A native of the Mediterranean, this aromatic herb impresses as a source of iron and vitamin C. It is a flowering herb found in southern Mediterranean countries that include Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, and Malta, as well as in Middle Eastern and northern African countries like Lebanon, Algeria. Tunisia, Morocco, and Israel.
It’s been used historically for multiple purposes from medicinal to symbolic to culinary. Whatever your inspiration, this is a lovely herb to include in your herb garden or as a garden border and will delight when included in your favorite cuisine.
The History Behind the Herb
Botanically known as Petroselinum crispum, it is a member of the Apiaceae family and is pretty much cultivated globally. Among its many benefits, parsley boasts antioxidant properties. It is believed to have made its first appearance as early as the 3rd century BC on the Italian island of Sardinia. Swedish 18th-century botanist Carl Linnaeus indicated its origins in Sardinia. Parsley was brought to England and was cultivated as early as the 16th century there.
It has been used in antiquity in Greek competition victory wreaths while the ancient Romans used it to stave off evil spirits. Its colored history includes uses as a funeral herb, as a symbol of the spring, and on the Passover Seder plate.
Kinds of parsley used in cuisine include
- Curly leaf parsley which is used mostly as a garnish
- Flat-leaf parsley used for topping
- Root parsley is used in stews, soups, and casseroles, or even eaten as a snack.
- Petroselinum crispum Aphrodite – usually employed as a garnish, it is dark green with a tight curl
- Petroselinum crispum Envy – another ornamental parsley with dark green curled foliage
- Petroselinum crispum French – A dark green flat-leaf variety with a strong flavor and is used for cooking
- Petroselinum crispum Gigante Napoletano – characterized by fragrant large leaves
- Petroselinum crispum Titan – a French flat-leaf variety with dark green small leaves that emanate a sweet but strong parsley flavor
Culinary Uses of Parsley
While curly parsley is generally used as a garnish, flat-leaf parsley is used to season potatoes, rice, fish, chicken, steaks, goose, and lamb as well as in stews and soups worldwide. Parsley seeds are likewise used in cooking for stronger flavoring, and you may find freshly chopped parsley in salads.
Parsley provides multiple nutrients including flavonoids and antioxidants together with vitamins A, C, and K.
How to Cultivate Parsley
Both curled and flat-leaf parsleys need to be cultivated in soil that is consistently moist and at the same time well-draining. It can be grown either in partial shade or full sunlight making it easy to grow. In USDA hardiness zones 5a to 9b
Hardy to approximately 10° F, if freezing temperatures arrive and are prolonged, it will lose foliage. Once the weather changes new growth will appear. The use of dry mulch can help protect your plants if your winter is severe.
Parsley is a biennial herb that is however treated as if it were an annual, so it should be sown yearly. This may be due to a decline in flavor in the second year because the plant will produce seeds.
This herb can be grown either with young plants from a nursery or directly from seeds. Parsley can be harvested as needed and to ensure a good harvest, it is recommended that seeds be sewn every several weeks.
Seedhead stems can be pinched once they appear to encourage a longer lifespan.
Known to be an excellent companion herb, parsley companion plants include vegetables such as asparagus, cabbage, chives, carrots, corn, peas, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers, or in your rose garden at the base of rose bushes. It should not be planted near lettuce varieties and mint.
It also makes a pleasing border plant. Curling varieties offer a beautiful addition to flower and plant pots and baskets.
How to Grow Parsley from Seed
Parsley seeds should be sewn into a garden soil bed with rich loamy soil that has been prepared in advance. They should be planted outdoors during the months of March and April and toward the end of summer for the following year. Sowing outdoors should take place when the soil has warmed to about 70°.
Because parsley germinates very slowly, needing as much as a month, you may want to soak seeds for 24 hours in tepid water before planting. Seeds can also be started indoors 2 to 3 months before the final frost is expected.
Parsley loves organic material so compost or manure will be appreciated as well as a soil bed with a pH of 6 to 7.
Plant seeds in rows at a depth of about ¼-inch and spaced approximately one inch apart. Cover seeds with a light layer of soil and water your crop well. Once seedlings have established themselves and the second group of true leaves has emerged, they can be thinned to a distance of six inches.
If you do not have a lot of space for this herb, you can start your seeds in a pot of compost with a light covering and good watering. The compost should not be allowed to dry out. Your seeds will need as many as six weeks to germinate and will need to be thinned out before being transferred to other larger pots.
Continue to so seeds every few weeks to replenish your supply of parsley.
How to Care for Your Parsley
Parsley does require quite a bit of water, especially if you are growing your parsley during drier weather. It will also benefit from occasional feeding with a general organic fertilizer that can be 1-1-1, 3-1-2, or 5-1-1 (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium). Yellowing foliage should be removed.
As a flowering plant, blooms will appear during the plant’s second year if you do not prune this herb regularly. If you want to collect parsley seeds, allow some flowers to mature. Seeds can be collected at the end of summer and placed in a cool, dry location for storage.
Like many herbs, parsley should be harvested as necessary by cutting the stems with three distinct segments at their base. This allows near leaves to grow rapidly. Ideally, you will want to grow more than one parsley plant so that you can alternate between harvesting and allowing a second plant to produce new growth.
Parsley leaves can be dried for storage, but the flavor will be milder. If you grow more than one plant, there is no need to dry your parsley because you will always have a fresh supply on hand. If you do choose to store some parley, chop it while fresh and freeze it, as this will maintain a stronger flavor. Parsley plants can be potted before the winter arrives and brought indoors for the cold season.
When chopping for cooking or storing, both leaves and stems can be used. You can store fresh parsley in the refrigerator in a cup of water so that it lasts a bit longer.
Parsley is susceptible to some of the same threats as celery or carrots. Most often this will be a fungal infection that arrives with wet but warm weather. Wet soil can lead to root rot, crown rot, gray mold, or leaf spot. Should any one of these appear, remove sick plants, and avoid overhead watering. Drip lines are preferable. Common pests include parsley worms, cutworms, carrot worms, and armyworms.
A Final Thought
Wonderful when used in cuisine, parsley is easy to grow and bountiful as a crop. It benefits companion crops and our health as well. This delightful herb can be used fresh, dried, or frozen, so there’s really no reason not to include it in your garden.