611 Petroselinum crispumCommon Names: parsley, Italian parsley, Hamburg parsley, turnip-rooted parsley Family: Apiaceae (carrot Family)
That familiar sprig of greenery on the side of your dinner plate is an edible breath freshener. Parsley is a clump-forming biennial to about a 1 ft (0.3 m) tall and twice as wide. It has bright green multi-compound curly or flat leaves. The leaflets are finely divided and held at the end of long stems and the whole plant has a rounded, mound-like shape. In its second summer, parsley sends up stalks with compound umbels of small yellow flowers.
There are three varieties of parsley, each with several popular cultivars. Variety crispum is the typical curly leaf parsley, with many cultivars including some that look like moss. Variety neapolitanum includes the Italian or flat-leaf parsleys which have a slightly stronger flavor than the curly leaf types. Variety tuberosum includes the Hamburg, turnip-rooted and German parsley cultivars which are grown for their flavorful parsnip-like roots. They have a delicious nutty flavor, reminiscent of a combination of celery and parsley and the tops can be eaten too.
Parsley, Petroselinum crispum, was originally native to southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean region. Today it is cultivated everywhere for its leaves, seeds and roots.
CultureLikes a slightly acidic pH, around 6.0. Light: Prefers full or part sun. Moisture: Average garden soil and regular watering during dry periods. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 11. Parsley does best at temperatures between 50º and 70ºF (10º-21ºC) It can tolerate frosts and freezes down to 20ºF (-6.7 ºC) or so. Parsley tends to suffer (and sometimes die) in the hot, humid days of southern summers when temperatures frequently go over 90º F (32º C). Up north, outdoor plants can be dug up and potted for indoor use during winter. Propagation: By seeds. Germination takes 10-25 days but you can speed it up by soaking the seeds in warm water for a day before planting. When you plant, cover the seeds with no more than 0.25 in (0.6 cm) of potting medium or soil, and be patient.
Parsley makes a great house plant, hanging in a sunny kitchen window. Harvest outer leaves as you need them, leaving the central rosette where new growth emerges. A potted parsley house plant will produce pretty garnish for 6-9 months. Parsley is a must-have in every herb garden. It grows in a beautiful, rounded mound of bright green feathery foliage and is perfectly at home in the perennial border or flower bed.
In the kitchen, parsley seems to help blend other flavors. It ameliorates strong odors like garlic and fish. It works well with most all foods except sweets. It's a principal ingredient in Middle Eastern tabbouleh. The Japanese deep fry parsley in tempura batter. The British make parsley jelly. The Mexicans use it in salsa verde. The French use it in everything. The Germans are especially fond of the root parsleys. The roots are sliced or grated and used raw in salads. They also are used as seasoning in soups and stews, or roasted, fried, mashed or made into chips like potatoes. Like many root crops, parsley root is sweetened by a good frost.
Frozen parsley retains more flavor than dried. If you do dry parsley, the Italian varieties are better since they have a stronger flavor to begin with.
Parsley has a relatively higher vitamin C content than an orange. It is high in vitamin A, several B vitamins, calcium and iron. The high chlorophyll content of parsley makes it a natural breath freshener. (That's why it's always served with fish.) The Greeks used parsley in funerals and for wreaths long before it was used as a food. The Romans used parsley at orgies to disguise the smell of alcohol on their breath. Corpses were once sprinkled with parsley to deodorize them. Today parsley oil, extracted from the leaves and stems, is used in commercial shampoos, soaps, perfumes and skin lotions.
Parsley has been used as a medicinal herb since the Middle Ages, but there is little evidence to support its effectiveness other than its value as a natural vitamin supplement.
Parsley and other members of the Umbelliferae, are the only plants eaten by the caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterfly. I always grow plenty of extra parsley just to be sure I have lots of those strikingly banded caterpillars that will transform into magnificent black swallowtails, among the largest and most beautiful of American butterflies.
Steve Christman 1/8/00; updated 5/7/03