Spotlight on Parsley
Parsley is a well-known and beloved culinary herb in European , Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is also one of the healthiest food one might consume.
Parsley holds a host of nutritional and medicinal properties that merit to be mentioned. We often hear the term “superfood” to qualify certain crops but rarely does it apply as much as with parsley. Ubiquitous in Mediterranean cuisine, both the flat leaf and the curled leaf varieties are loaded with healthful nutrients.
Better still, parsley is incredibly easy to grow. It thrives in full sun, but grows well in part-shade. It needs minimal fertility and is tidy enough to feel right at home in an urban container garden as well as a large scale inground garden.
We grow large amounts of this wonderful herb here in our gardens, enough to add to all our meals. Our Giant of Italy Parsley, a flat leaf variety, is perfect for summer and fall and our Triple Moss Curled Parsley produces well into Winter and survives in or out of our cold frames, producing until the next crop is ready for harvest.
If I had to pick up only one herb to grow, parsley might very well be the winner!
Parsley belongs in the Hall of Fame of superfoods. One single cup of chopped parsley is enough to provides 133% of your daily needs in Vitamin C, and 48% of your daily needs in iron. Want more amazing nutrition? The same amount contains a whopping 1562% of your daily needs in Vitamin K. Read this article for a detailed list of all the nutrients found in parsley.
Take a look at this quick chart of parsley’s amazing nutritional value.
Parsley is also full of antioxidants. Flavonoids, carotenoids and the well-known Vitamin C. Parsley is particularly rich in a class of antioxidants known as flavonoids. The two main flavonoids include myricetin and apigenin. Studies show that diets rich in flavonoids may lower your risk of conditions, including colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, while apigenin has demonstrated particular potential as an anticancer agent, but more research is needed. Read this article for an in-depth discussion on the cancer preventative properties of parsley.
On top of the antioxidants, minerals and vitamin content, parsley is also the greatest source of Vitamin K of all foods, weight by weight. Vitamin K is essential for bone health and eating a diet rich in naturally occurring Vitamin K supports healthy bone growth and bone mineral density. Vitamin K also plays a role in blood clotting.
Want even more in depth discussion on parsley’s wonderful nutritional value and health benefits? Read this wonderful article detailing parsley’s status as a superfood.
Types of parsley
There are three types of parsley commonly cultivated around the world. The first two types are grown for their leaves and are known as flat leaf parsley and curly parsley. The third type is grown for its flavorful root as well as its edible leaves.
Flat leaf parsley, Petroselinum Crispum is a biennial plant but is also known to flower in its first season. It is commonly called Italian Parsley and the most beloved and well known variety is Giant Leaf Italian Parsley. It has a stronger taste than its curly leaf counterpart and is often used as an ingredient in cooked dishes and salads.
Curly Parsley, Petroselinum Hortensis, is a true biennial plant that rarely flowers in its first year. It is also incredibly resistant to cold temperatures and has been known to survive temperatures in the lower twenties. In fact, it can easily be overwinters in zones 7 and above with minimal to no care.
The third type of parsley, Hamburg Rooted Parsley, Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum, is cultivated mainly for its flavorful root, resembling a parsnip or perhaps a white carrot.
A close cousin to parsley that is particularly beloved in Asia is Mitsuba, also called Japanese Parsley, Cryptotaenia Japonica. The taste is similar to European parsley, the flavor is clean and refreshing with a slightly bitter taste which some describe as celery-like.
How to Use Parsley
It is easy to add parsley to your diet. It can be added to soups or salads or sprinkled over dishes as a finishing touch. Parsley also makes up one of the key ingredients in several herbal seasonings, sauces, and dishes.
Try this recipe for a Lebanese Lemon-Parsley bean salad.
Parsley is very easy to start from seeds, but is generally started indoors as its long germination period makes poor use of your garden space. Use an all-purpose seed starting mix and hydrate thoroughly, but without making it soggy. I use coconut coir, but you can use any seed starting mix you like with similar results.
