Parsley, Double-Curled (Petroselinum crispum var. crispum)
About This Plant
Double Curled Parsley is a self-seeding biennial herbaceous plant that often is grown as an annual. It typically will reach a height of about 12-15” during its first year of growth and be about 12” wide. After going through its first Winter, it will quickly send up a flower stalk in Spring that reaches a height of about three feet. It sets seeds and dies its second season. If you are growing it strictly for culinary purposes, it’s best to treat it as an annual and sow new seeds each year. During its second season, the leaves can get more bitter and tough, though second-year plants may tide you over in the Spring while you wait for your new crop to grow. Parsley will withstand some frosts and is hardy in USDA zones 3-9.
Generally speaking, Parsley has bright green, alternate, compound leaves that are finely divided and tri-pinnate making them somewhat feather-like in appearance. It blooms in the early to mid-Summer of its second year, forming a compound “umbel” or umbrella-like array of 10-20 small yellow-green flowers. The flowers are radially symmetrical and have five sepals, five petals, and five stamens. Numerous juicy, smooth, upright, stiff stems grow from a spindle-shaped fleshy taproot. The seeds are tiny and gray-brown in color. They are egg-shaped (ovate) and ribbed.
Parsley belongs to the Apiaceae family which was formally known as the Umbelliferae family. This family is comprised of particularly aromatic plants with hollow stems such as Dill, Fennel, Caraway, Carrot, and Parsnip as well as the highly toxic Hemlock. The plants in this family all share the characteristic “umbel” shaped flower heads. The name of Parsley’s genera, Petroselinum, comes from the Greek word for rock, “petros” which alludes to its native habitat in the rocky soils of cliffs, rocky areas, and old walls and selenium, a version of the old name for the Celery plant. The specific name, crispum, refers to the crisped-looking leaves of these cultivars.
There are several different common types of Parsley as well as many cultivars of each type. Generally speaking, there are flat-leaved varieties and curly-leaved varieties. Flat Leaf Parsley is also called French or Italian Parsley. Its leaves look like Celery leaves and it tends to have a stronger flavor than Curly Leaf Parsley. Chemical analysis has shown a much higher level of essential oil in Flat Leaf Parsley in comparison to Curly Leaf Parsley. Flat Leaf Parsley grows about 18-24” tall and is generally hardier than Curly Leaf Parsley. Flat Leaf Parsley is much easier to confuse with Poison Hemlock, however. Curly Leaf Parsley is unlikely to be confused. Some varieties of Parsley are grown for their larger, edible root. Many cultivars exist of both Flat and Curly Leaf Parsley.
Curly Leaf or Curled Leaf Parsley belong to the crispum portion of the Parsley family, of which there are at least 37 variations. Those that are considered the most valuable are those with a compact height and close, perfectly curled leaves. Most grow from 8-12” tall. Curly Parsley leaves are tufted and finely cut with serrated or toothed edges and wrinkled surfaces. The crispum variety was grown in antiquity and is mentioned by Pliny. It is considered far more handsome than the flat-leaved varieties. Its leaves tend to retain both snow and rain, which when followed by frost often causes the plants to succumb, making them less hardy than flat varieties.
Double Curled Parsley is selected for the tightness of its curls, making it especially beautiful and popular for garnishing and an excellent choice for “fluffing up” a salad mix. It is slightly darker green in color and has a richer flavor. It yields well and tolerates heat and repeated cuttings. It holds its color all season.
Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region. In ancient times, it was associated with Persephone, goddess of the underworld. It also was said to have sprung from the blood of a Greek hero, Archemorus, the forerunner of death. The Greeks held it in high regard, crowning victors of the Isthmian games with garlands of it and adorning tombs of their dead with wreaths of it, and feeding it to their chariot horses. Some say it was never brought to the table though, because of its association with death. Others say it was brought to the table in great quantity andgarlands were made of it for banquet guests to discourage intoxication and counter strong odors. The tales of old still linger, for even today, there’s a wive’s tale stating that the reason Parsley takes so long to germinate is that the seeds have to travel to hell and back seven times first before they’ll sprout. The Greeks used the plant medicinally as well and it was first cultivated in England in 1548. Today, Parsley is the most widely cultivated herb in Europe and the most-used herb in the U.S.
Parsley, like other members of the Umbellifers, attracts predatory insects including wasps and predatory flies which tends to protect nearby plants, especially tomatoes. The wasps that kill tomato hornworms also eat the nectar from Parsley. Parsley also helps cover up the strong scent of tomato plants. When grown near roses, it is said to improve their scent and keep them healthier. The flowers attract honey bees too. Other critters also like Parsley, such as rabbits and groundhogs.
Parsley germinates notoriously slow and inconsistently, taking about three to six weeks to sprout. Furanocoumarins in the seed coat are compounds that inhibit the germination of other nearby seeds but they may affect the Parsley itself too. Soaking the seeds for up to three days before planting (changing the water daily) will shorten the germination period. Seeds can be sown indoors in the Spring, 8-10 weeks before transplanting. Seeds can also be sown outdoors three to four weeks before the last Spring frost, on into Summer. One recommendation is to plant radish seeds in the space between Parsley seeds to fill in the space and mark the Parsley seed planting space while they take their time getting started. Seeds can be planted ¼” deep. Keep the soil moist for if the soil and seed dry out, it will not germinate. For a continuous supply, three plantings can be made over the course of a season, with the last being placed in a sheltered position with southern exposure, or being planted in pots to be brought indoors for a fresh supply all Winter long. Seed-sown-plants are typically ready to harvest in about 70 days.
Young Parsley plants can be thinned or transplanted to about 9” apart. Adequate thinning is important as the plants don’t like being cramped. Rows can be planted about 10-12” apart.
