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A selection of parsnips
A selection of parsnips
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Apiales
Family: Apiaceae
Genus: Pastinaca
Species: P. sativa
Binomial name
Pastinaca sativa

The parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler and have a stronger flavor. Like carrots, parsnips are native to Eurasia and have been eaten there since ancient times. Zohary and Hopf note that the archeological evidence for the cultivation of the parsnip is "still rather limited", and that Greek and Roman literary sources are a major source about its early use, but warn "there are some difficulties in distinguishing between parsnip and carrot in classical writings since both vegetables seem to have been sometimes called pastinaca yet each vegetable appears to be well under cultivation in Roman times."[1]

Until the potato arrived from the New World, its place in dishes was occupied by the parsnip. Parsnips can be boiled, roasted or used in stews, soups and casseroles. In some cases, the parsnip is boiled and the solid portions are removed from the soup or stew, leaving behind a more subtle flavor than the whole root and contributing starch to thicken the dish. Roasted parsnip is considered an essential part of Christmas dinner in some parts of the English speaking world and, in the north of England, frequently features alongside roast potatoes in the traditional Sunday Roast.


Parsnips are not grown in warm climates, since frost is necessary to develop their flavor. The parsnip is a favorite with gardeners in areas with short growing seasons. Sandy, loamy soil is preferred; silty, clay, and rocky soils are unsuitable as they produce short forked roots.

Seeds can be planted in early spring, as soon as the ground can be worked. Harvesting can begin in late fall after the first frost, and continue through winter until the ground freezes over.

More than almost any other vegetable seed, parsnip seed significantly deteriorates in viability if stored for long, so it is advisable to use fresh seed each year.

In Roman times parsnips were believed to be an aphrodisiac.

In the United States, most states have wild parsnip on their list of noxious weeds or invasive species.

Parsnip is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including the Common Swift, Garden Dart, and Ghost Moth.

Nutritional properties

The parsnip is richer in vitamins and minerals than its close relative the carrot. It is particularly rich in potassium with 600 mg per 100 g. The parsnip is also a good source of dietary fiber. 100 g of parsnip contains 55 calories (230 kJ) energy.

Some people can get an allergic reaction from parsnip, and parsnip leaves may irritate the skin.

Dangers connected to wild parsnips

Template:Cleanup When picking wild vegetables, it is easy to mistake poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) for parsnip, with deadly results.

Wild parsnips contain three furocoumarins (psoralen, xanthotoxin, and bergapten). These chemicals are phototoxic, mutagenic, and photo-carcinogenic. Psoralens, which are potent light-activated carcinogens not destroyed by cooking, are found in parsnip roots at concentrations of 40 ppm. Water hemlock is another plant that smells and looks like parsnips. Ivie, et al. report:

"Consumption of moderate quantities of this vegetable by man can result in the intake of appreciable amounts of psoralens. Consumption of 0.1 kg of parsnip root could expose an individual to 4 to 5 mg of total psoralens, an amount that might be expected to cause some physiological effects under certain circumstances..."[2]


  1. Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p. 203
  2. Ivie, G. W., Holt, D. L., Ivey, M. C., "Natural toxicants in human foods: psoralens in raw and cooked parsnip root," Science, 213 (1981): 909-910. [p. 910]
  • Dr D.G.Hessayon (2003) The Vegetable & Herb Expert. Expert Books. ISBN 0-903505-46-0

External links

be-x-old:Пастарнак bg:Пащърнак ca:Xirivia da:Almindelig Pastinak de:Pastinaken eo:Pastinako fa:شقاقل it:Pastinaca sativa lt:Pastarnokas hu:Pasztinák nl:Pastinaak no:Pastinakk sr:Пашканат fi:Palsternakka sv:Palsternacka

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