Scientific Name: Petroselinum crispum
Family: Apiaceae (the Carrot or Parsley family)
I was fortunate to live and travel for a few years in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It would be shocking for the cultures in this part of the world to consider Parsley as nothing more than a green decoration on a plate, but sadly in the “modern” Western world, this is what has occured. I cannot think of a meal during all my travels and dining, whether at a restaraunt or in a home, where Parsley was not used as an herb, spice, or vegetable. Most of the species I outline in these profiles deal with perennial plants, but the reseeding nature of this biennial makes it act like a perennial. Combining its amazing variety in the kitchen with its use as a beneficial insect attractor and dynamic accumulator makes Parsley an ideal addition to the Forest Garden and Permaculture Design in general.
Native to the central Mediterranean region of Algeria, Italy, and Tunisia, Parsley it quickly spread and traveled with exploration, and it is now used extensively around the world.
- The Parsley genus, Petroselinum, contains only two species: Common Garden Parsely (P. crispum) and Corn Parsley (P. segetum).
- Garden Parsley can be subdivided into Leaf types and Root (Hamburg) types.
- The two main groups of Leaf Parsely are curly-leaf and flat-leaf (Italian) Parsley.
- Another lesser known type of Leaf Parsely has been cultivated for thick stems resembling celery.
- Edible Leaves – Leaf Parsley can be curly or flat. While they can be used interchangably, the flat-leaf type is most often used as a vegetable. Curly-leaf is the classic garnish Parsley. Both can be used as an herb or spice equally well, but some say the flat-leaf type is more flavorful (it may just be how they were grown or the particular varieties I have sampled… and that is a lot… but I think I would agree that flat-leaf Parsely has more flavor). Parsley leaves with some of the stem can be eaten as is, maybe with a little lemon juice on it, as they do in Turkey. It can be chopped as the main ingredient in the classic Middle Eastern salad, tabbouleh. It can be bundled with other herbs and used to make stock, soups, and sauces in the classic French bouquet garni. It can be chopped and sprinkled on potatoes, rice, fish, poultry, meats, and vegetables as a minor or significant flavoring ingredient. And lastly, it can be used as a pathetic garnish.
- Edible Stems – All Parsley stems are edible, but more tough/fibrous than the leaves. When chopped finely enough, they can be used in any Parsely application. While there is a variety which has been developed with thick, celery-like stems, I have never tried it. I am hoping to find some seeds for this in the future.
- Edible Roots – Again, this is another variety I have not sampled. It is reported to have a unique “parsley-celery” flavor, and it is used most commonly in eastern and central European cuisine. May be used raw or cooked.
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
- Wildlife food (seeds… mainly birds) in late Summer
- Dynamic Accumulator – the large taproot can mine minerals from deeper in the soil
Yield: Variable. Depends on how aggressively it is harvested and the climate it is growing.
Storage: Ideally used fresh… I pick mine and use it within a few minutes of harvest. Can be dried, but requires very dry conditions as the leaves are so thin and easily rehydrate and stick together. Can be frozen and used later in soups, stews, sauces, etc. (consider freezing chopped leaves and a little bit of water in ice cube trays. Once frozen, they can be placed in a bag in the freezer and used as needed through the Winter.)
Plant Type: Herbaceous Plant
Leaf Type: Deciduous (not frost tender) – Biennial. Can keep growing in fairly cold weather, so if you live in a location with mild Winters, you may get to have year round production
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Underground Layer for Root varieties
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.
Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by insects.
Two years as it is a biennial plant – it creates a deep root the first year, overwinters, and then puts out flowers the following year. However, once a patch is established, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant. The patch will keep on growing indefinitely if not overharvested and allowed to flower and set seed.
Size: 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) tall and 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) wide
Roots: Leaf types have a long taproot (see photo above) and Root types resemble parsnip
Growth Rate: Fast
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Moist to wet soils.
pH: tolerates a wide range of soil conditions
Special Considerations for Growing:
I have found that high winds and dry conditions stunt the growth a bit, but other than that, it doesn’t appear to be too picky. Can be susceptable to fungal diseases if it stays too wet in the Winter; I have experienced this myself in the Azores’ wet, windy Winters.
Typically from seed. Germination takes 1-6 weeks depending on ambient temperatures.
- There are some reports that very high consumption of Parsley can be toxic. There is not a lot of reliable information on this. I love Parsley… I mean, I think I may have an addiction issue with Parsley. I have yet to meet someone who eats as much Parsley as I, even when I lived in the Middle East. Back when I was working nights in the hospital I would make a very, very large batch of tabbouleh. This would be my main food for a week at a time. I have had no ill effects. Either I am immune or more likely the amount for toxicity is so significant that it is very unlikely to occur. However, it does appear that if pregnant, large consumption may cause some isues.