Harvesting, storing & preparing parsnips


Having worked as a journalist for many years I studied horticulture and now work as a professional gardener. I work as a specialist kitchen gardener, growing a wide range of vegetables, fruit and herbs for chefs in the north of England. I am passionate about gardening and writing, and love growing edibles and trying to inspire others to get outside and grow their own.

Favourite fruit: Apples and Raspberries
Favourite vegetables: Beetroot, celeriac, parsnip and broad beans

The sweet and delicious roots of parsnips are a pleasure during the colder, leaner winter months. 

Parsnips on the ground
Parsnips are very simple crops to grow and are a common sight in kitchen gardens [Photo: Andrew Fletcher/ Shutterstock.com]

Parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) are a hugely popular root vegetable that have been grown for centuries and as a winter staple. We take a look at all you need to know about harvesting and storing parsnips, as well as their versatility when it comes to using them in the kitchen.

Harvesting parsnips: when and how

After the seeds have been sown, parsnips take around 160-200 days until they are ready for harvest. This is all dependent on the time of the sowing and the climatic conditions throughout the season. If you want to grow parsnips they are simple and a fantastic crop, but do require time and patience. They are very slow to germinate, and it can take several weeks for the seedlings to show. After parsnips are planted, they also occupy the ground a long time and can take many months to get to maturity. However, do not be put off growing them, as the wait for harvesting parsnips is well worth it. The delicious, aromatic, and versatile roots offer a wealth of opportunities in the kitchen.

They are tremendously hardy plants, and the parsnip season can run for many months throughout winter. The first parsnip harvest can be done in late summer if you want to pick them as baby vegetables. However, the majority of growers will start their parsnip harvest in October when the roots have grown to full size. The crop is capable of being left in the ground over winter and can continue to be harvested throughout December and even after Christmas. When deciding when to start harvesting parsnips, a lot of gardeners wait until the frosts have arrived. The roots taste better after being hit by a few frosts as the starches in the parsnips are converted to sugar by freezing temperatures, and this makes them taste even sweeter. 

When the foliage turns yellow and dies back, it is a sign of a ripe parsnip that has finished growing. Using a garden fork is the easiest way to harvest parsnips. Insert the fork near the parsnip and gently ease the root out of the ground. Be gentle when harvesting parsnips to ensure the root does not snap in the ground. 

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How to store and preserve parsnips

The best way to store parsnips is keeping them in the ground. They are a completely hardy crop and can be left in the ground throughout winter until the time they are required. If your ground sits very wet, or if there is a period of very hard frosts predicted that could make it hard to dig the ground, then there are options for storing parsnips that have already been harvested.

Storing parsnips is also an alternative if you live in an area where the ground becomes difficult to dig. A good way of storing parsnips for winter is in boxes. Lift the parsnips and do not remove the soil – washing the roots will impair their storage life. Lay the roots out in boxes, making sure they are not touching, and then cover with layers of sand and soil. Put this box in a location that is dry and at a temperature of 0-1°C.

Harvested parsnips should be able to store for about two weeks in the refrigerator. There is also the option of freezing parsnips. It is a root that can be frozen without the need to blanch or cook first. However, blanching the roots before storing parsnips in the freezer will prevent them losing their colour, texture and nutritional value when defrosted and cooked. When freezing parsnips, scrub and peel the root, chop into small bite-size pieces, boil them for two or three minutes, and leave to cool. Then simply place them into labelled freezer bags and the parsnips will have a shelf life of up to 12 months.

Another way of storing parsnips is by preserving them as pickles, fermented vegetable, in oil or as pesto or bread spread. When heated properly, they should keep for up to 6 months.

Parsnips: benefits and uses

Parsnips offer a great range of health and nutritional benefits. Parsnips are a great source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins C, K, and B6, as well as being high in fibre – which is valuable for digestive and heart health – and antioxidants. Another benefit of parsnips is their anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Parsnips are closely related to carrots (Daucus carota) but offer four times more potassium, protein, fibre and vitamin C.

You can also eat raw parsnips, which offer a high level of vitamin C. Raw parsnips have a sweet and nutty flavour and can be sliced to be used in salads. Parsnip leaves are also edible and can be sauteed or blanched and added to salads. When preparing parsnips, small roots do not have to be peeled and can just be scrubbed before being cooked. Peeling parsnips is necessary for medium-to-large roots as the skin can be tough when cooked.

There are several ways of preparing parsnips and, if you look in cookbooks or online, there are many recipes for parsnips. Parsnips are a highly popular root vegetable and are commonly roasted, baked, or mashed in a similar way to potatoes (Solanum tuberosum). Parsnips are also now often fried as an alternative to potatoes when it comes to making crisps. It is now also common to see parsnip purees, soups, or for the root to be added to curries or casseroles. 

Parsnips can provide over a long period if stored properly. Another root crop with a long shelf life is the potato, a crop that, as previously mentioned, is often cooked in a similar way as parsnips. If you grow potatoes and want to improve how long your crop keeps for, then read our dedicated article on storing potatoes.

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