Turnip - Brassica Rapa

Origins | Swede and the Turnip | Nutrition | Cooking | Growing

Turnip is a member of the mustard family and is related to cabbage. 

Origins of the Turnip

It is likely that it originated in Northern Europe around 2000 B.C. although some sources indicate it may be of Mediterranean origin or even Asian.  Records suggest that around 1500 BC forms of wild turnip were grown in India for its oil-baring seed as it is today in the form of oil seed rape.  It seems the plant may have grown independently in more northern climbs and from the spindly long roots of the B. campestris

Neolithic farmers would have cultivated the round ‘roots’ we know today. 

Contrary to popular belief turnips result from a swollen stalk of the plant and are not a swollen root as often thought. 

In the Middle East in classical times the quick growing time, hardiness and drought tolerance of the turnip meant it was useful as an animal fodder.  Similarly the Romans and the Gaul’s cultivated the plant for these properties and they would use it as an animal fodder. Primarily however it was used as a cooked vegetable throughout these two ancient cultures and would have existed in a very similar form to the vegetable we know today.

The tail of the Swede and the Turnip

There is often confusion about the differences between the turnip and the Swede.  The Swede 'Brassica napobrassiac '  is from Sweden (unsurprisingly) and was introduced to the UK as the Swedish turnip and the name later became shortened to Swede.

To add to the confusion the Swede 'is often known as a turnip or neep in Scotland and the turnip goes by the same name.  Indeed the word turnip comes from the Scottish word 'neep'.  The Americans however call the Swede a rutabaga, which comes from the Swedish word - rotabagge.  However in some parts of the States the Rutabaga is called the yellow turnip and the turnip is known as the white turnip.


Despite turnips containing quite a large amount of water they are quite nutritious and contain significant amounts of carotene.

They also contain 5% Sugar and

17mg/100g Vitamin C


Turnips can be eaten grated raw in salads or roasted.

They also make an excellent addition to mash potato or as a mashed side on their own.

Mixed with beans, vegetable stock, cabbage, other root vegetables and some thyme and sage turnips can be made into a delicious soup served with home made crusty bread.

Simple Mashed Turnips


1 large Yellow turnip
2 tablespoon Butter
1 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Pepper
1 tb Parsley
1/4 cup Cream


Peel turnip and chop it up into small pieces. Boil until
a fork easily goes into it. Drain and return to pan. Add butter,
seasonings and cream. Let boil up once and serve.


This recipe can also be adapted to include potatoes, squashes, swede, carrots and or most root vegetables and vegetables from the Cucurbita pepo family. I like to use butternut squash with turnip and parsnips. If you are worried about the fat content then use low fat margarine instead of the butter and skimmed/semi skimmed milk instead of the cream. Also if you want to use less salt then it is an idea to use a blend of other herbs instead, try experimenting with a few combinations.

Growing Turnips

Turnips don't need much in the way of preparation but if, like me, you have heavy clay soil it may be an idea to incorporate some organic material to allow the turnips to grow. 

Also try and remove any stones or heavy material that might be in your soil, I had a very disappointing crop one year in a house I rented as the ground was full of bricks and stones. It made for some interesting looking carrots though.
Turnips are quite fast croppers, taking about 2 months to grow, and can be planted between slow maturing crops like parsnips
They should be planted in spring for summer use after the risk of the last frost has gone. Or in Summer for use in the Autumn (Fall) or in Late Summer/Early Autumn for use over Winter. 

They are not particularly frost hardy but will tolerate a bit if dug up too late. 

As with most root vegetables they can be stored in a potato clamp.  Turnips also contain pectin so can be used in Jam making and can be successfully pickled.

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