Parsley seeds are tiny, regardless of the variety you choose, so they must not be sown too deep. Barely scratch the surface and sow a few seeds about ¼ inch apart in a 6 cell tray or any other pot you chose. Parsley won’t mind!
Barely cover the tiny seeds with the compost and cover the tray to keep the humidity at optimal level. I use simple trays and humidity domes like these to start all my seeds.
Now wait. And wait. Parsley takes a long time to germinate, from 14 to 35 days and the plants are tiny at first, but once they hit a certain, they will begin growing in earnest. Do take out the humidity dome once all your seeds have sprouted to prevent damping off.
I keep my parsley seedlings indoors under grow light for at least 4 weeks after germination, then carefully acclimate them to the outside conditions over the course of one week. Do this by placing your seeds, uncovered, for increasingly long periods of time in sunlight. Start with a period of 15 minutes the first day and increase by 30 minutes until the plants adapt to the conditions. Once they tolerate a full 2 hours under the sun, they are ready for their big day!
Don’t let your seedlings dry out! Those tiny pots and trays can dry in a short time, so keep and eye out for them.
There is an exception to these rules to be made for both Mitsuba and Hamburg rooted parsley.
Hamburg Rooted Parsley is primarily a root crop and does not transplant well. It must be started outdoors where it will grow. For this, sow the seeds barely under the surface and keep uniformly moist until germination occurs. It is best to sow in the early spring when there is still a risk of frost as it will increase germination rate. I find it useful to cover the area intended for the root parsley crop with a wooden plank or heavy cardboard and monitor each day for germination. As soon as you see seedlings sprout, remove the wooden plank or cardboard and keep the seedling from drying out. Once they have a few secondary leaves, they will be much hardier and will give an effortless crop. The flavor of root parsley as well as the useful edible leaves make this finicky germination process worth it!
Mitsuba is similar to root parsley in that its seeds benefit from a cold treatment to germinate at their full potential. Sow them outdoors in early spring before the first frost date. They germinate in under 14 days, much faster than parsley. If a patch of garden is dedicated to this crop, Mitsuba will readily self-sow and maintain itself year after year.
Both Italian Flat Leaf Parsley and Curley Parsley love a full sun to part-shade location and a moderately fertile soil. It is not particular about growing conditions or light requirement, but appreciates some shade in the hottest parts of the afternoon.
Parsley is spectacularly resistant to cold, particularly Curled Parsley and will often over-winter with no particular care. In our Zone 6b Connecticut gardens, Curled Parsley overwinters reliably while Flat Leaf Parsley needs protection such as a cold frame.
Seed saving tips
Parsley seeds are not hard to harvest as they mature and dry on the plants and parsley does not cross pollinate with other plant species. However, different varieties of parsley will readily cross-pollinate with each other, including flat leaf and curled parsley. I do recommend only allowing one variety of parsley to go to seed in your garden unless you are prepared to use caging on alternate days techniques to separate your varieties.
As biennial plants, parsley rarely flowers in its first year. This is especially true of Curled Parsley, which is much more resistant to bolting that its flat leaf counterpart. Parsley is an outbreeding plant of the Umbelliferea family, so it will need to be visited by a pollinating insect. This generally does not pose problems as the umbel shaped inflorescence attract a variety of insects, from tiny native bees to flies.
To collect them, allow the seed heads to mature on the plants, then carefully shatter and harvest individually as they mature. Use screens or winnowing techniques to separate the seeds from the stems and other debris.
Mature seeds of a parsley plant in its second year. Seeds are easily harvested but the plant needs a second year to produce flowers.
Parsley seeds retains a germination rate of 50% for three years after harvest when stored in ideal conditions.
Further explanations and guidance on seed saving of common food crop can be found in the revered Seed To Seed, from Suzanne Ashworth, which is considered by many as the authority on seed saving techniques.