Parsnips look like white-yellow carrots, and they boast a delightful flavor sweeter than carrots. In medieval times they had a reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Parsnips Image Gallery

Parsnips are unfamiliar to many Americans, but they are similar to carrots.
Parsnips are unfamiliar to many Americans, but they look similar to carrots.
See more pictures of parsnips.

Parsnips are biennials that are grown as annuals. These vegetables belong to the same family as celery, carrots, and parsley. A rosette of celery-like leaves grows from the top of the whitish, fleshy root.

Common Names: Parsnip
Scientific Name:
Pastinaca sativa
Hardy (may survive first frost)

In the next section, we'll show you how to grow parsnips.

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Growing Parsnip

Parsnips need a long, cool growing season. They will tolerate cold at the start and the end of the growing season, and they can withstand freezing temperatures. Parsnips prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Plant parsnip seeds two to three weeks before the average date of last frost.

Parsnips thrive in a short growing season. Frost helps parsnip flavor develop.
Parsnips thrive in cool weather.
Frost helps parsnip flavor develop.

Turn the soil completely to a depth of 10 to 12 inches and remove all lumps and rocks. The initial soil preparation is essential for a healthy crop: Soil lumps, rocks, or other obstructions in the soil will cause the roots to split, fork, or become deformed. Since it may also cause forking, don't use manure in the soil bed for root crops unless it is well rotted.

Plant seeds 1/2 inch deep and thin them to 2 to 4 inches apart; parsnips must have adequate space for root development. Thin seedlings with scissors so you don't disturb the tender roots of the remaining plants. Parsnips need plenty of water until they approach maturity. At this point, cut back on watering so the roots don't split.

Harvesting Parsnip
Leave parsnips in the soil as long as possible or until you need them. The roots are not harmed by the ground's freezing, but dig them up before the ground becomes unworkable.

Types of Parsnip
  • Hollow Crown, 105 days, is long and produces mild flavored, white flesh.
  • Harris Model, 110 days, has white flesh with a smooth texture.

In the next section, we'll show you how to select parsnips.

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Selecting Parsnip

Parsnips are root vegetables that are creamy yellow on the outside and white on the inside. They're available year-round in some markets but are easier to find in winter and early spring. The later parsnips are harvested, the sweeter they will taste, as the extra time and a frost help turn the starch into sugar.

Choose small- to medium-size parsnips; they'll be less fibrous and more tender. They shouldn't be "hairy" with rootlets or have obvious blemishes. The skin should be fairly smooth and firm, not shriveled. If the greens are still attached, they should look fresh. Before refrigerating, clip off any attached greens, so they won't drain moisture from the root. Parsnips stored in your crisper drawer in a loosely closed plastic bag will keep for a couple of weeks.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Parsnips
Scrub parsnips well before using. Trim both ends. As with carrots, cut 1/4- to 1/2-inch off the top (the greens end) to avoid pesticide residues. Scrape or peel a thin layer of skin before or after cooking. If you do it after, they'll be sweeter and full of more nutrients.

The most flavorful way to enjoy parsnips is to roast them in the oven. Cut into 3-inch-by-1/2-inch sticks, toss with a little olive oil, and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, turning once, until tender, about 20 to 40 minutes depending on thickness. Your parsnips will come out fragrant and sweet.

Roasted parsnips are delicious and make a great side dish.
Roasted parsnips are delicious and make a great side dish.

Small, tender parsnips can be grated into salads, but most people prefer them cooked. To cook large parsnips, cut them in quarters lengthwise and remove the fibrous core; you can skip this step if the parsnips are small, about 5 to 7 inches in length and not too fat. Cut into evenly sized pieces and steam until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Some people like to substitute parsnips for potatoes. Serve them whole, cut up, or pureed like mashed potatoes. For savory flavor, basil, parsley, thyme, and tarragon complement parsnips. If you're looking to bring out their sweetness, try ginger and nutmeg.

Parsnips are great in soups and stews. Add them near the end of cooking time so they do not become mushy. Parsnips can also be used to make a flavorful stock, or pureed for a tasty soup thickener.

Note: Peeled or cut parsnips will turn brown quickly, so either cook them right away or hold in a bowl of water with a bit of lemon juice added, then drain and cook.

In the next section, we'll explain the many health benefits of parsnips.

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Health Benefits of Parsnip

Parsnips may seem like an exotic vegetable that is unfamiliar to many, but what they have to offer your diet is twofold: Their fiber content is great for digestion and their sweet taste is satisfying without being high in calories.

Beef and parsnip stew is a hardy, flavorful meal.
Beef and parsnip stew
is a hardy, flavorful meal.

Parsnips shine as a fiber source. They're high in soluble fiber, the type that helps lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar on an even keel. They're a surprising source of folic acid, that B vitamin which women who are planning a family require to help reduce the risk of certain disabling birth defects. Folic acid also plays a role in reducing heart disease and may help prevent dementia and osteoporosis bone fractures. And potassium, an aid to blood pressure, is present in ample quantities. Unlike their carrot cousins, however, parsnips lack beta-carotene.

Nutritional Values of Parsnip
Serving Size: 1/2 cup, sliced




0 g

Saturated Fat

0 g


0 mg


21 g


1 g

Dietary Fiber

3 g


8 mg

Folic Acid

45 micrograms

Vitamin C

10 mg


<1 mg


287 mg

Want more information about parsnips? Try:
  • Parsnip Recipe: Try our beef and parsnip stew recipe!
  • Preparing Parsnips: Step-by-step instructions with photos to guide your parsnip prep.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.
  • Parsnip Stain Help: We show you how to get vegetable stains out of fabric.
  • Nutrition: Get the most out of your food with these nutrition tips.