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Heirlooms: Root Vegetables

Root vegetables are a diverse category of tasty plants. Many produce delicious, edible roots, but also greens that are nutritious and tasty. If your kids resist eating many of these, especially turnips, beets, and radishes, try growing heirloom varieties. They will be enthralled with the fun colors and shapes, like beets that are striped like candy canes, purple radishes, and yellow carrots. In addition to the appealing appearances, these heirloom roots taste much better than their grocery store counterparts. You can make excellent mashed parsnips, roasted turnips, and raw radishes with dip.

Heirloom varieties of vegetables are a great source of food and nutrition for your family. When you choose to grow heirlooms, you are supporting an important diversity of foods. Big agriculture grows only a few varieties of each type of plant because it is cheaper to do so. With that practice, however, we lose very important plants that are resistant to pests and diseases that threaten to bring down major crops. Support the healthy diversity of plants by choosing some of the heirlooms below.


Beets are delicious with their naturally rich and sweet flavor. Although most supermarkets only sell the traditional, deep red roots, heirloom varieties come in many different colors and shapes. Beets are low in calories and high in fiber. They have magnesium, vitamin C, iron, zinc, manganese, and potassium. And you can eat the greens too. They contain iron, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and beta-carotene.


Everyone loves carrots. They taste wonderful when eaten raw, but can also be cooked with other roots and add a nice touch of sweetness to dishes. Carrots have plentiful beta-carotene and vitamin A which promote eye health. Like beets, when you choose heirloom varieties, you will be surprised by the range of colors, shapes, and flavors you find.


Although they resemble carrots, parsnip roots are not to be eaten raw. They are, however, excellent and sweet when roasted, boiled and mashed, or fried. Parsnips are high in fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, and vitamin K, and low in fat. Parsnip roots make an unexpected, yet tasty addition to roasts and can be easily stored and eaten all winter.


Every gardener should have a section devoted to radishes. These spicy and delicious root vegetables are healthful, tasty, versatile, and easy to grow. Radish roots can be eaten raw or cooked and the greens can also be eaten. Radishes are high in vitamin C and fiber and low in calories. Radish roots also contain compounds called isothiocyanates, which have been indicated in research to destroy cancer cells [1]. And, they come in a fun variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.


Turnips are a classic root vegetable. Their flavor is rich and slightly bitter. They are good for roasting, stews, and mashing and are very healthful. Turnips are high in vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, potassium, and fiber, and low in calories. The greens can also be eaten and are rich in vitamins A, C, K, folic acid, and calcium.