Parsnip: nutrition facts and health benefits


Parsnip is a herbaceous plant which has a very fleshy root resembling of the one of the carrot. From the time it was white, these two vegetables were much confused. It was once cultivated both for animal feed and for humans until it was dethroned by the potato. The root of the parsnip is more or less long. Its flavor is sweeter than the carrot and its scent is quite strong. Parsnips are in the markets in the winter.

History of parsnips

The parsnip comes from the Mediterranean basin and from the regions further east to the Caucasus Mountains. It was known to the Greeks and Romans, but it is not known when it was domesticated and how it was diffused in Western Europe. In the texts of Greek and Roman antiquity, Pastinaca’s Latin name was as much used for the parsnip and the carrot, which created confusion between the two vegetables. Athenaeus, a scholar who lived in the second century A.D., also estimated it was the same plant. At the same time, the doctor and botanist Galen tried to correct the situation by giving the carrot the name of Daucus Pastinaca, but the confusion was completely dissipated only in the nineteenth century with Linnaeus, which attributed to the parsnip a botanical genus of its own.

In the Middle Ages the parsnip is considered as a staple food by the people. As for the upper class and the nobility, they avoided it, like any other vegetable, known to be bad for health.

In Europe, parsnips will be consumed mainly in England and other northeast countries. Today, it has a certain popularity among the lovers of old vegetables, as well as for the general population. It is synonymous with healthy food.

From their earliest travels, the Europeans introduced it into the new world. However, it has never become very popular even if it is consumed moderately in certain places.

Very sweet, parsnips were used in the preparation of syrups, jams, wine and even baking flour.

Parsnip health profile

Raw and cooked, the parsnip reveals a pleasant sweet flavor. This root vegetable of the carrot family contains many minerals and vitamins. Its fibers and antioxidants would have beneficial effects on certain types of cancer.

The benefits of parsnips

Cancer. Parsnips contain active molecules playing a role in the prevention of cancer. In particular, it contains an antioxidant capable of reducing the activity of an enzyme involved in the development of this disease. Other compounds contained in the parsnip (polyacetylenes) also demonstrated they could reduce the proliferation of cancerous cells.

Several prospective and epidemiological studies have shown that high consumption of vegetables and fruit decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other chronic diseases. The presence of antioxidants in vegetables and fruits could be part of this protection.

What does the parsnip contain?


Parsnips contain apigenin, an antioxidant that would play a role in the prevention of cancer. As these results have been demonstrated in vitro and among animals, further studies will be needed to prove that a diet rich in apigenin could have the same preventive effects among humans.

Like other vegetables in the carrot family, parsnips contain polyacetylenes, including falcarinol. This compound is quickly absorbed by the human body and would play a role in the prevention of cancer. In laboratory, it was found that falcarinol would have the potential to alter and destroy human cancer cells. However, clinical studies among humans will have to be conducted to verify this hypothesis.


With more than 2 g per ½ cup serving (125 ml), parsnips are considered to be a source of fibre. Food fibres are found only in plants. They are a group of substances that are not digested by the body. A diet rich in fibers satisfies faster than a low fibre diet. In addition, eating fibres would reduce the risk of colon cancer. Parsnips contain mostly insoluble fibers, which can help prevent constipation by increasing stool volume. It is recommended to consume 25 g of fibre per day for women aged 19 to 50 years, and 38 g per day for men of the same age group.


Oral allergy syndrome

Parsnips are a food that is implicated in the oral allergy syndrome. This syndrome is an allergic reaction to certain proteins of a range of fruits, vegetables and nuts. It affects some people with allergies to environmental pollen and is almost always preceded by hay fever.

Thus, when some people allergic to ragweed consume raw parsnips (cooking usually degrades allergen proteins), an immunological reaction may occur. These people feel itching and burning sensations to the mouth, lips and throat. Symptoms may appear, then disappear, usually a few minutes after consumption or manipulation of the food being implicated. In the absence of other symptoms, this reaction is not serious and the consumption of parsnips does not have to be avoided systematically. However, it is recommended to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to plant foods. The latter will be able to assess whether special precautions should be taken.

The parsnip rich in carbohydrates

Although parsnips can replace carrots in recipe preparation, it contains nearly 2 times more carbohydrates (sugars). Even if its glycemic load is moderate (due to the presence of fibres), diabetics or hypoglycemic, who are called upon to monitor their carbohydrate consumption, are gaining consideration of this aspect in the planning of their diet.

The furanocoumarins

Parsnips, and other plants like celery, contain furanocoumarins-photosensitizing substances. The contact of these vegetables with the skin, combined with exposure to the sun, can sometimes cause skin irritation called phytophotodermatite. This reaction affects, among other things, workers in agricultural environments or food markets, often in contact with plants that contain furanocoumarins. These can also cause reactions among people who attend tanning salons. On the other hand, the ingestion of normal amounts of parsnips within the population has not been associated with the risk of harmful interaction with light.

Choice and conservation


Preferably choose healthy roots of medium size: the larger ones may be fibrous, while the smaller ones will dry out quickly.


Refrigerator. Two weeks in a plastic bag perforated or opened.

All winter in slightly moist sand, but they are even better if they are kept in the garden, in the ground.

Organic Gardening

Parsnip seed is fertile only for a very short period of time. So you have to get fresh seeds each year. Avoid planting more than one variety in the same year and make sure there are no wild parsnips within 0.5 km, or protect against pollinating insects with fine sheers.

It is possible to produce its own seeds. The plant being biennial, one can leave the best plants in the ground during the winter and transplant them close to each other in the next spring. They will probably need to be tutored, as they rise to more than 1 m before producing flowers and seeds.

Parsnips being a long term plant (100 to 120 days), it is sown in May. Soak the seeds before sowing them 2 cm deep, tight in the row, to compensate for their poor germination. Keep the soil moist until germination. Lighten the plants at 8 cm or 10 cm.

There are a few short and round root varieties that are well suited to heavy, shallow soils. However, the seeds of these varieties are rare: although, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, they appeared in Canada seed catalogues.

The carrot fly is the main pest of parsnips. It can cause considerable damage, especially because the root remains in the ground for a long time and is therefore very exposed. Here are the main measures to counter this pest.

  • Cover the plants with a light agrotextile fabric, allowing the light to pass (85%) during plant growth. During the heat, the fabric can be removed for short periods of time, but it will have to be reset as soon as the weather is cooler.
  • This parasite is attracted by the smell of wrinkled foliage, avoid leaving the plants to be thinned near the platform.
  • Sow parsnips in a windy place: The fly has trouble fighting strong winds.
  • Try the companionship with the onions, knowing however that it will only be effective if you sow 4 rows of onions for 1 row of parsnips.
  • Very fragrant leaves of plants such as tansy and absinthe, deposited at the base of the seedlings could deceive the fly by modifying the ambient odor, but they must be replaced as soon as they have lost their fragrant power.
  • Weekly watering at the wood ash diluted in water is very effective against unwanted insects.

Ecology and Environment

Parsnip wild flowers

The wild parsnip differs from the cultivated parsnips only by the size of its roots and their suppleness. This plant grows abundantly in open and dry places, both in the countryside and in the city, all over cold climates countries, except in the north. Its large yellow inflorescences allow to identify it easily, as it is the only large plant in the family of Apiaceae whose flowers are not white. In the fall, its seeds serve as food for birds that prepare to migrate or winter.

The leaves of the wild parsnip are edible as well as its seeds which, in small quantities, can be used as a condiment. On the other hand, the root is insignificant, because it is too small and fibrous. Caution is advised during harvesting, however, in some people the leaves may cause skin irritation (see precautions, above).


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