Root Vegetables (About)

Root Veggies in a Stock Pot

Root Veggies in a Stock Pot

by Cat, Dec 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikipedia – link unknown)

This article discusses the following topics: 1. Beets; 2. Carrots; 3. Jicama; 4. Jerusalem artichoke; 5. Kohlrabi; 6. Onions & allium family; 7. Parsnips; 8. Rutabagas; 9. Sweet potatoes/yams; 10. Turnips; 11. Winter Keeping-Time in Cold Storage

See also (Other sites): 1. Best Health Magazine: 5 Reasons to Eat More Root Vegetables (22)

Rediscover Root Veggies

Except for onions, potatoes and carrots, root veggies are largely ignored on American dinner tables.  Yet they are a highly nutritious and easy to prepare food.  And with proper care, in most cases, they can last in cold storage through a winter without canning or freezing.

Most root veggies store their energy in the root as a fiber known as inulin, which is comprised of chains of fructose. Some store energy in the root as starch, which is comprised of chains of glucose. And some store energy in both forms.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons

Beets at market

Beets at market

Beet greens are very similar to chard, and have a flavor similar to spinach.  They are best steamed or braised, or added to soups a few minutes before serving.

Beetroot is my favorite of the root vegetables, and I especially like it roasted and served with lightly steamed beet greens.

Supportive of the liver, beets have been used medicinally for treatment of constipation.  They have been shown to exert anti-viral and anti-tumor effects in animal studies.

They are high in vitamin C and beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A), folate (a B vitamin), the minerals phosphorous and potassium, and a powerful antioxidant called anthocyanidin.

Cut off the green leaves about an inch or two above the root, and don’t peel the beet root before cooking (these precautions keep the beet from bleeding when cooking).  Instead, roast or simmer them until tender; then the outer layer (skin) will slip off easily.  This method prevents the minerals and vitamins from leaching out.

Beets can also be used raw, to make beet ‘juice’, or in a smoothie mixed with other vegetable or fruit juices.  Or they can be lacto-fermented raw, for a tasty and healthful treat that will last for many weeks in the refrigerator; see my recipe for Pickled Beets or Turnips (If pickled with vinegar, they should be canned to preserve them). Or a lacto-fermented beverage from the Ukraine, known as Beet Kvass. Or, see How to cook beets.

Try my recipe for Beet, Fennel & Orange Salad.  It is gorgeous and delicious.  Borscht is another favorite (beet soup). Beet root also lends itself to glazing; for example, the famous Harvard Beets, or Buttered Ginger Beets.

See also Delicious Organics (1) page on beets for lots of information on varieties and how to use them, including many recipes.  See also Flavours of India: Health Benefits of Beets (2).

Beet root will last 4 – 5 months in cold storage.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bunches of Carrots

Bunches of Carrots

Carrot is a common garden veggie in America.  It is rich in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A.  While both the green tops and the orange root are edible, it is the root that is most commonly consumed.  They are sweetly delicious raw, and are often included with other crudite as an appetizer, or included in the popular coleslaw.

But they also lend themselves to sautéing, steaming, roasting, and stewing, and are an important ingredient for flavoring veggie, chicken and beef broth/stocks.  Squash, Carrot & Ginger Soup is warm and satisfying.  I especially like to saute them with a bit of coriander.  Another favorite recipe is Dublin Coddle, which includes potatoes, carrots and parsnips in an Irish sausage stew.  Carrots lend themselves to glazing, as do most root veggies; see Glazed Carrots & Parsnips.

A perhaps surprising use for carrots is in sweet treats such as Carrot Cake.  Fresh carrot juice is a popular juice-bar concoction.

The green tops are bitter, and so are best used in moderation in green salads, where the bitterness can hide under the tangy vinegar in the salad dressing. I add a few to my morning smoothie.

Carrots will last 4 -6 months in cold storage.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons)



This veggie is also known as Mexican turnip (though it is not a turnip relative), or yam bean.  Only the root of this plant is edible; all other parts are poisonous.

While the root is usually eaten raw, it can also be cooked, as in soups and stir-fry dishes. It is rich in an important fiber known as inulin (or FOS).

Jerusalem Artichoke (Sun Choke)

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem Artichokes

For another good image and lots of good info about this tuber, see Self-Sufficientish (3).

This unusual vegetable will keep 1 – 2 months in cold storage.  A native of the Americas, this tuberous veggie was prized by native cultures for its ability to grow in extremes of temperature, and its nutritional content.  Jerusalem artichokes are very high in a non-starch carbohydrate known as inulin, for which humans have no enzyme to digest.  However, the probiotics that live in a healthy gut feast upon inulin and break it down into non-carb products we can digest.  For people lacking in healthy probiotic colonies, inulin can produce significant gas; therefore if eating this veggie for the first time, eat sparingly.

