|A selection of parsnips|
The parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler than most 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 (which, in Roman times, were white or purple) 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."
Until the potato arrived from the New World, its place in dishes was occupied by the parsnip and other root vegetables such as taro. 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 flavour 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 frequently features in the traditional Sunday Roast. Finally, parsnip can be eaten raw.
The parsnip originates in the Mediterranean region and originally was the size of a baby carrot when full grown. When the Roman Empire expanded north through Europe the Romans brought the parsnip with them. They found that the parsnip grew bigger the further north they went.
While folk etymology sometimes assumes the name is a portmanteau of parsley and turnip, it actually comes from a Latin word for "forked", plus the -nip ending because it was assumed to be a kind of turnip. Ironically, it is among the closest relatives of actual parsley, which actually can be bred to develop a very parsnip-like root.
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.
Parsnip is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including its namesake, the Parsnip swallowtail and also the Common Swift, Garden Dart, and Ghost Moth.
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 fibre. 100 g of parsnip contains 55 calories (230 kJ) energy.
Some people can have an allergic reaction to parsnip, and parsnip leaves may irritate the skin.