The Plants We Eat: Roots


When we think of eating plants, we can define “vegetables,” as a plant or part of a plant used as food, such as a cabbage, potato, carrot, or bean. We also speak of “Fruit and vegetables,” separating fruit as “the usually edible reproductive body of a seed plant, especially: one having a sweet pulp associated with the seed. The fact is, we eat many parts of plants, including the roots.

Roots are the part of a plant which attaches it to the ground or to a support, typically underground, conveying water and nourishment to the rest of the plant via numerous branches and fibers.

If you think about the roots that we eat, which ones come first to mind? Carrots and potatoes? Even though potatoes are considered stems because they have buds that sprout stems and leaves, they do grow underground, and like many roots, store food for the plant.

Beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, turnips, and rutabagas are all root crops. These vegetables offer a prolonged harvest season and, for the most part, a long storage life. They also produce a large amount of food in a small amount of space.

Note: When planting root crops in raised beds, make sure the prepared soil is at least as deep as the plants’ roots will grow.


Roasted Root Vegetables

My husband, Jim, and I are very fond of beets, and eat all parts of the plant. The following recipe can be made with just the roots, as described, but also including steamed stems and raw baby greens. To prepare them, we put the roots in boiling water, in the bottom of a pasta pot. Ten minutes before the roots are done, we add the stems to the water, in the basket. We steam the leaves on top, for a hot dish.

Marinated Beet Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese

Iowa State University “Flavors of Northwest Iowa”