Parsley 101

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Boiling water
Plastic wrap or other moisture retaining material
Plant containers
Airtight containers
Microwave or oven

Parsley has a long, romantic history. It was revered by the ancient Greeks, who didn't eat it because it was sacred to them. Parsley was mentioned by the Romans as early as the fourth century BCE. Although many people use the dried herb, it is best when fresh and snipped right out of the garden. Parsley has both medicinal and culinary uses.

History of Parsley

Parsley is one of the most mentioned herbs in the world. The Greek thought that parsley was the blood of the hero Archemorus. The Greeks would crown winners of major sporting events with wreaths of parsley.

The Romans used parsley for a garnish and flavoring. They would place parsley on their tables and hang it around their necks to ward off fumes. Medieval Europeans believed that you could kill someone by plucking a sprig while saying that person's name.

Parsley came to America in the 17th century, and is widely spread today. It is used mostly as a culinary herb. Parsley is hard to process because it takes 12 pounds of fresh parsley to make one pound of dried parsley.

Medicinal Uses

Ounce for ounce, parsley contains more essential vitamins than any other herb. It contains more vitamin C than an orange by volume. It contains vitamins A, B, calcium, and iron.

Chinese and German herbologists recommend parsley as an aid to lowering high blood pressure. Parsley tea is used as an enema. Cherokee Indians used parsley to strengthen the bladder. Parsley is used to stimulate the pelvic and uterine area, and to bring on menstruation. In the United States, some doctors will prescribe parsley tea for young female patients with bladder problems. Parsley is also allegedly able to control diuresis, which is the increased production of urine by the kidney. If crushed and rubbed on the skin, parsley can help relieve the itching of mosquito bites.

There are, however, health risks in the use of parsley as a medicinal herb. It should never be consumed as medicine by pregnant women. Used as an oil, leaf, seed, or root, it can lead to uterine stimulation and premature birth. Parsley is high in oxalic acid, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones. Parsley in oil form contains furanocoumarins which can lead to extreme photosensitivity.

How to Cultivate Parsley

Parsley against wood.

Sow parsley in the spring when the ground temperature is at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Parsley is a biennial, and is usually treated as an annual because it goes to seed in the second year. There are two varieties: flat leaf and curly.

Plant parsley seed in rows 12 to 16 inches apart. Six plants are enough to supply the average family plus leave some left over to dry or freeze. The seed takes a very long time to germinate. It can be helped along by covering the seed with a moisture retaining material and watering frequently. Try pouring boiling water over the row before covering to speed up germination.

Parsley likes a moderately rich and well-drained soil. It does best in a soil with a pH level of 6.0. It needs full sun but will grow well in partial shade. Keep parsley well weeded and don't let it dry out. When it flowers, trim the flowers back to keep the plant productive. Allow a few plants to go to seed in late summer so that you have seed for the next growing season.

Harvesting and Storage

Cut parsley for use in the kitchen throughout the growing season. Before it flowers, cut it for drying. Dry the parsley well in shade, and use an oven or microwave to finish the drying process. When dry, crush it by hand and store it in airtight containers. Flat leaf Italian parsley has a stronger taste and works best for drying.

Parsley is an herb that is versatile, makes a good garnish and is rich in vitamins and minerals.