Parsley: Not just a garnish

1st year parsley
1st year parsley

There are some plants which many people are only familiar with as a garnish on their plate lying next to whatever they ordered to eat in a restaurant.  A lot more kale is used in buffet bar decoration than end up in people’s stomachs, I suspect.

Parsley, that little spring of green lying next to your mashed potatoes, is a delicious herb used in western and middle eastern cooking.  It’s the primary greenery in tabbouleh, a tasty whole grain and vegetable salad, and it can be used to make a parsley pesto. It’s often found in broths and stews and as flavoring in roasts.  It’s very high in vitamin K as well as vitamins C and A and other anti-oxidants, and helps neutralize carcinogens in the body.  It’s a mild diuretic and uterotonic.  (Pregnant women should be careful not to eat large amounts.)  And there’s a reason why chef’s originally started putting it on a plate — eating your parsley sprig at the end of a meal will freshen your breath.

You can grow parsley as one of the curled varieties like the kind most often used for garnish, the flat leaf versions like Italian parsley that resemble cilantro, or varieties of parsley which form a large edible root similar in appearance to a parsnip.  Parsley is a tough biennial.  In most climates, it is evergreen and tasty throughout the winter, yet tolerates even high summer heat.  The first year it is a low growing herb about 12″ tall.  The second year it will produce yellow-green umbels and seeds up to 4′ tall.  It often reseeds itself and grows in the same spot next year or you can snip the blooms to prevent this.  Parsley leaves and stems can be eaten at any stage of it’s life-cycle, although it will taste stronger the older it gets.

As either a member of a formal herb garden, or grown as an annual in a small deck planter — and almost anything in between — parsley is easy to grow and gives back both a lot of flavor and health benefits in a small amount of space.

2nd year parsley
2nd year parsley