Turnip greens: growing, harvesting & eating turnip leaves


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

Turnip greens are the leafy green tops of turnips and are very high in nutrients. Find out all about turnips tops, including how to grow this highly under-rated crop.

Turnip greens in a bowl
Turnip greens are easy to grow and highly nutritious [Photo: Natalia Mylova/ Shutterstock.com]

Turnip greens (Brassica rapa var. esculenta) are a largely overlooked crop that offers health benefits, as they are high in nutrients and low in calories. They are very simple to grow, read on to learn how as well as how to care for and harvest turnip tops.

Turnip greens: origins and characteristics

Turnip greens are leafy greens that look similar to the tops of the common turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa) and belong to the cruciferous plant family (Brassicaceae). The leafy tops are edible and are used in many cuisines around the globe. For example, turnip greens are a common side dish during the colder months in the Southern United States.

The turnip’s origins are predominantly in Northern and Central Europe, where the annual root vegetable has been cultivated and eaten for centuries. There are two ways to grow turnip greens. Firstly, they can be grown only for the greens. Here, the leafy vegetable is harvested along with the stalk before the turnip root has fully developed. Or the turnip tops can be kept and cooked when harvesting the turnip roots.

Turnip greens are the leafy rosette part that grows above ground from the turnip root. The rosettes have long, pinnate leaves with a serrated edge and are dark green. The leaves grow up to 30cm long, have a light green stem and possess a peppery taste that gets more heated in the autumn and winter months. The crop is grown for the edible leaves, however, if left to flower the turnip will produce yellow cruciferous flowers that are great for bees.

Turnip greens up close
Turnip leaves have a peppery taste and can grow to 30cm [Photo: EvaSto/ Shutterstock.com]

How to grow turnip greens and care tips

Turnip greens are sown in a similar way to regular turnips but are sown closer together and slightly earlier, as they are grown for the leaves and not for the swollen roots. Turnip green seeds can be sown in a greenhouse from January to March, with the outdoor sowings starting in March and April. Later sowings can be done in a cold frame in September to October to allow for harvests through the winter months. Turnip seeds can germinate at temperatures as low as 4 °C, but the ideal temperature is 18 to 20 °C, where they will sprout in 7 to 14 days. 

Rows of turnips from above
Turnip greens grow very quickly and are a useful gap filler [Photo: Far700/ Shutterstock.com]

Sow turnip green seeds thinly in a 1cm-deep drill. Thin the seedlings to 5-10cm apart as they grow. You can use the thinned-out turnip greens in the kitchen, so make sure to keep them. Aim for a denser spacing than you would with regular turnips; this will reduce the growth of the root due to the tighter space and result in longer turnip leaves. The plants grow quickly even at temperatures of 5 to 10 °C in spring, which means you can harvest them just 6 weeks after sowing.

Turnips growing in the garden
Dense planting means bigger foliage and a smaller root [Photo: KANNIKA KAIEM/ Shutterstock.com]

Water the seeds regularly after sowing and regularly remove weeds to reduce competition and encourage quick leaf growth. Hoe regularly between the rows to eliminate weed pressure. Turnip greens are light feeders and due to their fast growth, do not need additional fertilisation.

Turnip greens are perfectly suited to growing in raised beds. If you are growing turnip greens in raised beds, make sure to fill it with a high-quality vegetable compost. Our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost is great for raised beds, as it is high in organic matter, peat-free and contains all the vital nutrients required to grow strong and healthy plants.

Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost, 40L
Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables such as chillies, courgettes & more
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How to harvest and store turnip greens

Turnip leaves are a fast-growing crop and can be ready to harvest in little as 5 to 7 weeks after sowing. Cut off the leaves close to the ground when they are at least 15cm long. Take care not to harm the root, as it can sprout leaves again, giving you a second harvest of turnip greens. After two harvests, pull the whole plant out of the soil. If the turnip root is not too woody, keep it and use it in the kitchen.

To store turnip greens, wrap in a damp cloth and store in your fridge’s veggie drawer. They can last for up to 3 days after harvesting.

Turnip greens laying on a kitchen board
Cut the turnip leaves as close to the ground as possible when harvesting [Photo: Brent Hofacker/ Shutterstock.com]

Benefits and nutritional value of turnip greens

Turnip greens are high in minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. Other benefits of turnip tops are that they are very low in fat and calories and are high in vitamins C, A, and K. The leaves also contain a high amount of folate.

Turnip leaves can be eaten raw and added to salads and other things. However, they are also commonly cooked, with the leaves often separated from the stalks due to different cooking times. Stalks take around 30 minutes to cook compared to 3 to 4 minutes for the turnip leaves.

Some of the more common turnip tops recipes include soups, casseroles and braised or sautéed turnip greens. They are very common in Southern American recipes, and in many turnip leaves recipes, they are added to a chicken or pork broth.

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