Foods for Birds #4 – Turnip Greens (or Tops)

A guest post by Elaine Radford, host of the Peachfront Conure blog.

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Turnip Greens — ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ — Key Source of Vitamin K

Turnip greens, also known as turnip tops, are one of those dark leafy greens that are highly recommended because they pack a lot of vitamins and minerals into a high fiber, low fat, low calorie package. Turnip greens actually contain more cancer-fighting phytonutrients than their more popular cousin, broccoli. Turnip greens are an exceptional source of natural vitamin K, the blood clotting vitamin. They also contain several other vitamins, including vitamin A, C, and several B vitamins, in addition to being an excellent source of calcium. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, vitamin K appears to be more important in maintaining healthy bones than we once realized, so turnip tops, as a rich source of both K and calcium, appear to be a great food for strong bones.

Probably any bird would benefit from having some chopped turnip tops in the food mix, but this green is particularly important for Conures and Mini Macaws, who may be at risk for a disease caused Conure Bleeding Syndrome, which can be fatal. In a bleeding emergency, an avian vet must treat the bird immediately with injectable vitamin K, but we Conure and Mini Macaw owners should try to prevent the illness altogether, by feeding a diet with plenty of natural vitamin K.

For more about USDA research into vitamin K, visit this page at the U.S. Department of Agriculture site.

Learn more about Conure Bleeding Syndrome by visiting this page on the Avian Web.

Properties:

Amino Acids: Rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid thought to be linked to healthy sleep.

Vitamins: K, A, C, folate, E, B6, B2, B1, B5

Minerals: Manganese, calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus.

For more about the properties of this super-food, you can visit the turnip tops page at the nonprofit The World’s Healthiest Foods.

Preparation Methods and Ways to Serve:

In general, it is much easier to grow turnip tops than to grow spinach. I like a non-hybrid variety, called Seven Tops Turnip Tops, that isn’t as bitter as the greens from turnip varieties grown more for people looking to eat the roots. When you can’t grow or buy fresh turnip tops, try the frozen food department. If they are quick frozen, they will be just as nutritious and maybe a little easier for you to prepare. You can use them in any recipe where you would use spinach, but I like to choose recipes with strong flavor elements, to overwhelm any lingering hint of bitterness. For instance, if I am stir-frying turnip greens in olive oil to make a cooked salad, I’ll dash on plenty of balsamic vinegar and maybe some chopped fresh rosemary to bring out the flavor.

It only takes a minute or two to chop up and steam some plain turnip tops for your bird’s food mix. However, my Conures don’t have as many taste buds as I do. That’s why I cook the greens first in unsalted water, drain them well, and remove the portion that I’ll be serving to my parrots. They can eat it plain, but for the human members of this family, I will next want to stir-fry in olive oil or bacon fat, or I will want to cream the greens in milk and cheddar cheese. Parrots don’t need bacon, fancy creamed turnip tops, or even seasoned salt, but in my experience, the human animal is far more likely to eat up all the turnip tops if there’s bacon or cheese involved. So the bird version of the meal is extremely low sodium, low fat, and low calorie, while the human version does contain all those great vitamins and minerals, but now we’ve added some fat and salt to the equation. If you’re on a low fat or low calorie diet, you can try it the parrot’s way and see how you like it: Steam the greens until they’re limp and then sprinkle with a dash of balsamic vinegar. I’d add a touch of a good seasoned salt like Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning, but if you have to go low salt as well, maybe you could try Mrs. Dash.

By the way, although I’m in the camp that believes that the nutrients in greens are more digestible if they’re cooked at least a little, you don’t have to cook the turnip tops if you don’t want to. Snip them up in tiny pieces with chef’s scissors and stir them into your bird’s food mix. You can place some larger pieces in their flight, such as a bundle of leaves in a dog dish. They might “play” with these large leaves as much as they eat, but they’re having a good time — and that’s heart-healthy too.

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