A turnip is an edible tuber, formally known as Brassica rapa, and widely cultivated all over the world for food. The whitish to yellow roots are edible and store well, and the greens can be eaten like spinach or grazed as a cover crop by farm animals. In addition to being readily available in many grocers, turnips are also very easy to grow, as they are frost and drought tolerant. Historically, the turnip has served as a vital food source in northern nations because they keep well over the winter, providing a valuable form of vegetable nutrition.
The spicy flavor of a fresh young turnip and turnip greens is a result of the fact that turnips are in the mustard family. The origins of the turnip appear to lie in Asia, although it was brought West many centuries ago. Turnips were cultivated in Ancient Greece and Rome, and spread to Northern Europe as well. Because the climate of Northern Europe is much harsher, turnips became a popular crop, thanks to their durability.
The turnip is boiled, fried, roasted, mashed, and sometimes eaten raw, depending on personal taste. Young turnips are more juicy and flavorful, and are preferred if consumers can obtain them. As turnips grow older and larger, they become woody. This will also happen after a long period of storage. Like other root vegetables, turnips keep very well in a cool, dark root cellar, although they can also be stored under refrigeration for a shorter period of time, usually around two weeks.
In addition to being a useful part of the human diet, the turnip has also historically been used as an animal food source. Herds of animals can graze fields of turnip greens almost year round, because several batches of turnips can be planted for different harvest times. The vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, along with folate, manganese, calcium, and copper.
To grow turnips, seeds can be planted directly into the ground and well watered. As the young turnips start to grow, they can be periodically thinned to allow enough room for the tubers to develop. Within 45 to 60 days, turnips can be harvested and put into root storage, eaten, or preserved in cans or pickling jars. The smaller the turnip, the more flavorful, so many gardeners prefer to harvest turnips young and replant the seeds on a regular basis so that a steady supply of the crop can be maintained.