Rutabagas (Brassica napus) are believed to be a mutation of a wild cabbage and turnip, all members of the Brassicaceae (Mustard) Family. Rutabagas are believed, native to Siberia and Russia and grow either as an annual or biennial. The word rutabaga is derived from the Swedish “rotabagge”, “rota” meaning ” round root.” Rutabagas are also referred to as Swedish Turnips and Swedes. Until the 1600’s, rutabaga was an important European crop, though potatoes lent themselves better to alcohol distillation, and soon were favored. In Southern Europe, rutabagas were consumed by humans and used as animal fodder. Throughout history, animals were often fed the healthiest foods, and humans dined on what was cooked, refined and nutritionally inferior. Before pumpkins were available in Europe, the ancient Celtic celebration of All Hallow’s Eve (Samhain), or better known as Halloween, it was a rutabaga (or turnip) that was hollowed out, carved and fitted with a candle, the original Jack o Lantern.
Rutabagas are warming and liver stimulating. Rutabagas have been recommended to treat constipation, improve digestive disorders and to rid the body of intestinal worms. In general, foods in the Mustard Family are all rich in the antioxidant dithiolthiones, sulfur and indoles, all found to have anti-cancer activity. Rutabagas are high in beta-carotene; contain some vitamin C, B complex, calcium, potassium, fiber and carbohydrates.
Look for firm vegetables that are heavy for their size, as lightweight ones are likely to be withered inside. Rutabagas have a yellow hued flesh, grow well in cold climates and last long into the winter. Rutabagas, if commercial are often waxed, so be sure to peel. They can be pureed to make soup, a substitute for mashed potatoes, grated raw into salads or sliced as crudités. October is National Rutabaga month.