Parsley deserves recognition for more than its role as a garnish. It's rich vitamins A and C, a good source of iron, and freshens your breath, to boot! Parsley is a key ingredient in tabouli, and compliments sauces, stuffing, fish, and poultry dishes.
Though curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum crispum)
is the most common type, flat-leaved parsley (P.c. neapolitanum
) is preferred for cooking and chopping; it's easier to work with and has a stronger flavor that holds up better in storage.
Although parsley is a biennial, it's best to start new plants each year because the leaf flavor is not as good in the second season. To hasten germination of this slow-sprouting seed, pour warm water over seeds and let them stand overnight before planting. Sow seed in individual pots indoors or plant them outside in the garden. Parsley is very hardy: You can direct-sow seeds 2 to 3 weeks before the last spring frost. (If you sow seeds directly in the garden, keep the area as weed-free as possible so the tiny, slow-growing seedlings don't have to compete with a jungle when they sprout.)
Plants do well in sun or partial shade, and prefer a rich, moist soil. Thin plants to stand 6 to 10 inches apart, and provide an even supply of water all summer. In some regions, caterpillars such as cabbage looper and black swallowtail larvae may take up residence and nibble on plants.
Harvest and Storage
To harvest, cut entire leaves from the outer edge of the plant as you need them. At season's end, you can cut the entire plant for storage. To dry parsley, tie stems together and hang them in a shady, warm, well-ventilated area. Once thoroughly dried, crumble the parsley and store it in an airtight container. To freeze, remove leaves from stems, rinse, and pat them dry before placing in a zippered freezer bag.
To keep fresh parsley crisp and flavorful, place stalks in a glass of water and store it in the refrigerator. In cold regions, pot a few plants in the fall to place in a sunny window. Though you won't get a large yield, you will have some fresh, tangy sprigs to remind you of summer!
Photograph by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association