By Dr. Mercola
Turnips are antioxidant-rich and nutrient-dense. Besides being an excellent source of vitamin C and fiber, turnips also contain a type of phytonutrient known as indoles, which may help you fight cancer — particularly colon cancer. For these and many other reasons, you may enjoy growing turnips. Below, I share everything you need to know to cultivate this hearty, healthy root vegetable.
The Basics About Turnips
Turnips (Brassica rapa) are members of the cruciferous family of vegetables, making them close cousins of kohlrabi and rutabagas. They are biennials grown as annuals and may go to seed in their first year if planted in early spring. Mature turnips reach a height of about 12 to 18 inches and a width of about 6 to 8 inches.
Turnips are native in the wild in western Europe, the Mediterranean and temperate regions of Asia1 and now are grown widely in temperate climates worldwide.2 The Greeks and Romans used turnips and Pliny the Elder considered them to be one of the most important vegetables of his time.3 Once cultivated mainly as livestock forage, turnips have been part of human diets in Europe and the U.S. for hundreds of years.4 The Spruce says turnips:5
- Feature bulbs that are either white or yellow, whereas the portion of the bulb exposed to sunlight above ground level changes color to either green or purple
- Produce mustard-like leafy green tops that are slightly hairy and have toothed edges
- Possess small, yellow flowers whose petals form the shape of a cross; this is true of all cruciferous vegetables, hence the name
Growing Turnips in Five Easy Steps
Turnips do well when planted early in the spring for a summer crop. If you want to store them for use during the winter, it’s best to plant them late in the summer and harvest them before the first frost. For fall crops, plant your seeds about 70 days before the first frost date in your area. Mulching your turnips will help prevent them from freezing, and the cold weather helps sweeten their flavor. Below are recommendations from gardening experts on the considerations you must entertain to ensure a healthy crop of turnips:6,7,8
- Seeds: As a root vegetable, turnips are best planted from seed at a depth of about one-fourth to one-half inch. Use your finger or a trowel to create a small trench and scatter about three to 20 seeds per foot. Space rows 12 to 24 inches apart. For a continuous harvest, plant additional seeds every 10 days throughout the growing season.
- Soil: Turnips prefer a slightly acidic soil pH in the range of 6.0 to 6.5. Rich, well-draining soil will ensure your bulbs grow quickly and do not rot. Because turnips mature quickly, you won’t need to fertilize your plants. The soil must be at least 40 degrees F for germination, which generally takes between seven and 14 days.
- Sun: If you are interested in eating both the turnip and turnip greens, you should choose a planting location that gets full sun. Turnips will tolerate partial shade, too.
- Thinning: Once your turnips are 3 to 4 inches tall, you can thin them to 2 to 4 inches apart to give the roots plenty of room to grow. If desired, you can eat the thinned-out plants as greens.
- Water: Water your turnip seeds immediately after planting to encourage germination. Provide at least an inch of water per week to promote strong root development and quick growth.
Terrific Turnip Types to Try
Though you may be most familiar with the white and purple turnips about the size of tennis balls that are commonly found in local markets, The Spruce suggests there are other varieties of interest, including ones that produce small, tender radish-sized roots. Below are some recommended varieties (with days to maturity):9
Alltop (35 days): Fast-growing variety bred for its greens; regrows quickly after harvest
Scarlet Queen (45 days): Bright red outside, white inside; slow to become pithy
Golden Ball Small (60 days): Sweet, mellow-tasting yellow bulbs with a faint almond-like flavor
Shogoin (45 days): While grown for its leafy mild greens, its bulb is also tasty
Purple Top White Globe (55 days): Easy to grow and the most popular variety; best tasting bulb when 2 to 3 inches in size
Tokyo Cross (35 days): Uniform, quick-growing with pure-white flesh; slow to turn pithy
Turnip Pests and Problems to Consider
If you routinely grow other members of the Brassica family, such as broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower, you may have had experience with one or more of the conditions known to affect turnips. According to The Spruce, turnips are subject to the following diseases and insects:10
- Diseases: Turnips, like all Brassicas, are prone to anthracnose, clubroot, leaf spot, rhizoctonia rot, root knot, scab, turnip mosaic virus and white rust. You can prevent these diseases simply by rotating your crops — don’t plant any Brassica in the same place for more than two years running. To avoid clubroot, wait six years before growing Brassicas in the same location.
- Insects: While turnips are susceptible to aphids and flea beetles, which damage their greens, you can use row covers to keep them off your plants. Root maggots and wireworms are known to cause damage to turnip bulbs.
