Sunday, June 25, 2006

Pretty Parsley

“Mom, what’s this green moss looking stuff on my plate?”
“That’s parsley, Johnny.”
“But Mom, do I have to eat it?”
No, Johnny, it’s just a garnish.”
“Now, Mabel,” Auntie Carmen pipes in, “you know that parsley is more nutritious than your broccoli.”
Auntie Brenda, who just can’t restrain herself jumps in next, “But it is also high in oxalates, which aren’t good for everyone, besides, who is going to eat a cup of parsley?
Johnny’s mom, Mabel, who’s already had enough pouts, “All right, all right, that’s about enough out of both of you. Can’t we just eat a meal in peace without a lesson on health and nutrition?”
Ignoring his Aunties, Johnny asks, “Mom, what’s a garnish?”
Mabel gives her sisters the evil eye and says, “Honey, it’s just a pretty decoration.”

Parsley is both a nutritious vegetable and a common decorative garnish. It is easy to grow, hardy, and not too particular about soil. Additionally it's rarely bothered by pests, and will often self sow. Parsley needs regular summer irrigation while getting established, if planted in full sun, and when grown away from the summer fog zone. Other than that, once you put in a few plants (a couple of years in a row) it will virtually take care of itself.

The first years growth is devoted to producing tasty or decorative leaves. The second year it will flower and set seed. To have a continuous crop you will need to plant parsley two years in a row. After that you can hope for volunteers, or if the slugs intervene, you can start new plants from your own saved seeds.

Organic gardens thrive on parsley. Parsley flowers, while they are not showy, attract beneficial insects. Parsley is also used in compost and mulch. Its deep roots help break up heavy soils and concentrate minerals. When parsley decomposes those minerals are in a form more easily utilized by other plants. This is a superior source of organic matter you can grow yourself. And they make an attractive garden plant.

There are a number of parsley varieties available for home gardeners. They range from the very tightly curled moss types to the flat leaved varieties more commonly used as a seasoning. There are even varieties of parsley grown for their edible roots! Most varieties reach about 12 inches tall, with an equal spread during their first year. Dwarf varieties may only reach 8 inches, and the tall or giant varieties may get as tall as 2 feet. Expect all parsley to double in height the following year when they begin to flower.

Parsley’s small seeds can be sown in spring or fall (or even both, more might be better). The small seeds take a while to develop into mature plants, and germination can be erratic. They can be started indoors, or the seed can be broadcast in containers or raised beds. These are not overly picky plants. They are happy when grown alone or intercropped. And they will thrive in part shade or full sun. If you don’t want to bother with seeds, nurseries and garden centers usually have a selection of varieties, just tuck them in, water when necessary, and let them grow. The dwarf curled types look great at as edging or at the front of a flower garden. The flat leaved varieties have a fern like appearance their first year and can be interspersed through the flower or herb garden as an interesting accent.

If you haven’t tried the flat leaved types of parsley in the kitchen, you may be in for a pleasant surprise. While I have grown and used parsley for most of my cooking life, much like Auntie Mabel, I primarily thought of it as a garnish. Then one summer I miscalculated the timing on my cilantro and tomatoes and found myself short of my favorite salsa herb. After accidentally grabbing a bunch of Italian Flat Leaved Parsley from the market, I was converted. In my kitchen, parsley is not just a garnish any more. It is great in salads, soups, sandwiches, and tucked into any other recipe where a bit of green refreshment will be appreciated. (And it will produce those flavorful leaves all year!)

If great taste isn’t motivation enough, parsley is also reputed to have a number of medicinal properties attributed to anti-oxidants. These include protecting the heart and protecting against rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. In popular herbal folk lore, parsley is known as a deodorizer. Folks whiz it up in “green drinks” and wear it in their shoes and claim it reduces funky personal odors. While I can’t vouch for this behavior I am sure that Johnny would rather stick his garnish in his shoe than on his sandwich.

On the subject of Parsley and health, just as Auntie Brenda mentioned, parsley does contain Oxalates and should be used in moderation by folks with certain disorders. Oxalates can, when ingested in excess, bind and precipitate calcium. This is not helpful for folks with or at risk for osteoporosis, certain types of stones, as well as certain kidney and gallbladder problems. However, most of us won’t be eating a cup of parsley for lunch. In fact two tablespoons provides more than 150% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K, 15% of vitamin C, and nearly 5% of folate and iron. For more information on the health benefits and safety of parsley see:

Parsley plants and seeds are commonly available at local nurseries and garden supply centers and they are carried by many mail order seed catalogs. If you don’t find the varieties you would like to try check out Richters: or call to request a catalog (905) 640-6677.

I will meet you back here next time, for a visit with our friends the helpful earthworms. Until them you will can usually find me out in the garden, digging the dirt.

Copyright 2006 Harvest McCampbell, from my column "Digging the Dirt," published in The Hoopa Valley People Newspaper, June 13, 2006. Posted here with permission.

Related articles on attracting beneficial insects:
Beneficial Insects
More Beneficial Insects

Other Herbs:
Stay tuned – Basil, and Sweet Cecily will be covered before you know it, as well as lots of veggies, flowers and other good stuff for the garden.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a delightful web site! I was trying to find out the difference in nutritional properties of parsley and cilantro and so discovered this site. As a recently retired would-be organic gardener, I was so interested in all I read I printed the article for my file. Thank you!