Saturday, April 15, 2017

Turnip Top - a lesser known vegetable

You might have read one of my previous posts in which I wax eloquently about turnip tops, a green I hold in very high esteem. It is a very little know vegetable and, to appreciate it, you need to realize two things: first, that turnip top is neither a turnip nor the green leaves of a turnip, and second, that you should not attempt to eat it as is recommended in seed catalogues.

Turnip top at its prime

The few seed catalogues that carry turnip top (I gather that it is more popular in the American South), recommend to eat the green in salad when the leaves are about 6 inches tall.

Well don't. The leaves are coarse, hairy and,  if you have not been able to control the flea beetles, full of holes. To top it all, at this stage the plant is not particularly tasty.

However, if you leave it alone when comes fall, the following spring, just after the snow melts, it will come back up vigorously and will soon produce delicious flower buds, like small broccoli heads or, more accurately, like what is sold in grocery stores here in Ontario as "rapini", also known as "broccoli raab".

Except that turnip top is tastier than rapini, not as bitter and a lot easier to grow.

Turnip top waking up in early April after months under the snow

Here is a picture of what the edible plant will look like in less than a month's time at Roche fleurie.

Turnip top (Seven tops variety)

In the second year, you do not have to protect it against flea beetles as the beetles appear now only once the turnip tops have gone to seed. A dozen plants produces enough for two people for several weeks.

This particular variety is called "Seven Tops". When you break the stem to eat it, it is actually replaced by seven new stems (tops).

After a few weeks, once you have had all the turnip tops you wanted, the plant starts to bloom. At this stage the blooms are too stringy to eat, but the leaves are at their most tender and are delicious steamed or even in salad as they are quite mild tasting.

The leaves acquire a grey brassica look to them. In fact they look and taste completely different from the leaves of the coarse first year plant.

Leaves when the plant is in bloom the second year contrasted with the hairy leaves of the first year

Last year I decided to grow, as well as Seven Tops, a different variety of turnip top. The only other variety I found is called "Namenia". I seeded it last year and it came up just like Seven Tops (coarse, hairy, etc.). However each plant produced little round turnip-like roots. These did not survive the winter. Here is what they looked like after the snow melted.

"Namenia" which did not survive the winter

Most of the time Seven Tops does not make a "turnip" (though I noticed that once in a while one plant will). Here is what its root looks like when you eventually pull up the plant after the second year when you have saved some seeds in summer.

I have not indicated any Latin name. According to Hortus Third, turnip top would appear to be a Brassica rapa of the Rapifera Group. The taxonomy for brassica  seem even more nebulous than for thyme or lavender.

In summary, "Seven Tops" turnip top is a biennial green that produces no edible root but, in the second year, grows delicious stems, buds and leaves. It is not affected by any pest at the time it is eaten.

Usually some plants self sow and if you keep these new plants or start some seeds, you will have turnip top every year as if it were perennial. We have been growing it for at least 6 years. It has survived through some very severe winters.


  1. I've never seem these for sale over here or rapini.

    1. Rapini is relatively common but not Turnip Top. It is a pity because I do not know any other brassica which is at its best in the garden in early spring.

  2. Nice to see you back! Hope you had a good winter.

    1. Very good. Hope it was the same for you. Give my best to Maria.

  3. It sounds tasty. I've heard of it, but never tried it. How do you prepare them?

    1. It can replace brocoli or rapini in any recipe. I like it slightly fried with garlic, served on linguine with a bit of parmesan.

  4. I like most greens, especially mustard greens. Turnip greens sounds good.

  5. Hello Alain, nice to see a new post after a break. I was very confused when I saw the picture as the turnip top did not look like the top of a turnip. I'm not sure if this is available here, perhaps in specialist veg/seed catalogues.

  6. My favourite 'spring greens' are the sprouting shoots on brussels sprouts, kale and of course sprouting broccoli. Frequently all steamed together!

  7. This is very interesting. I am going to scout about and see if I can get seven tops seed. I like the idea of frying it with garlic and serving with linguine and parmesan. It sounds delicious!


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