Although this aromatic biennial is best known as a garnish for other foods, parsley is much more than a frilly face. Native to the Mediterranean region and naturalized in Europe, parsley is cultivated throughout the world. The plant’s curled leaves have a fresh, slightly peppery flavor.
One of the first herbs to appear in early spring, parsley is used in the traditional Jewish Passover meal (known as the Seder) to represent new beginnings. Ancient Greeks planted parsley on graves and fed the herb to chariot horses. Ancient Romans ate parsley with soft cheese on bread. The ancients also used wreaths of parsley to ward off drunkenness.
Common Name: Parsley
Description: Plant, 10 to 18 inches tall, with flat or curly leaves divided pinnately into sections; umbels of tiny greenish yellow flowers form in the second year
Hardiness: Biennial; hardy to Zone 3
Flowering: Spring or summer of second year
Parts Used: Leaves
Range/Habitat: Sardinia east to Lebanon; cultivated throughout temperate zones
Among the world’s most popular culinary flavorings, parsley is used in sauces, fillings, and savory dishes. It pairs especially well with egg and chicken salads, tomatoes, cheeses, egg dishes, and peas. The herb makes a tasty addition to pasta dishes and is a crucial component of the Middle Eastern bulgur wheat salad called tabbouleh. In Burgundy, France, persillade, a fine mince of garlic and parsley, is added at the final moment of cooking to grilled meats, sautés, and poultry. Parsley is also one of the herbs in bouquet garni, a bundle of herbs used to flavor soups and stews.
Parsley is a good dietary source of iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C. Used since ancient times to freshen the breath, parsley contains high levels of chlorophyll, an ingredient in many commercially available breath fresheners. It is soothing to the digestion and may be taken to relieve intestinal gas and bloating. The herb has a diuretic effect and has been used to treat urinary tract infections, edema, and kidney stones. Parsley also has traditionally been used to relieve menstrual pain.
Caution: Parsley leaf should not be used in medicinal amounts during pregnancy or by individuals with kidney disease. Photodermatitis, a rash caused by the sun, occurs in some people who harvest or handle parsley routinely.
How to grow it
Parsley grows in rich, well-drained, neutral soil in full sun or partial shade. Although parsley is a biennial, it is often planted as an annual because it develops a bitter flavor during its second year. Plant seeds or transplants in spring or early summer, after the soil temperature has warmed. Harvest leaves as needed throughout the growing season, removing the outer stems first. Crush the dried leaves and store them in an airtight container.