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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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parsnip Pastinaca sativa, an umbelliferous plant which grows wild in Europe and W. Asia and has been cultivated to produce an edible root. (The root of the wild parsnip is small, woody, and inedible, but sweet and with a distinct parsnip aroma; so it could originally have been used as a flavouring. Cultivation for this purpose would have improved its size and led to edible forms.)

The earlier ancient writers did not distinguish between parsnips and carrots. The first name for ‘parsnip’ was the Latin pastinaca; but even as late as the 1st century AD Pliny the Elder was using this to mean ‘carrot’ as well. Later writings such as those of Apicius suggest that the Romans cultivated parsnips, and held them in some esteem. The English name ‘parsnip’ comes, through French, from pastinaca with the ending ‘nip’ to indicate that it was like a turnip.