Wild turnip is a close botanical relative of its more popular, cultivated counterpart. In appearance, wild turnip is nearly identical to cultivated varieties of the plant. Because of its hardiness, wild turnip grows abundantly throughout temperate regions, especially in disturbed areas. In many places, the plant is so widespread that it is regarded as a weed. Many urban foragers take advantage of wild turnip's abundance and use it extensively as a food source. Wild turnip is easy to identify and all parts of the plant are edible.
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Finding and Identifying Wild Turnips
Look for wild turnips in ground that has been disturbed by human activity. Wild turnip grows well in suburban lawns, roadsides and abandoned fields. Begin your wild-turnip search during the warm months, when the flowers and flower-heads can enable easier identification.
Scan the area for clusters of tall, erect plants with bright yellow flowers. The bold coloration of the turnip flowers make the plant easy to spot in large, overgrown areas. In general, mature wild turnip plants are two feet to one yard in height.
Compare the plant to photographs of wild turnips. Wild turnips have flower-heads that look somewhat similar to broccoli; they form clusters at the top of the tall stems. The flowers have four petals and six stamens, and the stems of plants form a branching pattern.
Differentiate between wild turnip and other members of the brassica genus, such as charlock, wild radish, wild beet, watercress and wild mustard. Immature specimens of the turnip have wart-like growths on the leaves--a trait unique to the turnip. In mature plants, large leaves will wrap around, or "clasp" the stems. All members of the brassica genus are edible, but misidentification could lead to culinary mistakes.
Harvest wild turnip according to seasonal availability. In the early spring and early autumn, the flower buds have a texture similar to broccoli. Harvest the leaves, or "greens" of the wild turnip before they reach full maturity--mature leaves have a strong, bitter flavor. The roots of wild turnip become very hard and fibrous late in the winter, but roots harvested in autumn are usually tender enough to eat.