Friday, January 29, 2016


Pastinaca sativa is the scientific name for parsnips. 

Similar to carrots, parsnips are biennial. They grow a deep root and green tops the first year. The second year, parsnips flower and seed before dying away. 

Looks like parsnip consumption is unusually beneficial to human health! The post below is from Organic Facts:

Parsnips have been welcome in our gardens off and on for many years. Parsnip seed germination, however, has been challenging... until the last few years, that is.

Let's dive right into the WHEN and HOW of growing parsnips.


Mid-April is a reasonable time to begin preparation so that parsnip starts will be ready to go outdoors into the ground early in May. 

It is best, but not necessary, to prepare your outdoor bed for parsnips sometime in fall for planting the next spring. Whether prepping the soil in fall or spring, lightly enrich the soil for the parsnips. Hopefully, your soil already has plenty of sand included. If your soil is about 1/3 sand, it will promote good drainage and good passage for growing roots.                                       
Expect to spend at least a day on this project. Any fall day will do, but pick a day around mid-April if doing this in spring.                                                                     
  • Gather some of the loose seaweed mix from the high tide line of a beach. As with carrots, it is best to go lightly with the nitrogen in your parsnip bed. Too much nitrogen, such as overdoing chicken manure or herring eggs, will result in hairy looking, forked roots. So, include very little, if any, herring eggs in the seaweed you gather.              
  • Spread the seaweed mix on top of your intended parsnip row.                                                                                     
  • If you have some totally decomposed organic matter, spread a little evenly over the top of your seaweed covered parsnip row.                                                     
  • Mix all of this new top layer into the soil underneath with a shovel or rototiller.                                                      
  • If possible, cover the prepared row with a tarp. This will help to warm the soil and promote decomposition of added nutrients.

Mid-April is not only when you want to have your outdoor garden bed  primed for growing parsnips, it is also when you need to get the parsnip seeds going indoors. If you haven't yet purchased your seeds, here are some varieties that have done well in our gardens:

Notice the wet seeds to the left of each seed packet???

Yes, wet seeds. A parsnip seed is more reluctant to germinate than the average seed. You will get advice from some seed companies and websites encouraging you to soak parsnip seeds in a container of room temperature water overnight before planting. That proved to be good advice. But, in my experience, it did not improve germination enough. 

A little more research led to another step.

Parsnip seeds take an average of three weeks to germinate if kept comfortably warm and moist. So, let's make them comfortable! 
After soaking the seeds overnight, moisten a paper towel. Spread the paper towel on top of a glass or plastic plate. 
Spread the wet seeds out over the wet paper towel.

Slide the plate inside a plastic bag. I use clear plastic so I can watch what is going on and to allow light to enhance germination. Leave the plastic bag open a little so air can circulate.

Set each covered plate somewhere noticeable in your home so you don't forget about it. Check every few days to be sure the paper towel and seeds are moist. Spray or sprinkle water on the seeds whenever they are not looking moist.

After a couple of weeks, you will see little plants beginning to sprout from the seeds!

The wet seedlings are difficult to handle. I grabbed some tweezers for use when I need to transport individual sprouted seeds.

Most of the parsnip seeds will sprout by the end of week three. Time to go outdoors and uncover the row of soil you prepared for your parsnips! Before planting the tiny parsnips, turn or rototill the soil in the parsnip row once again to make it light and fluffy. 

Shovel the prepared soil into a nice, raised row or bed.

When you are satisfied with the look of the raised bed, using your finger, gently press indentations of 1/2 to 1 inch into the soil. They should be about 4 inches apart. One sprouted seed needs to be placed in each indentation. Use tweezers or something similar, if available.

When all of the little starts are placed in an indentation, gently water with a hose while the little starts are still exposed. Here is how a sprout looked after the gentle watering:

Sprinkle about 1/2 inch of fine soil or sand on top of each little start. 
When this is accomplished, gently water the entire row again. 

Cover with a floating row cover. 

Water gently every few days, if it is not raining, with the floating row cover in place.

After a week or two, lift the floating row cover and check the growth. 

All of that preparation resulted in success!!!

A closer look:


Life with parsnips is pretty simple once you get the seeds going and out into the ground. 

For the remainder of the summer, and well into fall, the floating row cover is removed temporarily a few times for weeding. 

The parsnips are watered well about once each week, if it is not raining. Remember, no need to remove the floating row cover to water.

