Parsley is one of the best known herbs in the kitchen and is sprinkled over vegetables as a garnish and added to soups and stews. What most people don’t realize is that parsley is extremely nourishing, containing vitamins C, A, and B; iron, calcium, manganese; phosphorous; and even iron. Its fresh taste enhances dips, spreads, soups, quiches, salads, potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini. Parsley also acts as a breath freshener, so chew a sprig after eating a garlicky dish.
It is difficult to germinate and requires a high temperature. Some people delay sowing until into the summer but it is a help to soak the seed in warm water overnight and pour boiling water down the seed drills if parsley is to be sown directly in the kitchen garden.
It needs to be sown in situ as it resents being disturbed. It makes an excellent edge in a container of herbs.
At the nursery or in seed catalogs you’ll find two types of parsley: curled and Italian (some nurseries classify parsley as a vegetable, so ask if you don’t find it in the herb section). Curled parsley is the type you usually find in the grocery store or used as a garnish in restaurants. Its curled, serrated leaves are bright green. Italian parsley has flat, lobed leaves, but otherwise is very similar. If you live in a cold climate, consider growing Italian parsley, which is more tolerant to cold temperatures. Some cooks prefer Italian parsley’s stronger, sweeter flavor.
Parsley c. ‘Lisette’
If you’re just getting your bearings as a gardener, skip the seeds and buy a young plant at the nursery. Even though buying plants is more expensive than buying seeds, you’ll save yourself a great deal of time and possible anguish if your seedlings die. Plus, parsley is a perennial, so you won’t have to buy a new plant each year.
When danger of frost is over, you can plant young plants in rich soil with ample moisture. If you live in a hot, dry climate, you may need to water it every day. The first year, your parsley will grow about 12 inches. The second year, a seed stalk will rise as high as 3 feet tall. The seeds will plant themselves, so you’ll always have plenty of parsley.
Parsley c. ‘Champion Moss Curled’
When you pick parsley grasp one of the lower stalks and pull it gently downward while giving it a little twist. The stalk will give way where it meets the plant. In mild-weather areas you can harvest parsley year-round. To keep the parsley fresh while waiting to use it, put the stems in a glass jar of water and refrigerate. You can dry parsley to use later on, but you should dry it in the oven to avoid a yellowish tint. An attractive alternative to drying is freezing: puree it in the blender and then freeze it with a little water in ice cube trays. You can plop a cube into your soups all winter and relive that summer taste of fresh parsley.