Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Flat parsley & Curly Parsley - Herb of the Week

Recently choosing herbs for the Men's Garden Club of Villa Park Plant sale, coming up May 9 & 10, 2015 we decided to include parsley, especially flat parsley in our "Heirlooms and Herbs Plant Sale" which will feature among the perennials, a wonderful selection of vegetables and herbs for the home gardener interesting in growing things for their own consumption.  If you are interested in pre-order or attending the events, check out the details on the Men's Garden Club website.  And I know it is called the Men's Garden Club, but it has been letting in women since the 1990s and I am not only on the board, but also on the Plant Sale committee.  I'd love to see you at the sale.

Nothing worse then overlooking an herb as a feature because you are sure you have done it before, only to discover that you have never focused on it. That is the case with Parsley.  I was compiling my list of herbs to research in 2015 and realized that Parsley had never been an Herb of the Week.  So here is to 
    Parsley Petroselinum crispum 
              a well deserved Herb of the Week

There are actually three common varieties of parsley and I will highlight all three here.  The popular one these days is Flat leaf or Italian Parsley (Petroselinum crispum hortense), then you have the one we all recognize from a restaurant plate, Curly Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and parsnip rooted parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum) also known as Hamburg.

Parsley was believed to be the herb of choice for Hercules and as such was woven into wreaths for winning athletes in Greece.  It was also fed to horses to increase their stamina.

Oddly enough it was also associated with death by the Greeks.  It was used to make wreaths for graves.  By the Middle Ages it was being touted as an herbal medicine, credited with curing a great range of ills, including anything to do with the liver and kidneys as well as plague, asthma, dropsy, jaundice and an aid to digestion.

There is much folklore associated with Parsley.  It is believed that only a witch or pregnant woman could grow it, and that a fine harvest was only ensured if the seeds were planted on Good Friday.  Also it is said that if parsley is transplanted misfortune would descend upon the household.

To Grow

This biennial herb that flowers only in the second year is brightly green leafed.  The leaves are divided pinnately into feather-like sections that lay flat like celery leaves or curl into small frilly leaflets depending on the variety.  Parsley has been naturalized through out the temperate region needing full sun to part shade. Curly parsley grows 12 to 16 inches tall and can be grown easily as far north as zone 5.  The flat leaf parsley is taller growing 18 to 24 inches and is best for cooking.  Hamburg parsley is a perennial grown for its root, which can get up to 6 inches long.  An old plant that you find only occasionally as it has fallen out of favor as a root vegetable with other easier to grow plants available.
flat leaf at the top of photo, curly here in the front

Curly Parsley, as a bright green compact plant, makes a nice border or edging plant.  Parsley is susceptible to underground attackers, like nematodes and parsley worms, due to its large tap root.  As a result one should relocate parsley at the end of its life style.  Many people treat it as an annual, removing the plant at the end of the season.  Some like to allow it to flower the second year, but once the plant sprouts a flower shaft, the leaves become bitter and untasty.

You can sow seed directly in spring once the soil temperature reaches 50 degrees F.  It transplants badly so it generally best to sow it where you plan to grow it.  Drill in the seed about an inch deep.  Parsley will go to seed in the second year, so most people treat it as an annual.  It is slow to germinate (up to 6 weeks) because the seed of parsley actually has a germination inhibitor.  You can cover the seed with a moisture retaining material, water frequently, pour boiling water over the seed before covering it or even treating the seed by soaking, refrigerating or freezing.  I tossed the seed packet in the freezer and then planted it one year with good success.  Winter sowing also works well with parsley.
Hamburg Parsley
Six plants set 6 to 8 inches apart will supply the average family and allow extra for freezing or drying.  To keep the plant productive weed it often and cut back the full length of the outside stems and remove all flower stalks.

The soil needed to grow parsley is deep and not light or acidic.  Rich and well draining is important to avoid rot.

To Use

So many think is it only a decorative green, but it is actually has more vitamin c per volume than oranges.  It also contains Vitamin A, several B vitamins, calcium, and iron.  Beyond this contribution of vitamins and minerals, however, it is not considered significantly medicinally. You can use a tea made from the seeds of parsley to kill haed lice.  Pour it over the head after washing and rinsing, wrap your head in a towel for 30 minutes and then allow the hair to dry naturally.  Equally the seeds and leaves steeped in water can be used as a hair rinse.

That camphory odor that parsley tends to have is the work of a combination of volatile oils found in the leaves and stems.  This scent attracts rabbits.  Parsley is a diuretic and has been used as a tea to treat bladder infections. Avoid using it in excess as it can irritate kidneys and decrease pulse rate.  Pregnant woman should avoid parsley oil or large quantities of parsley, but the sprinkle or sprig is just fine.

In many food regions Parsley plays and important role, in the Middle East it is an important part of tabbouleh, in France it is used with ham, garlic, butter and escargots.  Belgians and Swiss make deep fried parsley and the Japanese make a deep-fried parsley tempura. In Mexico it is part of Salsa verde and even the English use it, making a parsley jelly.

If you want a good Parsley to dry, try Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanium, a flat-leaf Parsley.  With a slightly stronger taste it is best for drying.  You can freeze curly parsley to help it retain color and flavor. Cooking with parsley enhances the flavor of other foods and herbs.  The best flavor is had if added just before the end of cooking.

Boil Hamburg parsley as a root vegetable or grate raw into salads.  Using in soup mixes, the flavor resembles both celery and parsley.

Create a sauce for cold beef, shellfish and pasta by pureeing a bunch of parsley with garlic, olive oil and ricotta cheese in a food processor of blender.


Fines Herbs ala Marcy
1 part chives
1 part chervil
1 part parsley
1 part tarragon

Blend together dried herbs and store in an airtight jar.  Use on a variety of dishes, including eggs, fish, and chicken.  Make a great salad vinaigrette when you blend a tablespoon with 2/4 cup oil and 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice.

Fish Bouquet Garni
2 sprigs parsley
1 sprig French tarragon
1 sprig fennel
2 leaves lemon balm

Tie the fresh herbs together in a bundle and add to the cooking liquid in casseroles, sauces, soups, broths and stews and use to brush fish or place in water when poaching fish.

Tabbouleh recipes originally come from the Eastern Mediterranean. There are thousands of versions out there for this one we are using Quinoa.

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water (or vegetable broth)
2 cups chopped parsley
2 cups chopped fennel bulb
6 chopped green onions
1 cup of sliced cherry tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumber
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemons (about three lemons)
zest from lemons, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
paprika to taste

The first step in our tabbouleh recipe is to cook the quinoa. Rinse the dried quinoa well, then add it to a medium sauce pan along with 2 cups of water (or vegetable broth). Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer for 18-20 minutes or until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is light and fluffy. Set aside to cool.  Meanwhile gather the veggies, tomatoes and mint and get those chopped and sliced. Measure out the olive oil, lemon juice and zest. Once the quinoa has cooled put it in a large bowl along with all the prepared veggies, tomatoes and mint. Pour in the lemon juice, olive oil and lemon zest. Stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Sprinkle with paprika and it’s ready to serve. We like this tabbouleh as a side dish to rosemary chicken.

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