Herb Profile: Parsley

Parsley Plant

Fresh Parsley

Fresh Parsley

INTRODUCTION: Parsley, the most commonly consumed fresh herb in the United States, is an herb that is familiar to all. For many decades it has been the primary herb used as a garnish in restaurants. In America, the curly leaf varieties are grown almost exclusively. However, the plain leaf variety is known to have a more pleasing flavor and is the primary herb grown in most other countries. Often it is the only thing left on the plate at the end of the meal, when it may actually have been the most nutritious item.

HISTORICAL FACTS: This herb has been cultivated for many centuries and is naturalized throughout much of Europe. Parsley is believed to have originated from Southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean region or western Asia.  Parsley’s name comes from two Greek words Petrose meaning rock; from its propensity to rocky cliffs and old stonewalls; and selenium an ancient name for celery-so one can think of it as “rock celery”. The use of this herb as a garnish arises from the centuries old belief that at the end of the meal, chewing a few of the fresh leaves freshens the breath. It was even believe that chewing the leaves would make the odor of garlic disappear. The ancient Greeks and Romans used parsley for ceremonial purposes, more so than for culinary efforts. The Romans introduced the herb to England during their colonial rule.  Early immigrants to the Americas introduced it as a culinary herb.  There are several folk legends about Parsley. One says that it is unlucky to transplant the herb from an old garden into a new one. Some gardeners believe that someone in a house that Parsley was planted near would die shortly afterwards. It was used quite frequently by the ancient Greeks.  An old English superstition suggests that bad luck will prevail if one transplants the herb, so be sure to planet in its final place in the garden. In ancient Greece, it was once planted on graves, and the phrase “to be in need of parsley” meant death was imminent.

HORTICULTURAL FACTS: A biennial growing up to 2 feet in height producing flowers in the second year; it can reach about 1 foot in the first year before flowering. Parsley prefers partial shade. Keep moderately rich soil fairly moist. The herb will stand all winter but it is best to protect it under mulch in severe weather. This is a common herb because it has proved so adaptable to all climates. The ultimate taste of parsley is quite dependent on the soil and climate conditions. The herb is generally treated as an annual providing tasty fresh leaves only in the first year. There are two basic types: curly parsley has creased or wrinkled leaves, and is the most familiar parsley of commerce; Italian parsley is flat and its leaves are not creased. It is a member of the celery family. The Flat leaf variety is hardy in dry conditions as well as colder wet climates that have cold rain and snow.  Curly leaf parsley is much more delicate and will die in colder conditions. The herb is usually planted annually, even though it is a biennial.  The herb seeds get off to a slow start and sometimes it’s very hard to germinate.  Even though it propagates from seeds it is best to buy nursery plants in the spring.

GROWING GUIDELINES: The herb is a biennial; It likes a good soil and a little shade, but in many parts of the world it gets neither. It does, however, require plenty of space: they say that one plant should never be allowed to touch another. . Typically, the leaves are used in the first year for culinary purposes.  A permanent supply can easily be had in temperate climates by sewing seeds in late spring and then in late the summer. The seed is also notoriously slow to germinate. It can take a full month or two before some seeds sprout. Pour a kettle of boiling water along the row before covering the seeds. Using a small amount of Pete Moss in the row also helps to promote germination. The herb is quite easy to using window boxes filled with good compost. It is important to keep the box moist and feed the plants occasionally with liquid fertilizer. In late fall, may be potted and brought inside. This will provide fresh parsley for the winner as well as creating a pleasant decoration.

FLOWERING FACTS: Parsley, being a biennial, flowers in the second year

Parsley Culinary Uses

CULINARY FACTS: Fresh young leaves, are an excellent addition to any salad. Parsley salads, such as the Middle Eastern tabouleh, are delicious. Curly parsley is used as a garnish but still has flavoring properties.  The flat leaf parsley is not as eye pleasing as the curly parsley but is traditionally used only as a flavoring element in recipes. It is extremely nutritious. The fresh leaves are an admirable adornment for any meal. The herb is also a terrific flavoring for tomato dishes, baked potatoes, various fish dishes, and egg dishes. Dishes of not sweet-soup, shellfish, meat and-fowl, stews and vegetable dishes are liable to contain Parsley. The herb blends well with other seasonings and stands alone.  It should be used generously or sparingly. Cooks favor Italian, or plain leaf parsley. Italian parsley has more flavor than French parsley, but the curly leaf parsley rains supreme as a garnish for many different foods.

A great deal of the best European cooking is unthinkable without parsley. It is always included in a bouquet garni, and, finally chopped, it forms the basis of a fines herbs mixture. The good cook uses it frequently so that one comes almost to associate the presence of chopped parsley as a sign that the food has been prepared with care and feeling. One of the great uses of parsley is in the form of what the French what in France is known as a persillade. This is a sauce or seasoning mixture of extra finely chopped parsley (usually with shallots) added toward the end of cooking. It adds not only to the appearance but also the taste of the dish.  Many continental cooks add small quantities of chopped parsley to the food as instinctively as they add salt. Parsley enters into the composition of a whole host of sauces. It is also the basis of a maître d’ hotel butter, garlic butter, and many other preparations. To make delicious herb butter, take 2 tablespoons of finely chopped, fresh parsley leaves and knead them into a quarter cup of softened butter.

HARVESTING TIPS: Harvest the herb by cutting the stems an inch or two above the ground and dry quickly on paper. If fresh parsley wilts clip an inch off the lower stems and place a bunch of them in a glass of cold water; loosely cover leaves with a plastic bag, and chill. It will perk up in no time.  Wash the herb and shake off the excess moisture. Wrap in damp paper towels; place in sealed plastic bags for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Either deep freezing or drying can preserve parsley. Home dried parsley is a doubtful proposition. The latest commercial methods produce dried parsley, which, though not as good as the fresh herb, is useful in an emergency.  NOTE: When planting flat leaf parsley be aware that there is a weed that looks very similar. It is poisonous so be careful when harvesting flat leaf parsley.  The fool’s parsley leaf is much darker green.

FLAVOR: Mild. As the flavor of parsley is well known to nearly everybody, it would be pointless to describe it in terms of anything else.  Some cooks prefer Italian parsley because it has a sweeter flavor than the curly variety. The bright green leaves of parsley have a sharp, peppery taste.  The parsley stems actually carry more of the flavor than the leaves.

HOME GARDEN: Indoor/outdoors

Medicinal Uses

MEDICINAL FACTS: Parsley is high in vitamin A and C, fiber, potassium, magnesium, calcium, niacin, riboflavin and iron. Surprisingly the leaves also contain a significant amount of protein. If the juices are extracted it should be used in moderation as it is a very strong medicine.  Parsley is often made into infusion or tea or combined with other herbs to promote health. Always consult your healthcare professional prior to using parsley for medicinal purposes.

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