Let's pull the floating row cover back and have a look after our first hard frost: 

The frost causes the starches in parsnips to change into sugars. The change in flavor is remarkable! The parsnips are ready for harvest. Dig some up! We use a pitch fork to get deep under the roots to lift them out without damage.

Parsnips will grow quite large, but the best flavor and texture  are enjoyed with medium-sized roots. Parsnips tend to get a little woody when super-sized. But, no problem! Simply cut out the woody center. The remainder is just fine!


After digging up your parsnips, rinse well.

You will need to scrub them well or peel.

With a somewhat sweet flavor, parsnips taste great when grated into salads and slaws. Grate fine or coarse.

Parsnips combine well with other vegetables for mashing... with potatoes, cauliflower, leeks and more. Might be best to steam the parsnips separately because they cook up faster than you think... especially if you chop or grate them first.

Or, steam and mash parsnips on their own. Add a little butter, salt, pepper, milk and parmesan cheese. Yum.

Chop or grate parsnips and add them to soups, stews or stir fries. Parsnips add wonderful flavor to lamb stew. 

I really enjoy parsnips in a hot, creamy soup in winter.

                                       PARSNIP AND LEEK SOUP

3 tablespoons butter or olive oil
4 medium-sized parsnips, grated
2 large or 4 medium sized leeks, chopped
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup milk
salt and pepper
crumbled bacon
  • At the bottom of a medium-sized soup pot, melt the butter at medium heat. 
  • Once melted, add the parsnips and leeks. 
  • Stir regularly until the parsnips and leeks have softened. This will take maybe 10 minutes.
  • Add the broth, turn up the heat to high and bring to a boil. 
  • Lower the temperature and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let it sit about 10 minutes to cool down a little.
  • Blend in a blender until creamy. It will need to be done a little at a time. Pour pureed soup back into the pot.
  • When it all has been blended and returned to the pot, add the milk and heat at lowest temperature. If it seems too thick, add more broth or milk. 
  • Salt and pepper to taste. Some people like it hot and stir in a little cayenne pepper sauce. Maybe try this in your own bowl rather than the whole pot!
  • Once it is warmed up plenty, serve in bowls.
  • Sprinkle crumbled bacon on top. (Chives work well, too).
  • Serve with toasted, crusty bread spread with your favorite pesto!

Roasted parsnips are delicious.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Scrub or peel the parsnips... how many depends on how many people. Maybe one or two medium sized parsnips per person.
  • Remove woody core if the parsnips are large.
  • Cut the parsnips into pieces about 3" by about 1/2".
  • In a large bowl, stir the parsnip pieces around in one or two tablespoons of olive oil. Stir until the parsnips are well coated with the oil.
  • Place the parsnip pieces in a single layer on a cookie or baking sheet.
  • Sprinkle with salt, pepper and any other seasoning you like.
  • Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the parsnips over. Roast another 15 minutes once turned.
  • Enjoy!

Parsnips can be peeled, grated and added to baked goods much like carrots. 
Martha Stewart provides a delicious recipe for  
                      SPICED PARSNIP CUPCAKES

1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon ground cardamom*** or pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups grated parsnips
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Whisk together flour, cardamom, baking powder and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together brown sugar, eggs, oil, two teaspoons vanilla and parsnip.
  • Stir the first mixture into the second mixture.
  • Place 12 muffin liners in a muffin pan. 
  • Divide the batter equally among 12 liners.
  • Bake 20 minutes.
  • Cool cupcakes on a wire rack.
  • When the cupcakes have cooled, use a mixer and beat together the cream cheese, butter, confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. 
  • Spread the frosting on the cooled cupcakes.
***Cardamom has such a unique flavor! The flavor is especially fresh and true if using seeds still in the pod rather than previously ground seeds. I like to double the amount in the recipe. Break open 20 seed pods and shake out the seeds. Grind the seeds fine in a mini coffee grinder, or something similar.

Have you ever juiced parsnips????? Give it a try! 
Juice parsnips on their own or added in when juicing other fruits and vegetables.


  1. I have never been a big fan of parsnips in the past, but your post makes me want to give them another try. I think getting them past that first freeze may make all the difference!

    1. Hi Jennifer. Yes, harvesting after fall frost and finding good recipes won us over! If you grow parsnips, I hope it turns out to be worthwhile. Happy Gardening!