Learn all about the culinary herb parsley. How to grow, harvest and preserve parsley in the home garden. Plus, the best ways to cook with parsley and easy-to-make herb butter recipes.
Table of Contents
Facts About Parsley
Parsley is a hardy biennial herb usually grown as an annual.
There are two main types of parsley: Italian Flat-Leaved and French Curly parsley. Both have culinary uses although the flat-leaf parsley has a stronger flavor and is most often used in recipes.
Biennial plants produce only leaves in the first year when they enjoy vigorous growth. In the second year, the plant will flower, go to seed then die.
Young parsley has the best flavor while older parsley will eventually start tasting bitter. For this reason, many decide to grow parsley as an annual.
If parsley is kept until the second year, in the early spring, remove the flowers as soon as they appear to prolong their growth. This is done to enjoy fresh parsley from the “old crop” until the new one is ready for harvesting.
You may also choose to let the older parsley flower as this will attract bees and butterflies to your garden. Flower herbs are a favorite for beneficial insects as they are attracted to both the scent and color of the herbs.
Ideal Location for Growing Parsley
Parsley prefers growing in a location with full morning sun or a partially shaded location. The soil should be well-draining, but slightly moist. Compost can be added to drier soils to improve the condition.
Parsley is also well suited to growing in pots as long as they are deep enough to accommodate parsley’s long taproot. Parsley is a cold-tolerant herb that can withstand a bit of frost later in the season.
Parsley can be grown from seed in most areas. The seeds take a bit of time to germinate, sometimes up to 3 weeks. To quicken the process, soak the seeds in warm water overnight to soften the outer shell.
When growing outdoors, plant parsley in the early spring. Sow the seeds thinly and cover them with ¼ inch soil. Thoroughly water after planting and lightly press the soil to ensure good soil/seed contact.
Since germination is sometimes slow, it is often easier to either grow seeds inside first or transplant out young seedlings. Space parsley plants 10 to 12 inches apart in the garden.
Parsley is favored by the black swallowtail caterpillar. Many a gardener have seen this large pest munching along on the stems of their plants. Although it is easily remedied by handpicking.
Varieties of Parsley
Single Italian or Plain Leaf Parsley has flat dark green leaves and has excellent flavor. Many use this type of parsley to make pesto sauce instead of basil.
Flat-leaf parsley grows 12-18 inches high and is ready to harvest in 40-60 days.
Gigante D’Italia Organic Parsley is an heirloom variety of Italian parsley. It has a spicy flavorful taste and flat leaves. As the name suggests this form of parsley is much taller at 36 inches.
Double Curled Parsley has a rich green color. This form of parsley makes an excellent garnish and can also be used in recipes requiring a bit of texture and a milder flavor.
Hamburg or turnip-rooted parsley is actually a vegetable grown for its taproot. It can be prepared and cooked similar to parsnips.
Where to Buy Parsley Seeds and Plants
Parsley is a very popular herb, so its easy to find in most garden centers. Seeds can be purchased in late winter and young plants will be available in the early spring.
Some of the more unique varieties such as Extra Curled Dwarf parsley are easier to find in online retailers such as Burpee Gardening, Urban Farmer Seeds, or Cook’s Garden.com
Cooking with Parsley
Flat leafed parsley has the best flavor in cooking. Parley is best enjoyed fresh or in dishes with low cooking temperatures. Fresh parsley can be used to flavor butter, cheese, and oils. It can be chopped and sprinkled on pasta or vegetables bringing out a fresh bright flavor.
Parsley can be tied in a bundle with other herbs like thyme and bay leaves then used to flavor soups, sauces, and stews. This is commonly referred to as a bouquet garni.
Curly parsley makes a pretty garnish on any plate. The crunchy texture is also better in salads than the flat-leafed variety. Curly parsley can be substituted for any recipe with flat-leaf parsley. The flavor is not as strong, so increase the amount by at least a third.
An Easy Parsley Recipe – Parsley and Lemon Flavored Butter
This butter is excellent to have on hand to flavor any number of vegetable or pasta dishes.
You can make larger batches ahead of time, then freeze them to save time.
- 2 sticks softened butter
- 3 T freshly chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- 3 teaspoons lemon juice
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl.
- Use a wooden spoon or firm spatula to blend the ingredients well.
- Cut a length of plastic wrap, then place the butter in the center.
- Cover with plastic and shape the butter into a log about 2 inches thick.
- Wrap tightly then refrigerate to set the butter.
Parsley grows from the center of the plant forming small rosettes which grow into bigger stems. For this reason, parsley should be harvested beginning at the outer leaves giving the younger ones time to mature.
Harvests should be planned for early in the day before the heat of the sun has set in. Cut full stems of parsley from the base of the plant. Parsley does re-grow from the cut stem like many other herbs.
Parsley is not a good candidate for drying as much of the flavor is lost. If you decide to try it, it’s best to use it within a month or two.
Freezing parsley has much better results.
- Chop the herbs and place them into ice cube trays covered with a bit of water.
- After freezing, remove the ice cubes and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
- Whole parsley leaves can also be wrapped in paper towels and frozen.
It’s best to use frozen parsley within 6 months.
Parsley Myths and Health Benefits
There is a bit of folklore surrounding parsley. According to Homer, the Greeks fed parsley to their chariot horses to make them run faster.
While ancient legend cites parsley as sprouting forth from the blood of the old fertility king, Archemorus whose name means “forerunner of death.”
Other stories tell a tale that he who transplanted parsley would be punished within the year.
Parsley does, in fact, dislike being transplanted, so perhaps there is some truth to that particular tale, although the punishment may only be that the parsley plant will not survive.
No such negative associations hold true today. Parsley is a much-loved and nutritious herb.
Parsley is packed full of vitamins such as vitamin A, B & C, plus minerals such as iron. It is also a good source of potassium, chlorophyll, and calcium. Parsley has also been used throughout history as a natural breath sweetener.
In herbal medicine, parsley has diuretic properties and has been used to treat fluid retention and urinary tract disorders. Parsley teas have been used as digestive aids and are known to have a calming effect.
Parsley has also been used to treat inflammatory ailments of the joints including arthritis.
Parsley has become a favorite cooking herb for its bright flavor and versatile use in the kitchen. A few sprigs of parsley can be used as a garnish or chopped and added to almost any dish to impart a bit of flavor.