By Bonnie L. Grant
Turnips are members of the Brassica family, which are cool season vegetables. Plant seeds in spring or late summer when growing turnip greens. The bulbous roots of the plants are often eaten as a vegetable, but the greens provide a zesty cooked side dish. There are many health benefits of turnip greens and they provide a wallop of Vitamins C and A. Knowing when to pick turnip greens will ensure that you harness these nutrients at their peak.
Turnip Greens in the Garden
Turnips are eaten for the thick fleshy root or bulb that the plant produces. They have been in cultivation for over 4,000 years and may have been eaten by ancient Romans and early Greeks. The leaves and stems of the plant are packed with fiber and nutrients.
Turnip greens are associated with southern cooking and are an important part of regional diets. The best time when to pick turnip greens is when they are young and small for best flavor. Greens need to be washed well and cooked to soften the tough center rib.
Growing Turnip Greens
Turnips are biennial plants that require winter chill to produce flowers and seeds. As a root crop, the plants become bitter when left in the ground during hot periods. Greens can be grown at any time in spring or fall as long as the soil is warm enough for germination.
The leaves are tastiest when harvested young. The method on how to harvest turnip greens is simple and you can continuously harvest the leaves as they appear. This will inhibit turnip bulb formation but ensure fresh tender leaves for your recipes. Turnip greens in the garden will need monitoring for leafhoppers, several types of larva and cutworms.
How to Harvest Turnip Greens
Knowing how to harvest turnip greens is not as important as when to pick turnip greens. Turnip greens have the best flavor when harvested in the morning. They should be taken within a few hours of use to keep the fresh taste.
Use scissors or garden shears for “cut and come again” harvesting. Cut the leaves off near the ground starting on the outside. New leaflets will come in after a week or two. These will mature to a smaller size than the original batch but you will be able to get another harvest off the plant.
Health Benefits of Turnip Greens
Turnip greens are high in Vitamin A, which acts as an antioxidant. One cup of cooked turnip greens has about 1.15 milligrams of iron, important for the formation of red blood cells. Calcium is another nutrient found in large amounts in the greens. Magnesium, potassium, Vitamins C and K are contained in the plant and one cup has 5 grams of fiber.
Avoid overcooking the greens as some of the nutrients will seep out and are thrown away with the cooking water. Wash your greens well to clear them of grit. Some cooks will remove the ribs but it is not necessary. Southern cooks make a broth or “pot-likker” to braise the leaves but you can stir fry them or even use them fresh in salads.