Monday, February 15, 2010

Plant Profile: Turnip

By Nina Berryman

Many of you have exclaimed how delicious the white Hakurei turnips are! Since they are a cool weather crop and we grow them only in the spring and fall, I thought I would take a moment to talk about this favorite crop before it disappears for the summer months. Turnips are in the large family Brassicaceae. (A quick note about this family, it is very large and includes more vegetables than any other plant family present at our farm. Other vegetables in this family include: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kohlrabi, radishes, collards, kale, rutabagas, mustard greens, bok choi, tat soi, and arugula.) Turnips belong to the species Brassica rapa. This species also includes broccoli raab, Chinese cabbage (Bok choi), and Chinese mustard (different from what we refer to as Mustard greens). Turnips are subspecies within this species, and are part of the Rapifera Group. The complete Latin name for turnips is Brassica rapa rapa. Within this subspecies there are many different varieties of turnip, which can have white, cream, yellow, red, purple or black roots. The inside of the roots, however, are almost always either white or yellow. The flowers can either be yellow or pale orange.

Turnips are historically an important food in early Asian and European cultures, perhaps because they are excellent storage crops. They are insect pollinated and their most common pest is the cabbage root maggot (which so far has luckily spared the turnips at our farm!) The roots contain vitamin C, and the leaves contain vitamin C, A, K and calcium. According to the British, to say someone has the “IQ of a turnip” means that they are stupid or idiotic; and to “try to squeeze blood from a turnip” means to try to accomplish something with little or no reward. While these sayings seem to imply that the turnip is an undesirable vegetable, I would instead agree with the many comments I have heard from you during pick-ups that the turnip is in fact a delightful plant!

Ashworth, Susan. Seed to Seed. Seed Savers Exchange, Inc. 2002

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