Parsley with a Purpose

The leafy green herb is more than just a garnish for the blue-plate special at your local diner.

Food historian William Woys Weaver once called a favorite variety of parsley "a delicate ingredient in the cookery of a bygone age when piquant green sauces reigned supreme on the tables of medieval kings, and when parsley was first among all other green vegetables."

Long before the herb was savored by kings, it was feared: Plutarch tells the story of a Greek army in the fourth century B.C. that halted at the sight of a mule train loaded with parsley. The herb was used to adorn tombs; the soldiers saw it as a bad omen. Their leader wove a parsley garland to wear into battle to reassure his troops.

I've never worn a garland of parsley, but I have put it to just about every possible use in the garden. It started as the cornerstone of a small annual herb garden that also included basil, cilantro, and dill. But because parsley is a biennial and sometimes lasts three years in mild climates like mine (if it is deadheaded early), it soon made its way to the perennial herb border, where it holds its own against the rosemary and oregano.

Before long, I got lazy about deadheading and the plants started to bloom. The wide, flat umbels of tiny white flowers worked so well in flower arrangements that I started sneaking parsley into the cutting garden. Now it volunteers all over the garden, and I'm always glad when it comes up.

Latin name: Petroselinum crispum

Description: Biennial, to 15 inches; flower stalks to 3 to 4 feet.

Germination: Slow--three to six weeks. Soak seeds overnight before planting.

Transplanting: Starts from the nursery are best. Transplant while young; mature plants dislike being moved.

Culture: Average, well-drained soil; sun or part shade.

Hardiness: Hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4; tolerates light frost. Bolts quickly in hot, dry weather.

Harvest: Cut stems down to the base of the plant to encourage more growth.

Storage: Put cut stems in a glass of water, cover them with a plastic bag, and keep them in the refrigerator, where they will stay fresh for three or four days.

Preparation: You can buy a gadget called a parsley shredder that minces leaves quickly, but a sharp knife works just as well. Hold a bundle of parsley in one hand and "shave" the leaves off with a knife, then chop.

Nutritional value: Parsley is rich in betacarotene, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. It is used to freshen breath and settle an upset stomach.

Chop it finely and mash it into butter with a fork. Serve herbed butter with bread or melt it into pasta, casseroles, or scrambled eggs.

• Tie mature, sturdy stalks of parsley, thyme, and bay laurel with twine to make a bouquet garni. Add the bundle to a pot of soup and pull it out before serving.
Parsley Worth Growing
'Moss Curled'

Curly parsley like this works well as an edging for vegetable beds.(*) SOURCES: 2, 3

A curly variety that is more frost-tolerant. SOURCE: 1

Flat-leaved varieties such as this one have longer stems and wide leaves that are easy to chop. SOURCE: 1
'Forest Green'

A compact flat-leaved variety with finely lobed leaves and a little curl. Ornamental and delicious. SOURCE: 2

A flat-leaved variety with deeply cut, dark leaves and great flavor. SOURCES: 2, 3
'Hamburg Rooted'

(Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum) Grown for its narrow, parsniplike roots, which add a bright, fresh taste to winter stews and casseroles. 90 days to maturity. SOURCE: 3

It infuriates me to hear warnings about a parsley worm that can infest plants. It is not a worm at all but the caterpillar of a black swallowtail butterfly. If you see a black-and-green-striped caterpillar with yellow dots eating your parsley, promise me that you won't pick it off, disturb it, or even send negative thoughts in its direction.

A swallowtail butterfly is a glorious creature, and surely it needs your parsley more than you do. Parsley's tiny white flowers are also attractive to a variety of beneficial insects, so be sure to let a few plants bloom each year.

1. The Cook's Garden PO Box 535, Londonderry, VT 05148; 800457-9703;
2. Seeds of Change PO Box 15700, Santa Fe, NM 87506; 888-762-7333;
3. Victory Seeds PO Box 192, Molalla, OR 97038; 503-8293126;

PHOTO (COLOR): 'Italian'

PHOTO (COLOR): 'Moss Curled'

PHOTO (COLOR): 'Hamburg Rooted'


By Amy Stewart

Share this with your friends