Turnip (Brassica rapa, B. campestris) is technically a white version of rutabaga. The species name, rape is from the Latin word for turnip. The old English word for turnip is from naep, which when blended with the Anglo-Saxon word turn, meant, “to make round.” This evolved into turnaep, eventually becoming turnip. A member of the Brassicaceae Family, it is related to broccoli and radish and believed to be native Eurasia.
Turnips can grow in poor soil, and were thus associated with poverty. Potatoes, when introduced to Europe became more popular. However, turnips yield both edible roots and greens, and potato greens are toxic. Turnips have one-third the calorie content of potatoes.
Turnips are considered alkalinizing, warming, sweet, bitter and pungent. They are a digestive aid, lung tonic, and energizing to the stomach and intestines. They help dry dampness, clear phlegm, neutralize toxins, move stagnation, build the blood, and can be used during a healing crises. Turnips have been used to treat asthma, bronchitis, high cholesterol, constipation, diabetes, hoarseness, insomnia, jaundice, nervousness, skin diseases, sinus disorders, and tuberculosis. When eaten raw, they clean the teeth and gums. They are believed to reduce the risk of cancer due to their indole content, glucosinolate, and because they speed up the metabolism of estrogen. They are high in vitamin C, calcium, potassium, sulfur, and carbohydrates. Turnips have been applied as a poultice over sore throats and chest colds.
Turnips must be in their prime to be flavorful. Old ones are bitter and pithy. Small to medium smooth firm roots are best. Ideally, look for turnips with root and stem ends intact. Commercial turnips are often waxed. If the greens are still attached, they should not be wilted. Refrigerated in a paper bag, they keep several weeks.
Turnips can be used grated in salads, soups or pureed. Scrub off soil and
cut into slices and cubes.
Turnip greens, even more nutritious than the root, are rich in beta-carotene, vitamin B2, B12 (when soil is well composted), and folic acid. They are considered excellent for anemia, asthma, bladder disorders, bronchitis, coughs, high blood pressure, gout, liver ailments, and tuberculosis. In folk medicine, a few turnip leaves are applied to the back of the neck to stop nosebleed. They can be substituted in most recipes for kale or collard greens. They are considered bitter when used raw in salad, unless marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and salt.
Those with low thyroid function should be sure they are getting enough iodine (such as in kelp and dulse) or thyroid activity can be inhibited. Those that are constipated may find turnips flatulence inducing, as they help detoxify the bowels. Turnip flowers are edible and in oriental medicine considered a liver tonic and aid to visual acuity. The seeds are diuretic and used to clear damp heat, improve vision, and remedy jaundice, and dysentery.