We grow an assortment of herbs in a small garden by our side door just off the kitchen. This past year we let some of our parsley flower and set seed. Despite the extraordinary cold we had this winter (or maybe because of it), we now have parsley popping up in various flower beds as well as all along our driveway. We really like parsley, but this may be more than we can use.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is native to the Mediterranean region but has been widely cultivated around the world and has naturalized in many places (like our yard). In temperate zones, parsley is a biennial – growing primarily leaves the first year and then flowering and fruiting (setting seed) the second year. Parsley plants usually decline and die after fruiting. First year plants are very cold tolerant and will usually overwinter in our area without a problem. The plants may struggle and sunburn during our really hot summer days and can benefit from a bit of afternoon shade.
Along with most of our garden plants, parsley grows best in consistently moist well drained soil with good fertility. Like its relative the carrot, parsley has a long taproot and benefits from a loose soil with good amounts of organic matter. Parsley seeds can be started indoors for setting out in the early spring or early fall – they prefer cool temperatures for germination. Parsley can also be direct seeded in the garden. Because of its long taproot, parsley does not transplant well unless grown in a pot. For fresh use, 4 to 6 plants will usually be sufficient for a family of 4. Parsley seeds can be slow to germinate, often taking 4 weeks. Soaking the seeds overnight before planting can help with germination. The seeds are quite small and should be planted no deeper than ¼ inch. Since only a few plants are needed for a family, many gardeners purchase transplants instead of starting from seeds. Mature plants can be 10 to 12 inches in diameter and should be spaced accordingly. If you have a window with good lighting, parsley can also be grown indoors.
Like any other garden plant, parsley can have pest and disease issues but these rarely if ever call for treatment in our garden. It would probably be best to rotate plantings of parsley from year to year to avoid a buildup of issues in one place.
Because of its short lifespan, parsley should be replanted yearly to keep a continuous supply – or let it go to seed and harvest it wherever it happens to come up. It is an attractive dark green plant and looks nice in the landscape. Parsley is related to a host of other vegetable and herb plants including carrot, parsnip, celery, coriander, caraway, dill, and fennel. All these plants are umbellifers – blooming with an umbrella shaped flower that attract a broad range of pollinators. The parsley plant is also a host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly larvae. By the way, in our garden, coriander and dill also self-seed reliably – often prolifically.
Broadly speaking there are two parsley leaf types: curly leafed parsley sometimes called French parsley and flat leafed parsley AKA Italian parsley. The curly leafed parsley is quite decorative and often used as a garnish. Lots of cooks that I know prefer the taste and ease of use (chopping) of the flat leaved variety. There is another type of parsley that is grown for its substantial parsnip like root and yet another type of parsley is grown for its large leaf stems – similar to celery. These last two types are not often found in our area.
Parsley is a cut and come again plant. Remove stems close to the base and the plant will regrow afresh. Coarse stems may need to be removed depending on the dish being made. If you need a lot, you can shear all the stems at one time and the plant will still regrow. Parsley can be kept for a few days in the refrigerator or placed in a vase with a bit of water like you would keep cut flowers. For long term storage, it can be frozen or dried.
Parsley is a good source of antioxidants and minerals as well as vitamins C, K and A. Freshly chopped parsley is often sprinkled over soups, salads, fish, meats and vegetables to add color and a fresh burst of flavor. Parsley also adds snap to pates, dips and sandwiches. It is a ubiquitous flavoring in many soups, stocks and sauces and is often added to the Cajun Holy Trinity of onions, bell peppers and celery. The delicate French herb mixture fines herbs has fresh parsley as a main ingredient as does the more robust bouquet garni. Parsley is a key ingredient in Lebanese Tabbouleh and many other Middle Eastern dishes. Lots of fresh sauces around the world have parsley as a prominent ingredient. Argentine chimichurri, Italian gremolata, French persillade, Indian thogayal, Mexican salsa verde, Yemen zhoug and Moroccan chermoula to name a few. Parsley also makes a unique pesto and fried parsley is a nice crunchy appetizer.
Now I’m hungry. If you are growing herbs, I recommend you put parsley near the top of the list.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor