The parsnip plant produces a thick, white, edible root that resembles a carrot, its close relative. The flesh of the parsnip root is smooth and tender with a slightly sweet taste. Although a cool season biennial crop, producing small yellow flowers if left in the ground for a second season, parsnips are grown as an annual when harvesting the root. If you wait until after the first frost to harvest, the root’s flavor will be even sweeter. This is a great season-extending crop because of its cold hardiness. However, don’t try to eat the hairy, toothed leaves, and wear gloves when harvesting, as the sap within them is toxic!
The Hollow Crown parsnip is an heirloom variety that’s been extensively planted in the US since as early as the mid 1800s thanks to its lovely sweet flavor and ability to keep well over the winter. Named for its slightly sunken “head” just below the leaves, the rest of this vegetable is the image of perfection with a long, straight, smooth root structure that’s heavenly roasted or mashed. For best results, be sure to clear your soil of all debris and compost heavily and deeply before planting.
Seed Depth: 1/2″
Space Between Plants: 3″
Space Between Rows: 18″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–70°F
Days for Germination: 10–28
Sow Indoors: Not recommended.
Sow Outdoors: In late spring to early summer, or 4 months before average first frost. In areas with mild winters, sow in fall for overwintering and harvest the following spring.
Grows best in cool weather. Taste is sweetest when harvested after a few hard frosts or in spring after overwintering in areas with mild weather. Heat will reduce germination rates and also stunt plant growth and root development, so avoid growing in warm summer weather. For best results, plant in spring or early summer in cold climates or in late fall through early winter in warmer areas.
Natural: Full sun. Tolerates partial shade.
SOIL: Prefers a well-drained sandy or loamy soil. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.0 will keeps plants healthy and nourished. The soil needs to be loose, deep and free of stones for proper root development.
SOILLESS: There’s not a great deal of data on soilless growing for parsnips, so be sure to let us know on our contributors page if you have any success with this method!
HYDROPONICS: We’ve heard parsnips are the hardest root veggie to grow hydroponically; however, it is possible.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Consistent moisture will result in the best quality harvest. Reduce watering as roots begin to thicken or else you risk splitting them.
Nutrients: If soil is poor, feed with compost tea or liquid seaweed once per month. Amend with fertilizers containing potassium (like greensand) and phosphorus (colloidal phosphate or wood ash), but keep nitrogen levels low to avoid excessive foliage growth and neglected roots.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar feedings of compost tea or liquid seaweed once per month.
Pruning: When plants are 6″ tall, thin to 3″ apart.
Rotation: Plant after potatoes to take advantage of the deeply dug, loosened soil. A 3-year rotation is recommended to prevent disease issues.
Companions: Grows well with onions, radishes, wormwood, garlic, peppers, bush beans, and peas. Avoid delphinium and larkspur.
Harvest: Dig up your parsnip roots after the first few frosts for best and sweetest taste. If you’ve overwintered your crop, you can harvest anytime in early spring after the last hard frosts but before plants start sprouting new greens. Remove any loose soil immediately after harvest. The hairy leaves are not to be consumed, and wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting as skin contact can cause an unpleasant skin reaction.
Storage: If you’re short on space, you can cover your parsnip crop with a thick layer of mulch and pull up only what you need throughout the winter. Store picked roots in the refrigerator after removing all loose dirt. You’ll want a high humidity environment for best results, so keep them in a plastic bag for 2–6 months of freshness.
Fun Fact: While parsnips are often used in savory dishes, in medieval Europe parsnips were used in desserts and “puddings” to sweeten them up as sugar and honey were quite expensive and difficult to come by.
Preserve: Blanch and freeze cubed or sliced parsnips. Parsnips can also be canned using a pressure canner. Picked and lacto-fermented parsnips are another option for later use.
Prepare: Parsnips are usually eaten baked, steamed, fried, or roasted. Use similarly to other root vegetables. A good additions to wintertime soups or stews. Before use, rinse well, peel the outer skin off, and cut off the leafy top.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C, folic acid, manganese, and potassium. Also a good source of dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Regular consumption may reduce risk of a number of serious health issues, including diabetes, heat disease, cancer, hemorrhoids, obesity and high blood pressure. The B9 vitamin found in the plant may help to reduce risk of depression, hearing loss, and heart disease, as well an being beneficial for pregnant women. Parsnips also contain antioxidants, including vitamin C, which can support overall health.
Warnings: The elderly and those taking prescription medications should consult with a doctor before regularly eating high potassium foods like parsnips. Do not consume leaves as they are toxic.
Go medieval with this Parsnip and Apples Dessert recipe! We recommend using apple sauce instead of butter to improve the taste and cut down on the calories.