Parsley (botanical Name etroselinium crispum) is a member of the carrot family with its characteristic feathery foliage. It is native to the Mediterranean, a biennial, and overwinters quite well if given protection, but is usually grown as an annual in cold climates.
History and Folklore
Persephone is often depicted carrying a bunch of parsley. Ancient Greeks associated parsley with Death, and used it to decorate tombs, and in funeral ceremonies. They did not eat it and never grew it indoors, lest they bring death into the house, but they did use it as fodder for horses.
The Romans placed parsley on their plates to protect the food from contamination and ate it to sweeten their breath after meals. This is where its tradition as a garnish originated. They also tucked it into their togas for protection and wore it on their heads to protect them from inebriation.
European folklore says that only pregnant women and witches can grow parsley properly and that it should be planted on Good Friday for the best crop.
Uprooting parsley will bring bad luck to your household. It will also kill the plant. Parsley doesn’t like to be transplanted.
Medieval Europeans believed that you could kill someone by plucking a sprig of parsley while speaking his name.
Parsley is a relatively hardy biennial though it needs some protection from cold. It prefers a sunny location where it receives a bit of shade for part of the day. If the parsley is getting too much sun, it will go pale. If you let it go to seed the second year, it’ll reseed itself. But it doesn’t taste as good the second year, so you should do a second planting. Then you’ll have an eternal rotation of parsley. Plant in well-drained soil rich in organic matter, though parsley tolerates poorer soils well.
Soak seeds in water for 24 hours prior to planting. Germinate in 3-4 weeks. Plant indoors 6-8 weeks before expected frost safety date in peat pots, so you don’t have to transplant and disturb the delicate roots, or sow directly in the ground. Surface sow and water well. Plant or thin to 8-10 inches apart. Water at least weekly; do not allow to dry out. Water extra in the heat. Mulch to retain moisture and reduce weeds.
Parsley can be grown indoors in a sunny location in a well-drained pot.
Slugs like parsley and so do many kinds of caterpillars. Swallowtail larvae can wipe out a parsley plant overnight, but they make lovely butterflies, so plant extra if you have them in your area.
Harvesting and Preparation
Snip stalks close to the ground, beginning with outside stalks and working your way around. This will encourage new growth. For best flavor, pick early in the day while it is still cool. At the end of the season, you can chop the whole thing off at the ground.
Lay or hang to dry and store in an airtight container away from light and heat. It’s best fresh though.
For the best flavor, parsley should be frozen instead of dried. Chop it up small and mix with some olive oil before freezing.
Parsley can be used in a ritual bath and in ritual incense associated with communication with spirits of the dead.
Wearing or eating parsley is supposed to protect against drunkenness and increase strength, vitality, and passion.
Parsley is also supposed to protect food from contamination.
Rich in iron and calcium and vitamin C, A, and B. Add to soups, stews, sauces near the end of cooking to maintain flavor. Excellent in mashed potatoes, add just before mashing. Great in tabbouleh salad and on sandwiches. Often used as a garnish.
Parsley can be added to pesto and other sauces to stretch other herbs with good results. It is also a great base, chopped small, for tabbouleh and bean salads.
A parsley infusion can be used as a hair rinse to prevent lice. The oil can be used to treat infestations.
A parsley decoction can be used for urinary and kidney ailments and for jaundice. For this, the root is most effective, but an infusion of the leaves can also be used. It will increase urination a great deal.
Parsley can be used to encourage late menstruation.
A large amount of chlorophyll in parsley is responsible for its ability to freshen breath when chewed.
Pregnant women should not eat large quantities of parsley.
Large amounts of parsley can have toxic effects on the liver, lungs, and kidneys.
Parsley oil should never be taken internally.
Use care if collecting parsley wild. Fool’s parsley looks a great deal like the real thing but the leaves are more acute, darker green and don’t smell as nice. It is quite poisonous, though it has its own uses.
Hemlock and Hog’s Weed also looks a bit like parsley, but are so toxic they should not be touched. If you didn’t plant it, assume it’s not parsley.