Parsley: More than a garnish
“Parsley is the crown of cookery. It once crowned man, now it crowns his food.”
— Irma Goodrich Mazza
Parsley is one of the most versatile and popular herbs today. There is a reason why about every restaurant uses it on their plates. It’s not just that it’s pretty or that it adds color, but it’s full of Vitamin A, C, E foliate, fiber, iron and minerals. Used as a breath freshener, palate cleanser and digestive, it can’t be beat.
Hercules picked parsley to make ceremonial wreaths for athletes and later for gravesites. As parsley took root in cemeteries it became associated with death. The Romans used it as a digestive following their big ceremonial feasts in ancient times. Grown originally as a Mediterranean plant it is now well traveled throughout the world. It is thought to have reached the United States as early as the 1600s when it was transported here by the Pilgrims on the Mayflower.
Varieties of parsley are limited when compared to other well known herbs. The best flavored is the flat leaf or Italian parsley, Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum, common curly parsley, Petroselinum crispum and an underused but valuable rooted parsley or Hamburg, Petroselinum crispum tuberasu. Curly parsley is less flavorful, but is a neat, tidy, brilliant green color that is ideal for a border plant. The Hamburg root can be shredded in a salad or used as a root vegetable like beets or potatoes.
Parsley is considered a biennial but is usually grown as an annual. The first year leaves are better flavored and brighter colored. The second year the leaves are much smaller and spaced further apart. You should plan to buy new plants in the spring for a plentiful supply throughout the growing season. I also plant one in my cold frame so the season of fresh parsley can be extended. Parsley likes sunny locations, with a well drained soil. It can grow between 6 and 18 inches tall and wide. Trim regularly to keep the plant compact and dishes tasting great. It does not like to be transplanted, so once planted don’t move it. A few light frosts will not destroy parsley, but heavy frosts can, so picking before temperatures reach 20 degrees and under is advised. Parsley likes a light liquid fertilizer or a monthly shot of fish emulsion. It has very little if any insect problems, making it an easy herb to grow. You may encounter the parsley worm or caterpillar which can eat the leaves. They can be handpicked, or left alone since they turn into the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.
The versatility of parsley is perfect for cooking. Use in pasta sauces, soup, potatoes, eggs and any savory dish. It’s essential for salsa verde (Mexico), tabbouleh (Middle East), chimichurri (Argentina), persillade (France), and gremolata (Italy). Parsley is an herb that does not compete with other top note herbs like basil or rosemary. It is one of the herbs used in Fines Herbes, a seasoning mixture that includes basil, chives, tarragon, and thyme; and Bouquet Garni, an herb medley usually tied up in a piece of cheesecloth and immersed into soups or stews.
The leaves along with mixed greens make for a wonderful salad, adding flavor and vitamins. The stems can be used chopped along with the leaves adding more flavor to your dishes. You can follow any standard recipe for pesto, but substitute parsley for half the basil for a slightly different flavor. Add parsley toward the end of your cooking for maximum flavor, as heat destroys its valuable vitamins and minerals.
Parsley is a good candidate for preserving. You can dry by hanging it upside down in a draft free spot, crumbling, then storing in a glass jar. It also does well chopped fresh and added to water, frozen in ice cube trays to throw in your favorite dishes during the winter. Placing fresh cut parsley in a glass like a floral bouquet will keep it fresh on your counter for a week or more, if it lasts that long.
Garden Structures Program
Join the Master Gardeners on Thursday, April 19, for our second installment of monthly community garden programs. Explore ways to use and build raised beds and trellises from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. then at the YMCA, 1121 S. Houk Road, Delaware. No reservations needed and they are free of charge.
Susan Liechty is an OSU Extension Master Gardner volunteer.