The parsnip is a classic Christmas lunch vegetable, usually eaten roasted but sometimes boiled or steamed. The edible part is the taproot, and this contains high quantities of dietary fibre (which has given the vegetable an unfortunate reputation for causing flatulent after-effects) but it also develops a high sugar content after chilling for a period of several days hence the truth of the commonly heard assertion that parsnips are better after the frost has reached them. Parsnips are particularly good if roasted with a little honey for extra sweetness and some English mustard to give a little heat to bring out the flavours.
Parsnips are part of the Apiaceae, the same family as carrots and celery, but also the same family as Hemlock. The world’s biggest parsnip weighed 7.796kg and was grown by the Cornish farmer David Thomas. This multi branched parsnip was likened to Davy Jones of Pirates of the Caribbean leading to the headline ‘Parsnips of the Caribbean‘ in the Daily Mail. The world’s longest parsnip was an impressive 5.607m long and grown in 2012 by Peter Glazebrook from Newark (Nottinghamshire).
Unlike our garden parsnips, wild parsnips tend to produce a rather thin and woody storage root for the winter. They are not that tasty to eat but it makes the job of preparing and pressing herbarium specimens, such as the one below, much easier.