fertilizer

A carrot top, apparently, is not a laughing matter. They contain alkaloids, Ms. Sumner explained, a group of organic compounds that includes caffeine, cocaine, and strychnine. These are substances that even culinary thrill-seekers might not want in their salad. “Effects range from slightly elevated blood pressure, and slightly elevated alertness and heartbeat, all the way to death,” Ms. Sumner said.

The young greens I’d ingested may have been harmless, Ms. Sumner said. I was talking to her the next day on the phone, after all, and I was mostly making sense. But a few of the carrot’s close relatives are not to be trusted. Dribble the juice from a parsnip stalk on your hand, for instance, and a phytophototoxin called furocoumarin will blister the skin in sunlight.

The wild carrot named Queen Anne’s lace could cause even graver reactions. Belying the innocuous appearance of its “tiny little flowers,” Ms. Sumner explained, Queen Anne’s lace “has gotten quite a lot of attention in the history of medicine. Plants like those were used to control population growth.” In bald terms, Ms. Sumner meant that Queen Anne’s lace is a potent abortifacient.

The carrot, it turns out, has more creepy relatives than Wednesday and Pugsley Addams. Poison hemlock and water hemlock could claim a picnic table at the Apiaceae family reunion, along with tamer plants, such as parsley, fennel, and coriander. In fact, Ms. Sumner said, there isn’t a handy rule for determining which plants are edible.

“Twenty percent of all flowering plants produce alkaloids,” she explained. “I would say look in a cookbook. Do what others before you have done and then lived.”

The carrots were looking unruly again the next afternoon when I paced the garden, and I felt an urge to tidy up. Somewhere in the brain, the compulsion to thin plants must be related to fingernail biting and trichotillomania. But I remembered how those toxic carrot tops had gone easy on me in my salad. For a few days, I thought, I ought to return the favor.

Now that’s a parsnip! When you plant them and when you pull them up  is crucial to the size, texture and flavour of this delicious winter veggie, says Monty Don 

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Laurie Constantino

Cow Parsnips Ready for Harvest. Photograph by Laurie Constantino

Young cow parsnips shoots and leaves have wonderful flavor. When prepared correctly, they’re a highly desirable wild edible.

I can hear the groans now. “Cow parsnip is a horrible plant.” “I’m allergic to cow parsnip.” “Cow parsnip stinks.” “Cow parsnip is the curse of the trail.” “Avoid it at all costs.” All of this is true.

If you’d asked me a couple weeks ago about eating cow parsnip, I would have said nix, nein, no, huh-uh. It turns out, when I gave it a chance, cow parsnip tastes really good. Desirably good. Worth the effort to find and harvest good. At least, fresh shoots do. I’m not experienced enough to render an opinion on more mature specimens. Not yet, anyway. I’ll keep trying them and reporting back as summer progresses.

Cow parsnip (aka Heracleum maximum, Indian Celery, or Pushki) isn’t like garden parsnips, though is a member of the same family. The good news is it’s edible and tastes good. The bad news is cow parsnip sap and outer hairs contain a chemical called furanocoumarin. When combined with sunlight, furanocoumarin can cause severe blistering, pain, and burning. I once got a bad cow parsnip burn that left me susceptible to bad reactions even on overcast days. I’ve spent years staying as far away from cow parsnip as possible.

Despite my aversion, I’ve known for years that cow parsnip is edible and have grown increasingly curious about its flavor. I often get asked about it when teaching wild edibles classes or leading plant walks. This year I resolved to overcome cow parsnip phobia. It’s lushly green and vital, grows in wild abundance, and is obviously easy to harvest and clean. I proceeded, but with caution.

Cut cow parsnip stalk below the plant’s base. Photograph by Laurie Constantino

Gloves are an absolute necessity when harvesting and handling cow parsnip to prevent furanocoumarin from touching bare skin. For the same reason, I also recommend wearing long sleeves and covering legs. Harvest cow parsnip when it’s 6”-8” high. Use scissors or a knife and cut shoots as far underground as is necessary to harvest the entire shoot, including the shoot’s white underground portion.

Three Ways of Harvesting Cow Parsnip; cuttings all taken from same plant on same day. Clockwise from Bottom Left: Leaves only, leaves and above ground stem, leaves and below ground stem. The below ground stem has the best flavor, so should always be harvested. Photograph by Laurie Constantino

Many field guides warn against confusing edible cow parsnip with poison water hemlock. Although both plants have big white flower heads, in all other respects they seem very different to me. Nonetheless, before harvesting cow parsnip (or any other wild plant), be familiar with the characteristics of all similar plants. Only eat plants you can positively identify, and always remember the most important rule of foraging: “When in doubt, throw it out.”