Parsley grows best with lots of light and rich, well-draining soil. It does well with partial shade but it likes to be consistently moist. Consider mulching around the plants to help retain moisture. Parsley does not tolerate drought well and will quickly wither and die if it dries out. Parsley has a small footprint. It doesn’t require much space in a garden and does well in containers either indoors or out. A container at least eight inches deeps is a good choice if growing it in a pot.
The more you clip your Parsley, the more it will grow. If the plant becomes coarse in the Summer, you can even cut off all the leaves and water it well. A new set of growth will be induced resulting in new, tender leaves and a stockier, bushier plant. As soon as Spring occurs in their second year, the plants will run to flower and set seed. The leaves turn bitter once the plant flowers. The flower stems can be promptly removed once they begin to sprout and the plants top-dressed and watered to keep them productive for some time longer. These second-year plants might keep you supplied with fresh Parsley long enough for your newly planted Parsley seeds to grow to harvestable size.
Parsley can be harvested at any time as needed, as long as the plant is at least six inches tall and relatively bushy. Cut the stems at the base of the plant and harvest the larger outer leaves first. Parsley can be stored fresh in the refrigerator with the stems in a cup of water to extend their shelf-life. Parsley can also be chopped and placed in ice cube trays with water and frozen to maintain its freshness for later use. Dried Parsley quickly loses its flavor, but it can be dried in the refrigerator by washing it first and then spreading it out on a baking sheet and covering it with paper towels. It will take two to seven days to dry in the fridge. Store dried Parsley in an airtight container in a dark place to preserve the color.
Parsley will form seeds during its second year of growth. Seed heads will darken when mature. Snip the flower heads from the plants and gently place them in a paper bag. Being too rough with them will cause the seeds to shatter. Place the bag in a warm, dry place for a few days to complete the drying process then shake the bag to cause the seeds to separate from the plant material or simply garble the material between your fingers. Separate the seeds from the plant material by winnowing them.
- Companion Planting
Parsley provides a clean, fresh taste to food as well as welcomed splash of color. It is commonly added at the end of the cooking process to retain its fresh, peppery, tangy flavor. It is said to have a light, spicy aroma with hints of anise and lemon. Parsley will help tone down strong flavors such as Garlic and lessens the need for salt.
Parsley has a high nutrient content which contributes to its medicinal benefits. It is high in Vitamin C, A, and K which is strongly connected to hearth health and healthy bones, as well as iron and folic acid which strengthens the nervous systems and helps us combat stress. If you want to get the most out of its medicinal qualities, you’ll want to add it in large quantities to your food and not go sparingly with it. Parsley pesto and tabouleh salad are a couple of good options.
Parsley is common in Middle Eastern, European, and American cooking. In West Asia, many foods are served with chopped Parsley sprinkled on top. The flavor goes especially well with fresh fish and it is the key ingredient in tabbouleh, the national dish of Lebanon. Parsley is part of “bouquet garni” in Southern and Central Europe. This is a bundle of fresh herbs used to flavor stocks, soups, and sauces. Persillade is a mixture of chopped Garlic and Parsley. Gremolata is a mixture of Parsley, Garlic, and Lemon zest.
Parsley can be added raw to salads, sprinkled on sandwiches, or added to salad dressings. It can be added to Tomato, Potato and egg dishes. It is used in the preparation of meats, stuffings, soups, and stews. It also can be mixed with other herbs to create an herb butter. It is one of the herbs in “fine herbes” along with Chervil, Chives, and Tarragon. It can be bleeded into smoothies. Dried and powdered, it can be used as a culinary flavoring in Winter. It is added as a garnish to dishes to add a splash of color and has the added benefit, if eaten, of improving poor digestion. The stems have a stronger flavor than the leaves. The seeds are also used in cooking, providing a stronger flavor than the leaves.
The roots, leaves, and seeds of Parsley are all used medicinally. Medicinally, Parsley is best know for its effects on the urinary system and is said to strenthen the kidneys. It is used as a diuretic for a variety of ailments in which increased urination is beneficial, such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and edema. The advisory panel on herbal medicines, the German Commission E has approved Parsley for use in the prevention and treatment of kidney stones.
The roots have a stronger diuretic action than the leaves and are also considered nourishing and blood building. They are used to help support a healthy menstrual cycle and in cases of delayed mensues as well as for digestive complaints, cancer prevention, and heart disease.
The essential oil in Parsley contains the constituents apiole and myristicin that act as diuretics and uterine stimulates. The essential oil is found most concentrated in the seeds. Parsley is used to support cardiovascular health and for hypertension. This is most likely due to its diuretic effects but it has also been shown to reduce platelet aggregation, reducing the clots that can cause heart attactks and strokes.
Parsley has long been used as a garnish on meals, not merely for its aesthetic appeal, but because it helps with poor or stagnant digestions, such as bloating, constipation, and gas. It also helps with loss of appetite and freshens the breath.
Traditionally, Parsley was used externally as a poultice for eczema, insect bites, dandruff, inflamed eyes, sprains and enlarged glands. It is used in treating hives and other allergy symptoms. When crushed and rubbed on the skin, Parsley inhibits the secretion of histamine, which causes the “itch” in itchy reactions.
Cosmetically, the leaves can be infused in water to make a good hari tonic and conditioner. It also can be added to body lotions to help sooth the skin.
All parts of the Parsley plant, including its essential oil, should be avoided in large amounts during pregnancy and lactation as it can lead to uterine stimulation. The amounts normally found in food should not be a cause for concern. Parsley also irritates the epithelial tissues of the kidneys and should not be used by those with kidney disease without consulting a physician. It also should not be used for diuretic therapy in the presence of edema resulting from decreased cardiac function without consulting a medical professional.
Parsley is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region.