The parsley plant (Petroselinum crispum), native to the Mediterranean and now used widely all over the world, contains vitamin C and iron and is said to cure bad breath (try chewing some if your breath is tainted with the smell of garlic) and clean the skin. This herb is easy to grow in containers or borders, even in part shade, and its freshly plucked leaves give your food a palate-pleasing flavour.
Parsley grows best where the wife wears the trousers, according to an old English folk tale. (That clearly is the case in our household!) So whether you grow this herb for mythical or feminist reasons or its culinary and medicinal properties, it is an excellent addition to your herb garden.
There are two types – curly and flat leaf. The curly variety is slightly bitter, whereas the flat leaf variety (often referred to as Italian parsley) has the strong flavour that most of us can identify with.
Moist, well-drained soil in partial shade or full sun is best for growing both the curled and flat-leaf varieties. You can pick off the leaves to use in cooking as and when you need them. A successional harvest can be achieved by sowing seeds every few weeks. You will need to sow the seed every year since parsley is biennial and treated as an annual.
Directly sow the seeds in rows 1cm deep and 30cm apart in well-prepared soil. Seeds should be lightly covered and watered well. Thin seedlings to 15 cm apart when they are large enough.
It is also possible to sow seeds thinly in a pot filled with seed compost and cover the seed over with a light layer of compost and water thoroughly after. Keep the compost moist at all times. After plants are large enough, seeds must be thinned and potted on. Germination can take six weeks. A mixture of soil and garden compost should be used when moving young plants to larger pots to avoid drying them out.
It would be best if you sowed the seeds in batches a few weeks apart to ensure continuous supplies.
This particular herb (unlike other Mediterranean herbs) needs plenty of water, especially during dry weather, and benefits from the odd feed of somethingl ike a general seaweed fertiliser to boost leafy growth. But, first, cut back any yellowing foliage.
Being a biennial plant, parsley flowers will be prolific in the second year if you haven’t cut the plant growth back. Of course, if you want to save some seeds, allow some plants to flower. The flowers of parsley are called ‘umbel’. The plant itself can reach up to 2 feet (30 cm) in height.
The leaves of the plant grow back quickly if the stems are cut at the base as needed. Some plants can be harvested, while others are left to produce new growth while you harvest from one plant.
How to store parsley
Drying and storing parsley leaves produces a weaker flavour. Considering how easy it is to grow and maintain parsley plants, it makes sense to use a fresh supply. For better taste, chop the parsley finely in a food processor and freeze it if you want to store it for later use. Plants can be potted up at the end of the season and brought indoors for leaves during the winter.
Cooking with parsley
The herb is a versatile ingredient in a variety of recipes, from soups and stews to omelettes and Middle Eastern salads such as tabbouleh. You can utilise both the leaves and the stems of this herb when finely chopped. A point to note is that the stem of the plant has a stronger taste than the leaves do.
Here are some excellent recipes using parsley, courtesy of Taste of Home
There are several varieties of parsley. Take a look:
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