Parsley’s been enticing people throughout the world for centuries. Found just about everywhere, this vitamin-packed, easy-to-grow, beautiful plant is one of the most versatile of all herbs. Its bright green leaves – either curly or flat – are widely used fresh from the garden.

Parsley pesto

Parsley makes a great stand-in for basil in pesto!

Photo Credit: Judith K. Mehl

Italian essence parsley

Italian Essence parsley is a flat-leaf variety with a higher concentration of the essential oil apiol, which is prized by some chefs for its flavor.

Photo Credit: The Cook’s Garden

Parsley seedlings

These flat-leaf seedlings are 7 weeks old and already need staking – something that’s worth doing in order to grow an herb chock full of vitamins and flavor.

Photo Credit: Judith K. Mehl

Historically, Greek soldiers fed parsley to horses for speed and endurance, and Romans chewed it to fend off intoxication. For ages, people have also found a host of culinary uses for parsley – as a garnish, in eggs and sauces, casseroles or meat dishes. This plant is also attractive to beneficial insects, while repelling unwanted garden pests. And it can certainly hold its own as an ornamental, nestled among other perennials, used as a border or as a star in the herb bed.

Parsley is known botanically as Petroselinum crispum, and there are three common varieties readily available for your garden. The flat-leafed Italian (Neapolitanum Group) is favored for its sweet taste, while the curly-leaf kind serves mostly as a garnish and an ornamental. Hamburg parsley (variety tuberosum) is grown for its edible turnip-like root, which has a similar taste to the leaf. Most parsley plants grow 8-20 inches tall. The tiny flowers form flat-topped clusters in an umbrella shape, and they’re a gorgeous chartreuse.

A hardy plant, parsley can be grown from seed or as starter plants (both indoors and out). Once established, it often reseeds itself. The herb is a biennial, producing foliage the first year, with the flowers coming the second year to produce seed, but most people grow it as an annual. (It’s a perennial only in USDA Hardiness zone 9 and higher.) Increasingly, gardeners are using parsley as an ornamental, reminiscent of ages past when the curly-leaf type was used in the symmetrical scrollwork in knot gardens and to encircle or highlight favored plant specimens.

While it’s easy to grow, parsley does have some needs, including rich, moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. The herb also likes sun, but even in the North it requires some shade at the height of the day.

If you’re looking for some good parsley selections to try, consider these:

Germinating parsley by seed can take up to 4 weeks, but soaking the seeds for 24 hours before planting will speed the process. I grow parsley indoors in winter because it’s such a culinary treat, and I’ve had seeds germinate in January in just four days! Grown outside, the plant is ready to cut by midsummer in most Northern climates – or as soon as there are five or six stems. To harvest, just cut the outside stems as near to the ground as possible.

Parsley is called for in many dishes, but for a fantastic treat, try making a parsley-based pesto:

Parsley Pesto

Ingredients

  • 2 cups parsley and 1 cup cilantro (or use parsley only)
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3/4 cup Asiago or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine all ingredients – except the olive oil – in a food processor, then slowly add the olive oil a little at a time until the mixture is smooth. Use as a bread dip or mix it into rice or your favorite pasta for a delicious meal.

But don’t stop there! The French mix parsley with other herbs to make a bouquet garni for soup. Or use the herb in stuffings or salads, add it to an omelet, deep-fry the sprigs as an edible garnish, or make persillade (a mixture of chopped garlic and chopped parsley). No matter how you use it, you’re guaranteed a delicious, healthy and beautiful treat!