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Exploring Parsley: The Lonely, Unappreciated Herb

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.



"I Don't Get No Respect"

Pity the poor parsley plant; it's the Rodney Dangerfield of herbs. Parsley is always pushed to the edge of the plate with the uneaten peas—just a frilly decoration, a charming splash of color.

But without it how could we accent buttered new potatoes, create a mixed-herb pesto, enjoy tabouleh salad, or prepare the perfect chimichurri?

Without parsley, we would be lost. And that is why it is the most familiar and most-used herb in America. However, parsley is not American, nor is it an innovative cooking ingredient.

Let me tell you a story.

But I Do Have a Long History

The ancient Greeks believed that parsley was sacred and used it to adorn not only their victorious athletes, but also the tombs of the dead. It is possible that the Israelites used parsley as one of the bitter herbs in their Passover meal. Pliny the Elder (23-78 AD) is thought to have said that “not a salad or sauce should be presented without it”. The Romans used it as well, and it is believed that parsley traveled with them to Britain where it decorated Elizabethan gardens years later.

Roman revelers were known to wear a few sprigs of parsley to prevent intoxication, and they chewed parsley to hide the alcohol on their breath when they got drunk anyway.

And It Is Shrouded in Superstition

If you have ever tried to grow parsley, you know that it is temperamental, to say the least. An old English saying states:

"Parsley seed goes seven times to the Devil and back before it germinates".

One could conclude, therefore, that the seeds that finally germinate have been rejected by Satan. Ironically, at Roman weddings, wreaths of parsley were given to protect against demons. Perhaps their thinking was that if the parsley had grown here on earth the Devil had found it unacceptable, and so it would be free of evil spirits.

Another myth was that the seeds should be sown only on Good Friday. Some claimed that only witches could successfully cultivate the herb. Even today there are those who say that transplanting parsley from one home to another will bring bad luck.

What's in a Name?

The etymology of the name “parsley” is confusing, and rather lengthy. Some say it is a combination of the Old English petersilie and the Old French peresil—and that both of these are derived from the Latin petrosilium, which is taken from the Greek petroselinon from petros "rock, stone" + selinon "celery."

Yes, parsley is related to the celery plant--and carrots and parsnips as well. In addition to its mythical qualities, it also has a long history of medicinal and culinary uses. Parsley has been used as an insect repellent, as a poultice for cuts and sores, as an aphrodisiac, and even a cure for baldness.


  • Botanical Name: Petroselinum crispumim
  • Plant Type: Herb
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun, part sun
  • Soil Type: Loamy
  • Description: Parsley is a biennial plant with bright green, featherlike leaves in the Apiaceae* family

* Other plants in this family include anise, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander (cilantro), cumin, dill, fennel, and parsnip.

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How to Successfully Grow This Fussy Beast

I must confess that I have not had much, if any, success in sowing parsley from seed. My best and most prolific parsley plants have been purchased as seedlings. However, I have also found that if I allow those seedlings to grow and prosper and ultimately go to seed, little parsley babies will appear the following year. And, the cycle goes on and on and on.

If you are determined to try to sow (and grow) parsley from seed, here is a link that provides clear instructions.

Flat leaf and curly parsley

Flat leaf and curly parsley

The Fraternal Twins of Parsley

There are two varieties of parsley. The curly or "common" parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is most often used in the United States. Flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum) appears more often in Mediterranean cooking.

Can they be used interchangeably? I will answer that with a tentative yes. Of course curly parsley has more texture. Some people think it is bitter; I find that the taste varies from plant to plant. Flat leave parsley has a more robust flavor and lends itself well to sauces and stews.

Let's look at some innovative ways to use parsley—it deserves more than being just a garnish.

Parsley potatoes

Parsley potatoes

Parsley Potatoes

At the introduction of this article, I made reference to a recipe with buttered new potatoes. This is about as easy as it gets.


  • 1 1/2 pounds new (white, red, or Yukon gold) potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Add 1 inch of water to a large saucepan with a lid. Cover and heat to boiling over high heat. Add the potatoes. Cover and heat to boiling, reduce the heat. Cook covered 20 to 25 minutes or until tender; drain and return to the pan.
  2. Drizzle butter over the potatoes. Sprinkle with parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir gently to coat potatoes.
Mixed herb pesto on bread (yummy crostini)

Mixed herb pesto on bread (yummy crostini)

Mixed Herb Pesto


  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 2 tightly packed cups small basil leaves
  • 1 tightly packed cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 tbsp. fresh herb leaves (oregano, marjoram, chives, or sage)
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Sardo or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


Combine nuts, garlic, salt, basil, and parsley leaves in bowl of food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. Add cheese and olive oil. Pulse until smooth and well-blended.

Tabbouleh salad

Tabbouleh salad

Tabbouleh Salad


  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 heaping tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1/2 cup scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint leaves
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained


  1. Combine bulgur wheat and boiling water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 15-20 minutes, or until all water is absorbed.
  2. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, garlic, scallions, and olive oil. Cover and place in the refrigerator to marinate 2-3 hours.
  3. Just before serving stir in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

And you can add these ingredients

Want to add a bit more crunch, color, flavor, or protein? Here are some suggestions:

  • 1/2 cup olives (black, Kalamata, or mixed)
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 1/2 pound cooked shrimp
  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken (the white meat from a rotisserie chicken would be great here)
  • 1 cup diced zucchini (in place of or in addition to the cucumber)
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or almonds would be a good choice)

Chimichurri Sauce


  • 3 cups chopped flat-leaf parsley, firmly packed (leaves only, no stems)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon
  • 3/4 cup olive oil


  1. Place all of the ingredients in the bowl of your food processor. Process until smooth.
  2. Cover and chill until ready to use. This can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 days.

© 2015 Linda Lum

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