What are Parsnips?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Parsnips are one of those more mysterious vegetables that many have heard of but few can describe. This noble root vegetable looks like a carrot, but is often white, pale yellow, or very pale orange in color. Parsnips have a sweet, delicate flavor that is accentuated by certain cooking methods and flavor combinations.

Parsnips combine well with spices such as nutmeg.
Parsnips combine well with spices such as nutmeg.

Parsnips grow underground and typically should be planted in spring. The hardy root vegetable grows throughout the summer, preferring full sun or slightly shady conditions. Most experts recommend waiting until overnight temperatures become chilly. Because of this unique growing cycle, parsnips are often considered a winter vegetable and are frequently found as a component in rich vegetable soups and stews.

Roasted and mashed parsnips pair well with maple syrup.
Roasted and mashed parsnips pair well with maple syrup.

Like a carrot, a parsnip can be eaten raw, but yields wonderfully to some cooking methods. Excellent in soup, parsnips are also delicious when roasted and mashed with maple syrup or honey. Because the flavor is somewhat light, parsnips blend well with other delicate flavors. Parsnip, celery, and apple soup is a favorite winter recipe that makes good use of available produce and can be turned into a restorative broth or creamy and rich chowder. Parsnips also combine well with spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

Parsnips may be added to vegetable soups and stews.
Parsnips may be added to vegetable soups and stews.

For proponents of great food experimentation, consider surprising holiday guests with a homemade parsnip pie for desert. Cook parsnip roots until soft before mashing to the consistency of cooked pumpkin. Combine the vegetables with cream, two eggs, and salted butter and season with spices to taste. Pour the mixture into a pie crust and bake for 30-45 minutes, until slightly brown on top. As an alternative to plain old pumpkin pie, this parsnip variety is sure to wake up deadened holiday taste buds and lead to a few recipe requests.

Parsnips can accompany various other vegetables as part of a casserole or gratin side dish.
Parsnips can accompany various other vegetables as part of a casserole or gratin side dish.

People tired of lettuce and looking to maintain healthy eating habits while trying new foods would do well to pick up a parsnip or two at the grocery store. Low in fat and calories, parsnips are delightfully full of beneficial nutrients. Fiber, folic acid, and potassium all grace this carrot cousin with their nutritious presence.

Experts recommend cultivating parsnips in the garden or purchasing them at stores rather than harvesting wild specimens. Poison hemlock features roots that strongly resemble the pale parsnip, and can be deadly if eaten. In addition, a rare but painful condition called phytophotdermatitis can result from picking the vegetable, leading to skin burns, lesions, and sun sensitivity. Even when picking cultivated vegetables, some experts recommend wearing gloves.

Phytophotdermatitis, which can result from picking parsnips, may cause sun sensitivity.
Phytophotdermatitis, which can result from picking parsnips, may cause sun sensitivity.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

You might also Like

Discussion Comments


I can't believe no one has brought up honey parsnips yet. My mom used to make these for us all the time when I was growing up. It was one of the few vegetables I would eat. Probably because I loved honey.

Making them is really simple. You just mix together some water, honey and butter in a bowl. Then you throw in the parsnips and coat them. Put everything into a glass baking dish and bake at 375 for about 30 minutes until they are soft.

The amount of ingredients depends on the number of parsnips you are using, but generally I use about 1/2 cup of both water and honey and a tablespoon of butter for 6 parsnips. I usually cut up the parsnips, too, but I don't see why you couldn't leave them whole.

If anyone tries this, let me know what you think.


I would like to add parsnips to my garden next year, but I have never tried to plant them before.

Does anyone know of any good varieties of parsnip seeds? I used to eat parsnips a lot when I was younger, but it seems like they aren't as common now. I don't really remember if there were different types of parsnips or if they were all basically the same.

When I actually go to plant them, are there any suggestions for the best time of year to plant them and any special considerations I should think about? How long does it usually take for them to get to the point where you can pull them up, and how will you know when they are ready?


@drtroubles - Like the article briefly mentions, it is probably not a good idea to pick anything that looks like a parsnip.

Carrots and parsley are all in the same family of plants as parsnips, and all of their leaves look the same. The underground roots can even look the same in some plants. The problem is that for every edible plant, there are quite a few poisonous ones.

Poison hemlock is definitely the most famous, but there are even wild carrots that can make you very sick. It's best to just leave it to the professionals and know that you are getting something from the supermarket or your garden that won't hurt you.


If you want to grow parsnips you can use them in so many easy recipes. One of my favorites is curried parsnip soup. It really hits the spot in the winter and is really filling, despite the fact it is basically a vegetable soup.

One thing I am curious about is, does anyone know if you can eat wild parsnips? Or is it best to just to stick to the ones you grow in your garden?

I noticed a few weeks ago that there are wild parsnips in the field behind my house, and it would be nice if I could just pick those every year and not have to bother with taking up space in my garden.


My grandmother used to make roasted parsnips in the winter and occasionally would treat us to mashed parsnips covered in butter. I always loved her parsnips as they were what I would describe as a hearty vegetable.

When I was really young I remember watching my grandma planting parsnips in her backyard. She liked to make sure she had a good supply for the family because when it came time, parsnips roasted in the winter were a favorite of everyone.

Nowadays I don't really have as many parsnips as I would like. I am thinking that a trip to the supermarket should be in order. I just hope I can make my parsnips taste as good as my grandma did.

Post your comments
Forgot password?