Superfood 101: Parsnips!

Parsnips are a member of the family Apiaceae, commonly known as the carrot family, which contains ninety-one genera and includes parsnips or Pastinaca L. The plant originally was found from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus region of Asia and was cultivated from the wild parsnip. The Romans called the plant “pastinaca,” referring to both carrots and parsnips, and distributed the parsnip throughout Europe. The modern parsnip was illustrated in Germany in 1592 and was introduced to England at approximately the same time. English colonists brought the plant to America and began growing them in Virginia gardens by 1609. Parsnips found their way to Massachusetts by 1629 and the Native Peoples of New York began cultivating them. It is important to note that parsnips continue to grow in the wild and can be found growing along the roadside but are very similar to hemlock, a highly poisonous plant. Parsnips are a root vegetable that is well-suited to colder climates and they are available throughout the year with the peak season during the winter months. Parsnips can be stewed, boiled, roasted, made into chips, or used in soups and are a highly nutritional food that is grounding and balancing to Vata dosha.

Not only do parsnips survive cold weather, they actually need frost to develop their flavor. They are a biennial plant that grows to a height of approximately thirty-six inches and they have a strong scent. The flowers are small and symmetrical with five small sepals, five petals, and five stamens. The edible root is long and carrot-shaped, white in color, and grows to about twice the size of a carrot. After the first frost the starch in the root converts to sugar, giving the vegetable its unique, sweet flavor. Parsnips can be found in most supermarkets, health food stores, and produce markets, and are displayed with parsley root which is sold with the greens attached (while parsnips are usually sold by the root only). For optimum quality, purchase medium-sized roots that have a uniformly creamy beige skin—stay away from parsnips that are limp, pitted, or shriveled. To store parsnips, wrap them (unwashed) with a paper towel and place in a plastic bag. Store in the vegetable crisper; they will stay fresh for about two weeks. When ready to use, wash the parsnips thoroughly and peel off the skin, or steam the parsnips with the skins and once out of the water the skins will slip off. The skins are edible so peeling is optional.

Parsnips are a very healthy food with many benefits.

1. Rich in nutrients, parsnips contain many important elements to maintain a healthy body. Minerals found in the vegetable are potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, and iron. They also have a high vitamin content that includes vitamins B, C, E, and K. Parsnips are also rich in protein.

2. The high fiber content of parsnips makes them a valuable food for a healthy digestive system. Fiber is essential to the healthy movement of food through the digestive tract and reduces the risk of constipation and other gastrointestinal disorders. The soluble fiber reduces the incidence of cholesterol levels, which not only contributes to heart health but also reduces the risk of developing diabetes.

3. Parsnips contain high amounts of vitamin C, one of the many antioxidants that boosts the immune system. It protects the body from disease and toxic waste products from the foods that are consumed. It is a factor in the reduction of free radicals that cause cancer and other diseases. Vitamin C stimulates the production of white corpuscles, the body’s defensive blood cells that eliminate foreign microbes in the body. This vitamin is also a factor in the production of collagen, a basic catalyst in replenishing new cells.

4. Another valuable substance in parsnips is folate, part of the B vitamins. It promotes a healthy nervous system and the synthesis of red corpuscles, DNA, and RNA. It lessens the risk of developing depression, heart disease, and cancer, and slows down the aging process in regards to hearing and vision.  Folate also reduces the risk of birth defects in developing fetuses.

5. Parsnips also help maintain a healthy ocular system. They reduce the incidence of macular degeneration and other degenerative eye diseases in seniors due to the presence of vitamins C, E, and D, omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and zinc.  

Parsnips are native from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus regions of Asia. The Romans introduced the plant to Europe and England and the settlers brought the plant to America. It is a cold climate root vegetable related to the carrot and is similar in shape but much larger, with a creamy white color and a unique flavor. It is available throughout the year with its peak season during the winter months and it thrives in sandy soil. It grows wild along roadsides and looks similar to hemlock, a highly poisonous plant which makes it dangerous to forage in the wild. Parsnips are sold by the root only without greens attached and can be eaten raw, steamed, stewed, or roasted and are a regular ingredient in vegetable soups. Packed with nutrients, this vegetable contributes to a healthy body and helps to prevent many diseases and maladies.

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