Monday, December 21, 2009

Parsnip/Almindelig Pastinak

Pastinaca sativa var. sativa

In Denmark: Parsnip/Almindelig Pastinak (Pastinaca sativa var. sativa) is common in the glacial land. In the heath and sanded land it is mostly found along roads and more sparsely.

Wild parsnip/Vild Pastinak (Pastinaca sativa ssp. sylvestris) has a vigorous hairy stem, and it might be found in Denmark, but not yet for certain.

Like carrot, celery, parsley etc. parsnip belongs to the Umbelliferae. It origins from wild parsnip in Central and southern Europe. It is not for certain described as a cultivated plant until the 1600s. In the 1700s an attempt was made to have it imported to Denmark as a fodder for cattle, sheep and fat pigs, and in Italy it is still used as a fodder plant. The parsnip is richer in vitamins and minerals than its close relative, the carrot, and it is also a good source of dietary fiber.

The name comes from Latin pastinum, a kind of fork, whose ending was changed to -nip by analogy with turnip because it was assumed to be a kind of turnip. Greek and Roman literary sources are a major source about its early use, but there are some difficulties in distinguishing between parsnip and carrot in classical writings, since both vegetables seem to have been sometimes called pastinaca. In Roman times, parsnips were believed to be an aphrodisiac. When the Roman Empire expanded north through Europe, the Romans brought the parsnip with them. They found that the parsnip grew bigger the farther north they went.Parsnips are not grown in warm climates, since frost is necessary to develop their flavor. The parsnip is a favorite with gardeners in areas with short growing seasons.

Until the potato arrived from the New World, its place in dishes was occupied by the parsnip and other root vegetables such as the turnip. Parsnips can be boiled, roasted, microwaved or used in stews, soups and casseroles. Roasted parsnip is considered an essential part of Christmas dinner in some parts of the English-speaking world and frequently features in the traditional Sunday Roast.In the United States, this plant was introduced fairly early in history by British colonists as a root vegetable. In the mid-19th century, it was replaced in popularity by the potato and consequently escaped from cultivation. Today, most states have wild parsnip on their list of noxious weeds or invasive species.

Parsnip is a biennial, which develops the eatable root in the first year. If it is allowed to stay, it will in the second year develop into a plant as tall as a man with large yellow-green flower umbels in July-august. They are very decorative and are visited by hoverflies. Parsnip is used as a food plant by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species.

Parsnip/Almindelig pastinak is found wild in the nature and is considered unwanted. The sap of the plant combined with sunlight can give burns and sores on the skin, but in a milder degree than hogweed.

When picking wild vegetables it is easy to mistake poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) for parsnip. This can have deadly consequences since all parts of hemlock are poisonous. Poison hemlock contains volatile alkaloids that have been used as poisons since ancient times, notably in the death of Socrates. A reliable source should be consulted to differentiate the two.

photo Rebild 30. July 2007: grethe bachmann

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