Root crops are a concentrated source of dietary carbohydrates and proteins. They are among humanity’s oldest crops.

Edible roots are suitable in community gardens:

  • with shared gardening space for root crops which grow as spreading vines,
  • with larger allotments of a size to cope with spreading vines ,
  • with smaller allotments in which root crops with a shrub growth form, such as potato, can be grown.

Root crops come in both annual and perennial forms (perennials are those taking longer than two years to produce a crop).

For community gardeners, the root crops offer:

  1. a concentrated source of nutritional, carbohydrate-rich ‘energy food’
  2. a source of botanical interest where the less common species are grown
  3. a way to make use of unused garden space.

Root crop is a vegetable cultivated chiefly for its edible roots, e.g., the beet, turnip, mangel-wurzel, carrot, and parsnip. All root crops have a large water content and grow best in deeply cultivated soil in cool, overcast weather when the plant’s loss of water through transpiration is lowest. Because they require thorough cultivating they are often desirable in a rotation of crops-beets and turnips being most frequently so used. Root crops, especially beets, turnips, and carrots, are also grown as food for livestock.

Other underground plants are often, erroneously, called root vegetables. Root vegetables include both true roots such as tuberous roots and taproots, but exclude non-roots such as tubers rhizomes ,corms and bulbs. Several types contain both taproot and hypocotyl tissue, and it may be difficult to distinguish the two.

Regardless of anatomical type, root vegetables are generally storage organs, enlarged to store energy in the form of carbohydrates. They differ in the concentration and the balance between sugars, starches, and other types of carbohydrate.

Of particular economic importance are those with a high carbohydrate concentration in the form of starch. These starchy root vegetables are important staple foods, particularly in tropical regions. They overshadow the cereals throughout much of West Africa, and Oceanía.

Some examples of vegetables:

  • carrot
  • chinese artichoke
  • jerusalum artichoke
  • daikon
  • onion
  • oca
  • parsnip
  • potato
  • sweet potato
  • taro
  • yam
  • yacon

And some of spices:

  • galangal
  • ginger
  • tumeric


Some rhizomes, like the ground nut’s, also produce tubers along their lengths. These short, thick sections of underground stems usually bear minute buds-the familiar eyes of potatoes-that can grow into new plants. Tubers also store food, and many are edible.


A bulb is a single, large, roundish bud, consisting of a short stem surrounded by layers of underground, scale-like leaves. Onions and garlic are typical. Bulbs often store food, and many are edible.


Corms are short, upright, thickened underground ítems also specialized for food storage. They’re not layered like onions, nor attached to rhizomes or bearing buds like tubers. Sometimes they’re edible, but they don’t provide any major wild foods in the United States.


Taproots are true roots. The form from the primary root-the first root that emerges from the seed. They’re usually large and vertical, with branches. Many, like burdock and common evening primrose, store food.


Fibrous roots look like they sound. These true roots aretangled masses of wiry fiber. Most are not edible or medicinal. They hold the soil together, keep out other plants, and often hamper you from digging up other roots.

Fibrous Root

Edible roots are usually in season from fall to early spring, when they store food for spring growth. You can even collect them in the winter, if it’s warm enough that the ground doesn’t freeze, and the basal rosettes that mark the roots’ locations still grow. By midspring, most roots relinquish their stored food and become tough and woody, although exceptions such as burdock and ground nuts are edible all year.

Sources: Answers, Living Foods

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