Have you ever wondered what might have happened if Peter Rabbit’s pilfering Mr. McGregor’s garden had presented him not with an orange, but a purple carrot? He surely would have been quite surprised.
Although our own expectations may be similar to Peter’s experience, there’s way more to the story about today’s carrot, Daucus carota, subsp. sativus.
Some 5,000 years before the cultivation of today’s common garden carrot, Daucus carota, the wild carrot, grew abundantly in areas of the Middle East, Asia, Europe, as well as Afghanistan.
First propagated by the Egyptians, Greeks and ancient Romans, they were used for medicinal properties carried within their seeds. Although many of those first (not so tasty) roots were white, yellow, and red, those of deepest amethyst were probably the main variety in Iran and Afghanistan.
While most varieties carried some variation of orange coloration, the true orange carrot was crafted from a mutant strain of purple carrots. Although the Dutch might take credit for many of today’s orange varieties, new evidence shows that there were orange varieties before the 17th century.
Most people envision carrots being orange, and darker varieties appear dull in color when overcooked. Perhaps that is why the “root of purple” almost disappeared.
Fortunately for us, the heirloom violet-purple and darker “black” varieties are making a comeback not only in specialty seed catalogs, but in today’s garden plots. If you’re not impressed with the purple roots you’ll be astounded by deep pink flowering stems.
Why plant purple? Not only are these amethyst roots beautiful to behold, their vitamin and mineral benefits are bountiful. Along with beta carotene, purple carrots are high in terpenoids and low in sugar. They also contain an abundance of anthocyanins, as well as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties in the blackest varieties.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, some purple carrots seeds were saved. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange reintroduced them in 1991.
With new methods to lightly cook vegetables, a multitude of purple carrot varieties show up not only on the menus of well-known chefs, but dazzle on our own dinner plates. They also make quite a statement when shredded raw in salads.
While you might find such carrots in markets carrying heirloom produce, why not plant your own pinnacles of purple?
Like their orange counterparts, they require at least a foot of loose, well-composted soil to keep their 8–9” tapered roots straight.
They can be direct sown (seedlings don’t transplant well) anytime from late spring through late summer. Thinning young seedlings to 2–3” apart will encourage larger and straighter root growth and avoid “love-knot” bundles from those clustered too close together. Lots of mulch and light fertilizing with low-nitrogen fertilizer along with regular irrigation is all you need.
From tops (yes, they’re edible too) to bottoms, put some punch in your garden palette and plant some seed for that “Root of all Purple.”
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
They have 3 varieties of purple carrots
Trade Winds Fruit
They have several varieties
Pinetree Garden Seeds
They have two varieties
*Note: SESE wasn’t listed since their seeds are sold out for 2021
Recipe: Carrot, mint
and lovage salad
A very tasty dish with lovage. If you haven’t any lovage, use celery leaves. This also makes a delicious relish on sandwiches.
1 pound of purple (or a mixture of carrots including orange and red) carrots, washed, peeled and shredded on the coarse side of box grater or food processor.
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, washed and finely chopped
3 tablespoons fresh lovage (or celery leaves), minced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, washed and minced
1 celery rib, washed and cut into small diced pieces
¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
zest and juice from one organic Meyer lemon
1 tablespoon organic honey
3 tablespoons organic cider vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
Toss carrots, herbs, celery, nuts and lemon zest. Mix together lemon juice, honey, oil, vinegar and salt.
Pour over carrot mixture and toss until all is coated. Refrigerate for a couple hours before serving.
Serves about 4-6.