Harvesting Turnips: You Can Store Them for Winter Use
Once you get the seeds in the ground and water them regularly, you can look forward to harvesting your turnips about 45 to 50 days later. When you plant in the fall, you can leave turnips in the ground to harvest in the winter if you’d like. In most cases, you’ll want to remove them before the first frost. In milder areas you may be able to keep them in the ground during winter by covering them with a thick mulch.11 Here’s everything you need to know about harvesting turnips:12,13
- Bulbs: The best way to determine if your turnips are ready for harvesting is to pull one or two out of the ground to check its bulb size. Bulbs taste best when they are small and tender, so harvest them when they reach about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. Don’t let them grow too long past their maturity date because older turnips, although still edible, can become tough or pithy.
- Greens: Turnip greens can be harvested as soon as they are about 4 inches tall. As long as you don’t damage the top of the bulb, the greens will continually regenerate throughout the growing season.
Summer turnips are said to be more tender than fall crops. Hardy fall varieties may last throughout the winter when stored in a cool dry place or your refrigerator. Remove the greens first — by twisting them off and leaving a 1/2-inch stem — since they won’t last long. Another reason to detach the greens is because they will continue to draw energy and nutrients from the bulbs.
If you are fortunate to have a root cellar, turnip bulbs can easily take their place alongside beets, carrots and rutabagas for wintertime storage. When storing turnips, be sure to leave the soil on the roots because it helps protect the bulbs during storage.
Ways to Use and Enjoy Tasty Turnips
Turnips are doubly appreciated because both their roots and greens are edible and nutritious. While the bitter taste of turnip greens is a turnoff to some — they have a flavor similar to mustard greens — you can blanch, braise or sauté them to reduce their bitter flavor.14 Before cooking or serving turnips, make sure you clean them thoroughly by scrubbing the skin with a vegetable brush under running water.
Turnip roots add heartiness and beneficial nutrients to your meals. They have a mild flavor and a potato-like texture when cooked. Be sure to not overcook them since their characteristic crunch is part of what makes turnips so enjoyable. If you are not familiar with turnips and wonder how you might use them, consider the following suggestions:
- Add turnips (even older, woody ones) to casseroles, side dishes, soups and stews
- The crunch of shredded, raw turnips adds depth to coleslaw and salads; cut them into sticks and use them with your favorite healthy dip
- Try turnip sprouts: I strongly recommend growing your own sprouts because it’s easy and can radically improve your overall nutrition
- Braise or sauté turnip greens with bone broth or a healthy fat, respectively, and add spices and other ingredients of your choice
- Incorporate turnips into your fermented vegetable recipe
If you are not sure how to cook with turnips, check out my Savory Roasted Turnip With Coconut Oil recipe, which makes enjoying turnips on an occasional basis so easy. You’ll appreciate the potato-like consistency of roasted turnips and the flavor provided by coconut oil and sea salt. Beyond that, it’s no surprise turnips show up in my Roasted Root Vegetables recipe, where they are sublime when served up with other healthy root vegetables like beets, onions and parsnips.
Nutrition Facts for Turnips
Turnips are a low-calorie vegetable — a 3.5-ounce, or 100-gram (g), serving contains just 28 calories. The root portion is also loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C, with 21 milligrams (mg) per 100 g — 35 percent of your recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for this essential vitamin. Besides supporting your immune system, vitamin C protects your body against free-radical damage and helps your body form and maintain connective tissue such as blood vessels, bones and skin.
|Amt. Per |
|% Daily |
|Calories from Fat||1|
|Total Fat||0 g||0%|
|Saturated Fat||0 g||0 g|
|Total Carbohydrates||6 g||2%|
|Dietary Fiber||2 g||7%|
|Vitamin A0%||Vitamin C||35%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs
Health Benefits of Turnips: Why Your Body Will Be Glad You Ate Them
Below are a few of the health benefits of turnips:
Turnips are rich in antioxidants and beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, and vitamins A and K — found in the leafy green tops — as well as calcium, copper, iron, manganese and potassium
A 1-cup serving of raw turnip greens provides 173 percent of your recommended daily value of vitamin K17
Turnip greens also contain a range of B vitamins (folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin and thiamin), as well as antioxidant phytonutrients like hydroxycinnamic acid, kaempferol and quercetin, which help lower your risk of oxidative stress
As an excellent source of fiber, turnips promote healthy digestion and elimination; a 100-calorie serving of turnips provides about 25 percent of your daily fiber requirement
Turnips contain a type of phytonutrient known as indoles, which are known cancer fighters; one specific indole called brassinin has been shown to inhibit the growth of human colon cancer cells18
Research19,20 involving cruciferous vegetables suggest the sulforaphane compound that gives vegetables like turnips their bitter taste plays a role in their cancer-fighting abilities
Glucosinolates — the sulfur-containing compounds found in turnip sprouts — appear to have antibacterial, anticancer, antifungal and antiparasitic properties; a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry21 suggests Day Eight of germination as the optimal time to consume turnip sprouts given the peak levels of glucosinolates available at that time
Regardless of how you plan to eat them, for the health benefits alone, you won’t regret adding turnips to your vegetable garden this year. They grow quickly, require minimal care and are prolific. Why not give turnips a try?