Jerusalem artichokes are high in the minerals iron and potassium, and contain lesser amounts of calcium, magnesium, selenium, copper and other trace minerals.  Vitamin C, thiamin, niacin and other B vitamins are also present, as well as a bit of protein.

They can be used in much the same way as potatoes, but cook much faster, and can become quite mushy if boiled.  It is best to steam or roast them.  It is not necessary, and indeed difficult to peel them before cooking.

I do not currently have any recipes using this vegetable.  However, I add refined inulin (FOS) to my smoothie, and in my push to replace refined and processed foods with whole food, I’m thinking about cooking up a batch of sun chokes for adding to my smoothie.  I’ll start with just a teaspoon of cooked choke until my system can tolerate more.

The Home Cooking (4) website at offers a few enticing recipes.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Green Kohlrabi

Green Kohlrabi

This unusual vegetable is a member of the cabbage family, and closely related to the turnip.  It is actually NOT a root vegetable, even though I include it here.  The part that looks like a root is actually part of the stem that grows above ground and swells to a bulb-like size.  It is similar in flavor to broccoli stem, but sweeter and not as bitter. I use it in stews such as Dublin Coddle instead of potatoes, when I’m doing lo-carb.

When young and tender, kohlrabi is delicious eaten raw.  Simply peel the outer skin (or not), then slice, dice or grate the bulb and add to salads or serve with other crudite.  It can be substituted for radishes in recipes.

Kohlrabi is a good source of vitamin C and potassium, and also contains the fiber inulin.

Kohlrabi (the bulbous part) will keep for a very long time in cold storage (more than a winter).  The leaves should be eaten within a couple days of harvest, and cannot be stored.

Onions and the Onion Family (Alliums)

(photo from Wikimedia commons)

Mixed onions

Mixed onions

The allium family includes onions, scallions, shallots, leeks and garlic.

Onions are good sources of vitamins C, B6, and folate.  Also minerals chromium, manganese, potassium, molybdenum and copper.  And numerous flavonoids, notably quercitin. They are rich in powerful sulfur-containing compounds responsible not only for pungent odors, but also beneficial health effects.

Onions have notable blood-sugar lowering effects, and cardiovascular benefits.

Garlic Bulbs, Cloves

Garlic Bulbs, Cloves

(Photo, left, from Wikimedia Commons).

Garlic provides excellent immune support and has antimicrobial effects – a good thing to eat raw if you have problems with candida. See my article Garlic & Scapes (About) for more.


(photo from Wikipedia: Parsnip, but no longer there 111313)



Parsnips are a misunderstood and under-appreciated vegetable.  You may not even know what one looks like; you may have it confused with turnips or rutabagas.  Parsnips are a long, creamy yellow root that resembles its relative, the carrot (tho the green part above ground doesn’t look like a carrot).  They are quite sweet and starchy; in fact, before the potato took Europe by storm, parsnips were used much as potatoes are today:  mashed, roasted, boiled, fried, baked, gratineed, stewed.

For example, my recipe for Dublin Coddle includes parsnips with the carrots in this flavorful sausage stew.  My favorite recipe for Parsnips is Glazed Parsnips with Carrots; the method for cooking the veggies in this recipe is also an excellent way to cook other root veggies such as turnips, rutabagas and beets.   And I’ve recently discovered roasted parsnips; see Burnished Chicken Legs (or Butterflied Game Hen) with Yams & Parsnips and the related side dish, Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Parsnips with a Balsamic-Dijon Glaze. Parsnips especially lend themselves to soups, as in Parsnip & Apple Soup.

Parsnips will keep 1 – 2 months in cold storage.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons)



This member of the brassica family matures fast in the garden and doesn’t mind the cold.

Radish roots are high in vitamin C.  They have a mild diuretic properties, and may be good for urinary and kidney problems.  They are also beneficial for the liver and digestive system, and can help with jaundice (the leaves are also beneficial for treatment of jaundice). (from Organic (5))

While the root is the most commonly eaten part (usually raw), the leaves are also edible, and I add them to my snoothie, or as garnish on a salad.

Radishes will keep 2 – 3 months in cold storage.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Cut rutabaga

Cut rutabaga

Also known as “Swedes,” rutabagas are a member of the cabbage family very popular in northern Europe. They are similar to turnips, but sweeter, with a definite orange color They are actually a cross between turnip and cabbage). My Dad grew these in his garden, and included them in his Beef Stew or vegetable beef soup.

Probably the most popular way to serve rutabagas is to cook and mash them, especially combined with carrots and/or potatoes, and added milk or cream (or meat stock) and butter. A version of this preparation is common in all the northern European cultures. The leaves and stems are great braised. All parts can be added to soup or stew; the root is excellent roasted. (6, 23)

Like all cruciferous vegetables, rutabagas may have anti-cancer properties, especially breast cancer. They are rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene and fiber (in the form of inulin), and several minerals including potassium, manganese, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus (23). They contain all the essential dietary minerals but are especially high in potassium, magnesium and phosphorous. (7) They are also rich in antioxidants. (23)

Rutabagas will keep 2 – 4 months in cold storage.

