From The Herb Garden: Make Pals With Parsley

Far more than just a garnish, parsley is a flavorful and potent herb useful to both the chef and the herbalist.

by Bevin Cohen
PHOTO: Stephen Barnes/Shutterstock

The delightful parsley is an easy-to-grow herb that will add an attractive bright green color and fresh, peppery flavor to savory dishes.

Petroselinum crispum is a biennial member of the plant family Apiaceae, related to carrots, fennel and celery. Native to the eastern Mediterranean region, and naturized throughout Europe, this herb is widely cultivated for it culinary and medicinal attributes.

There are two basic cultivars—the flat-leafed variety (oftentimes referred to as Italian parsley) and the curly leafed type. These two parsleys are quite similar, and in many cases are used interchangeably. But chefs often insist on curly parsley’s superiority of flavor and texture.

There is a third type available to the gardener grown specifically for its large, edible root. This cultivar is commonly known as the Hamburg parsley, an heirloom variety dating back to the early 1600’s, believed to have been developed in its namesake city of Hamburg, Germany.

The root resembles something of a mix between a carrot and a parsnip. You can use it similarly, too, roasting the root or adding to soups and stews.

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Parsley in the Kitchen

Parsley is far too often regulated to the role of garnish. But you can use the leaves as an ingredient to liven up many meals. 

Add freshly chopped parsley to potatoes, grains and pastas to make things pop with a peppery, almost anise-like flavor. You’ll discover a wealth of culinary opportunities when combined with lemon!

In France, almost all soup stocks and stews include a bouquet garni, three sprigs of parsley tied together with a bay leaf and some thyme. The classic Italian soup minestrone also highlights the herb’s fresh and bright flavors.

Parsley is delicious in egg dishes, especially when combined with chives and tarragon. Try adding parsley to your favorite pesto recipe for a fresh take on this classic Italian sauce!

Parsley in the Apothecary

Surely the easiest way to harness the healing benefits of parsley is to incorporate this tasty herb into your diet. Parsley is a great source of vitamins A, C and K, and is rich in antioxidants, including flavonoids and carotenoids. 

Traditional herbalists have suggested parsley for a number of different ailments over the years. Most people use it for conditions involving the urinary system, though.

Parsley is often prescribed for use as a diuretic. In these cases, you should make a strong decoction, made by boiling the root of the herb. You could also brew a tea from the leaves. 

Parsley leaf tea will also also help with upset stomach and other digestive complaints. Blended with fennel seeds, the brew offers an inviting flavor along with its carminative benefits. 

Topically, you can use P. crispum to relieve bug bites, eczema and even dandruff. You can infuse the herb in oil to craft a healing salve or simply brew in a strong water infusion for use on the skin and scalp as an herbal wash. 

Read more: Which kind of parsley is best for your farm?

Growing Parsley

Parsley is an easy-to-grow addition to any herb garden. The most difficult part of cultivation is having the patience to wait for the slow-germinating seeds to get growing! Soaking the seeds overnight before planting will help, but they could still take as long as three weeks to germinate.

You can plant seeds early in the spring, about 3-4 weeks before last frost, as soon as the ground is workable. The plants prefer a full area and nutrient-rich soil, although they will still do well in partial shade.

Keep seeds and seedlings evenly moist until the plants are well established. 

Once the plant is around 6-8 inches tall, your herb is ready to harvest! Cut leaves from the outer portions of the plant for use, while allowing the inner stems of your parsley to mature. This will give you a continual harvest throughout the season. 

Parsley is also easy to grow indoors and can be enjoyed year-round! The key: Give your plants plenty of light and make to not let them get too dry. A south-facing window and regular watering will ensure a plentiful supply of tasty and nutritious leaves all winter long.

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