My first cow parsnip harvest was only a few shoots. This is the best practice with any new-to-you plant, wild or not, to make sure you like it and it agrees with you. I blanched them in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, and then tossed the cooked greens with finely diced onions and soy sauce. This was very tasty and, more importantly, didn’t make me sick.

Washed cow parsnip ready for trimming tough or damaged stems, leaves, roots. Photograph by Laurie Constantino

With edibility and palatability confirmed, I returned to the fields and harvested a giant mound of cow parsnip shoots. Back at home, I let them soak for 30 minutes in a sink full of cold water laced with 1 cup vinegar. Doing so kills lingering bacteria, especially important when harvesting in areas where animals, wild and domestic, may have been (in other words, pretty much everywhere in Alaska).

Breaking Down Cow Parsnips. Clockwise from flowers: Whole cow parsnip shoots, leaves only, base of stems only, debris from cleaning cow parships. Photograph by Laurie Constantino.

I

F

First, I used whole cow parsnip shoots to make traditional Greek Horta, boiled greens dressed with olive oil and lemon, one of my favorite salads. Since cow parsnip leaves are tender compared to the bulbous leaf “bud” at the base of each stalk, I also treated some leaves and stalks separately. With leaves only, I made cow parsnip chips, using a simple kale chip recipe. With the multi-layered leaf buds, I roasted them as I’d roast asparagus.

All three versions were wonderful. Worried I’d gone so far over to the dark side that I falsely believed cow parsnip was delicious, I brought some to my dentist appointment for everyone there to taste. Before I said what they were eating, the dentist and his staff tasted all three versions, and really liked them. When I disclosed they were exclaiming about the deliciousness of cow parsnip, all were impressed and amazed. More importantly, everyone kept eating and wanted me to leave the leftovers for them to finish.

Cow Parsnip Horta Salata. Photograph by Laurie Constantino

Today’s recipe is for Greek Wild Greens with Lemon Dressing made with cow parsnip. I’ll post recipes for Oven-roasted Cow Parsnip and Cow Parsnip Chips in the next couple days. Try them all! Who knows, you might throw off the reins off loathing and join my ranks as a cow parsnip lover!

I’m curious if any readers have cooked with cow parsnip and, if so, how they were prepared? Did you like them? Right now, I have access to more cow parsnip than we could ever eat. I know I’m going to use them, along with other wild greens, to make Hortopita (think Spanakopita made with wild greens). Does anyone have any suggestions or requests for new cow parsnip dishes? I’m ready and happy to keep experimenting, so all suggestions welcome.

Harvesting Cow Parsnip in Anchorage, Alaska. Notice the dried out hollow stems from last year’s cow parsnip plants. Photograph by Laurie Constantino

Parsnips Delicious, But Greens Can Burn

Parsnip greens can cause a chemical burn when they react with skin and sunlight. Credit Elspeth Hay

Many farmers think of parsnips as an underappreciated vegetable—they’re sweet, tasty, and they store well. But this week on the Local Food Report, Elspeth Hay learns that growing them isn’t as easy as it seems—and that other wild relatives may pose a risk as well.

Listen Listening… / 4:11 Elspeth Hay learns about a curious incident involving a farmer and a dangerous row of parsnips.

EH: Recently at the farmers market I ran into my friend Drake Cook, they’re a farmer in Truro. Drake had small but noticeable burn marks all over their arms, and I asked Drake what had happened.

DC: The burn is called phytophotodermatitis.

EH: So this is something that I’ve never heard of before. You were burned by a parsnip.

DC: Yeah, it’s a chemical burn, and it’s any plant in the apiaceae family, which is all those umbel plants, dill…

EH: Umbel?

DC: Umbrella form. So if you see Queen Anne’s Lace, that’s an umbel, and that’s actually wild carrot. And parsnip has a wild variety, wild parsnip, which looks pretty much like Queen Anne’s lace, sharper leaves, and yellow flowers instead of white, and those ones are really poisonous.

EH: This is a lot to absorb. I’ve been walking around my backyard for years bumping into Queen Anne’s lace and who knows what else in the apiaceae plant family. I asked Drake— what does this mean for us as eaters and foragers and gardeners and how easy it is to get burned? Drake says whether or not phytophotodermatitis happens and how serious it is depends on a lot of factors.