Sweet Potatoes and Yams

 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Sweet potato

Sweet potato

What we call yams in this country are actually a rusty-colored sweet potato. True yams from Africa are another species entirely, and I’ve never seen them in stores or markets here.

They come in a pale yellow, rusty-orange, or deep purple color, although the later is not as common. All are rich in beta-carotene and antioxidants, but the purple one has a special antioxidant called ‘anthocyanin pigments; ‘ however to reap the benefit of these nutrients, steam the purple sweet potato (21). See my Baked Yam or Sweet Potato recipe for baking peeled yams with a liquid added to the casserole dish with a lid; or steam them in a steamer, then mash them.

Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamins C and B6; and important minerals: manganese and potassium. Like most root veggies, they also have a healthy amount of fiber (in the form of inulin). (21)

Always include some fat with your sweet potato – I like butter, but coconut oil, coconut butter, or lard are also good on the potato – or serve with another dish that is rich in fat. This is important to help you assimilate the beta-carotene and reap its healthful benefits.

Sweet potatoes are not a relative of the potato but are often prepared in similar ways. In America, the iconic way is baked with marshmallows (eggy puffy things, not the marshmallow plant) for Thanksgiving Dinner, or the sweet potato pie in southern cuisine. I don’t make the former version (I find the marshmallow topping to be disgusting) and I’ve never tried the pie. But I love them baked in their skin, or peeled, cut into 2 or 3 pieces and baked with a sprinkling of coriander, salt and pepper.

And I’ve recently discovered a great way to cook them: Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Parsnips with a Balsamic-Dijon Glaze.


(photo, right, from Bio-diversity Explorer)



Both the root and the greens are edible. Turnip greens resemble mustard greens, and have a stronger flavor than kale; my favorite way to prepare them is to braise with a bit of minced garlic.

Turnip roots, like many root veggies, can be prepared much the same way as potatoes: boiled, mashed, roasted, and baked. My favorite recipe for the roots is Turnips au Gratin. And I add them to soups and stews, my favorite being  Borscht. They can also be boil.  See also ‘Rutabaga’ above.

Turnip roots are a good source of vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium. Turnip greens are high in lutein. (9)

Turnips will keep for a very long time in cold storage (more than a winter).

Cold Storage (Winter) and Root Cellars

I live in the house m parents built when I was a baby. They included a root cellar in the basement which my Mom used to store all the fermented vegetables and dried meats that she made, as well as canned goodies from Dad’s garden. I use it to keep fermented goodies too, and also apples and garlic through the winter.

There are many passive methods for cold storage of veggies; the simplest being a hole in the ground, covered with straw.

For more on winter storage, refer to Bittersweet (12), Mother Earth Living (13), National Gardening Assoc. (14), or the University of New Hampshire Extension (15).  Selfsufficient-ish (16) website is from the UK and has a simple cold storage “clamp” you can build in a small space of your yard.

You can build/create a root cellar for winter storage.  Check out Walton Feed-1: a dugout (17), and  Walton Feed-3: uses a culvert (17) for creative winter storage ideas.  Tribe Watch (contains handy chart (11)). Green Home Building (18), and Earth-House (19), have more root cellar ideas. And of course, the ‘bible’ on root cellaring is the book, Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel.

Veggie Keeping Time in Cold Storage

See the following, originally from The EssentiaList (10), of which I am the editor.

See also: The Return of Root Cellars and Keeping-Time Chart (11).


  1. Delicious Organics recipes for beets:
  2. Flavours of India, Health Benefits of Beets:
  3. Self-Sufficientish on Jerusalem artichokes:
  4. Home Cooking on Jerusalem artichokes: and
  5. Organic on radishes:
  6. Wikipedia on rutabaga:
  7. Livestrong on rutabaga:
  8.  Museums Online from South Africa
  9. Wikipedia on turnips:
  10. The EssentiaList:
  11. The Return of Root Cellars and Keeping-Time Chart:
  12. Bittersweet:
  13. Mother Earth Living:
  14. National Gardening Assoc.:
  15. University of New Hampshire Extension:
  16. Selfsufficient-ish:
  17. Walton Feed-1 (a dugout): and Walton Feed-3 (uses a culvert):
  18. Green Home Building:
  19. Earth-House:
  20. Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel; see Amazon for a peek inside (
  21. Worlds healthiest Foods on sweet potatoes:
  22. Best Health Magazine, Jan/Feb 2010: 5 Reasons to Eat More Root Vegetables (
  23. Mercola:


About Cat

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