A Fresh Perspective on Parsley (Petroselinum)
Parsley is familiar to us all, maybe too familiar. It has always been the go-to garnish for punching up the color of countless dishes we serve in the kitchen. It is an herb often perceived as nothing special. Look again. Any nutritional research will uncover the fact that parsley leaves are very high in vitamins C and A and in minerals such as iron and calcium. The leaves can contain up to 20% protein. Parsley plays a main role in the familiar dish, tabbouleh, a healthy mid-Eastern salad. But with its ease of cultivation in the Pacific Northwest and its proven health benefits, we should be adding parsley daily to our diets in soups, stews, egg dishes, salads and sauces
Flat or Curly
People who like to cook often have a preference for flat leaf (Italian) parsley. It is said to have a stronger flavor that holds up better to heat. Yet some argue for curly (French) parsley and its texture is definitely easier to chop. My own experience is that both varieties are interchangeable and I get bored if I consistently use just one. I suggest a planting of both varieties. P. crispum var. crispum “Triple Curled” is a bolt resistant cultivar and P.crispum var. Neapolitanum “Italian” produces large, wide, smooth green leaves. Several varieties of parsley will be available at the Incredible Edible Sale on May 2nd such as this flat leaf parsley grown in the Multnomah County Chapter Demo Garden. (Photo 1)
Planting and Harvesting
Parsley seeds or starts can be planted after the last freeze date and with soil temperatures at least 50 degrees. Seeds germinate slowly both indoors or outdoors so if you are impatient, plant starts are a good choice for you. A second planting is good in early to mid-summer. The spring planting should be in full sun, but if possible, a partial shade environment is good for the summer planting. If parsley gets too hot, it can bolt earlier, something that I experienced a few summers ago. To keep parsley productive, cut out seed stalks as they appear and cut the outside stems close to the plant base on a regular basis.
A biennial herb
Parsley is one of a few biennial culinary herbs. Another is caraway. These herbs take two years to complete their biological lifecycle. The first year produces vigorous growth of bright green leaves. In the second summer the parsley plant produces bigger flower stalks that can attract bees. Once seeds are produced the leaves take on a bitter taste. If pollinated, the flower will produce a seed that can be dried and used in recipes. Parsley can be harvested throughout our milder Northwest winters. Naturally, the taste is not as bright as other times during the year. But it brightens MY spirit to be able to go out in the garden, clip a few leaves to chop and sprinkle on marinara sauce and spaghetti just before serving. If brave but winter weary parsley like the flat leaf and curly plants in my garden (Photo 2) don’t appeal to you, you can place freshly chopped parsley in water in ice cube trays to freeze. It makes it easy to add to sauces or stews during the winter season. Parsley also can be dried but it will loose a lot of flavor. It is an herb best used fresh and added to dishes toward the end of the cooking cycle. Did you know that the stems of flat-leaf parsley are edible and can be used the same as the leaves when chopped fine?