DC: The burn only happens if the sap interacts with sunlight.

EH: Apparently the sap of both wild and domestic parsnips, celery, parsley, carrots, lemons, figs, limes, and a few other plants has chemical compounds called furanocoumarins. FURE ANNA COO MAR IN When you’re picking these plants or brushing up against them and you break the greens, the stalk oozes this chemical. And if the sun is strong, and it touches your skin while you’re outside, it triggers the reaction. At first the spot looks like a bruise and eventually it turns into blisters. People’s sensitivity to the compound varies. But for Drake, this year’s parsnips were a perfect storm.

DC: So this year I started them a lot earlier than in years past, so in August when I did my first harvest, they were a lot bigger than they usually are in August, so the sun was a lot stronger when I picked them, and the branches of the leaves were a lot more vigorous.

EH: The bigger the plants the more developed the compound and the stronger the sun, the stronger the burn. Needless to say Drake will be wearing full body gear from now on during parsnip harvests. But they say they’re not willing to stop growing them altogether—because despite the risk, there are so many wonderful things to do with parsnips.

DC: I like to cut them up in cubes and roast them with carrots and beets and other root vegetables, or I like to fry them up on the frying pan.

EH: I make a really good creamy parsnip soup—parsnips are peppery but when you roast them with maple syrup and puree them with chicken stock and a little bit of cream you get a slightly sweet and delicious soup.

DC: I have juiced them before and when you juice them they taste like eggnog, so if you’re looking for a vegan eggnog alternative this holiday season I suggest juiced parsnips.

Parsnips are full of surprises.

Drake Cook trimming parsnip greens. Credit Elspeth Hay

RECIPES

Creamy Maple Parsnip Bisque

This recipe comes from a version Elspeth found in Yankee Magazine about ten years ago. She’s adapted it slightly to take advantage of local ingredients, and it’s delicious on a cool fall day. This recipe makes a fairly big batch of soup and serves 8-10 people easily.

2 and 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and quartered

1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter

1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus extra to taste

1/2 cup maple syrup

up to 8 cups chicken stock

2 to 2 and 1/2 cups heavy cream

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the parsnips with the oil or melted butter, salt, and 1/4 cup maple syrup. Roast about 30 minutes, until parsnips are golden and tender. When the parsnips are done put them in a large soup pot. Add 5-6 cups chicken stock to start. Bring everything to a boil. Puree with an immersion blender, adding more stock as needed. (Remember, it’s easier to thin soup than thicken it, and you’re also going to add cream.) Add 2 cups cream and simmer another 10 minutes, adding more stock and/or cream as desired. Season with sea salt to taste and serve piping hot.

You can’t eat artichokes uncooked you say? Well actually you can—and I’d encourage it. So many vegetables get steamed or roasted rather than left in their natural state, even if they exhibit their best traits raw. Here are 12 vegetables to try uncooked:

Parsnips

Similar to carrots, raw parsnips are sweet and snappy. Use them on a crudite platter or shaved thin in a salad.

Brussels Sprouts

If you’re Brussels sprouts averse, give them a try raw. Shredded or shaved thin, they’re far from the boiled version you were forced to eat as a kid.

Sunchokes

Also known as Jerusalem artichokes, this tuber is great shaved and tossed in salads for added crunch.

Corn

When it’s at its peak of ripeness, corn can taste even sweeter raw than cooked. It’s a summer treat worth waiting for.

Beets

Raw beets are juicy, sweet, and extra crunchy. Slice them thin or shred them for slaws and salads.

Asparagus

Yes, asparagus is great roasted, but shave the stalks into thin strips and you’ve got the making of one light and fresh salad.

Bok Choy

We already sung the praises of raw bok choy, but it’s worth repeating here: it’s time you take it beyond stir-fries.

Kohlrabi

Whether you cut the vegetable into matchsticks or shave it thin, it adds crunch and mild spiciness.

Artichokes

Small baby artichokes are the best choice if you want to eat them raw, as they don’t have the inedible “choke” in the center that needs to scooped out. To prevent cut artichokes from browning, toss them in lemon juice.

Collard Greens

Like kale, raw collards are pleasantly hearty and dense when thinly sliced and tossed in a salad.

Celery Root

Shredded celery root has a mild celery flavor and is extra crispy, making it the perfect addition to coleslaw.

Zucchini

Thin slices of raw zucchini are pretty amazing on pizza. Or peel the vegetable into ribbons to use in salads and pasta.

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