Using Fresh Parsley as a Garnish

Updated on January 14, 2020
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle spends as much time in the kitchen as she does at a keyboard. It's no surprise that cooking and food are favorite article subjects.


Parsley Stems? Eeeek! What Is This Fuzzy Green Thing on My Plate?

The custom of decorating a dinner plate with a sprig of parsley supposedly came from a French control-freak uber-chef who would not let any platter, salver, or charger leave his kitchen without his personal inspection.

The parsley placement ploy was his indication that the plate was ready to be served.

The parsley principle caught on big time, and dinners ever since have been decorated this way in fancy eateries as well as in greasy-spoon diners.

It became so ordinary that it is now considered to be old-fashioned.

The parsley garnish has become a such a culinary cliché that many upscale restaurants have banned it in favor of much fancier and inventive decorations, such as the tempura-fried filigree of butterfly wing.

Every Plate Needs Something Green.

Roulades of beef, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut. The parsley perks it up.
Roulades of beef, boiled potatoes, sauerkraut. The parsley perks it up. | Source

Reasons I Use Parsley

Well I'm sorry. I would rather chew my parsley then eschew it.

Here's why:

  1. The flavor is fresh. It goes so well with potatoes, rice, and almost all kinds of fish, poultry, or meat, as well as stews, soups, and casseroles. This freshness is especially appreciated in the winter when fewer fresh greens of good quality are available.
  2. It makes other food look better. That bright green color does a lot to make a dinner plate look appealing.
  3. I like to see my little parsley bouquet on the windowsill. (See first photo.)
  4. Most important, It is nutritious. A small sprig of parsley is the equivalent of a regular serving of vegetables. It is high in vitamins, C, A , B, K, and iron . It is a good source of folic acid, antioxidants, and other nutrients. (If you have kidney or gall bladder problems—you might want to avoid too much parsley because of the oxyates that might lead to stone formation.) I like both Italian and curly parsley. I think the flat-leaf Italian kind has more flavor for cooking. Curly looks "cuter."

Salmon, sugar snap peas, brown rice, and orange slices. Even when you  already have something green, it helps.
Salmon, sugar snap peas, brown rice, and orange slices. Even when you already have something green, it helps. | Source
Use the best stems to put in a vase. Choose sturdy, crisp stems.
Use the best stems to put in a vase. Choose sturdy, crisp stems. | Source

How to Tell If Parsley Is Fresh and How to Keep It Fresh

First of all, make sure it is fresh when you buy it.

If it is limp, yellowish, has lots of soil on it, or smells funny, skip it. You would be better off using dried parsley, which is a poor substitute (though it still has some nutritional value).
The leaves should be deep green. The stems should be crisp, firm, long, and unbroken. It is best to find parsley with sturdy stems. If they are thin, the plants in your vase will wilt quickly.

You can keep it fresh by placing it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, but I like to keep it, at least some of it, in a little vase on the kitchen windowsill. It keeps just as long, looks pretty, and is handy to use. To keep it in a vase or glass of water, you basically treat the parsley like cut flowers.

First, I sort out the stems and select the thickest, sturdiest ones. If some of them are skinny, limp, broken or very short, I discard those pieces, or immediately use them.

Gather up the selected sturdy stems and snip off the cut ends in a bowl of water. If you cut them while they are under water, they will not have an 'air bubble' in the stem that can restrict the upward flow of water to keep the parsley fresh.

Keep the water level in the glass or vase, above the bottom of the stems. The cut stems in a vase should keep well for a week or more. Take a peek at the bottoms of the stems now and then. If they are turning brown take them out and trim them again, under water.

Some people say you can add a little sugar or clear carbonated beverage to the water but I don't think this is necessary. I haven't tried it. I like to keep mine in a tall skinny clear crystal or glass vase so I can easily see the water level.

The level will decrease as the leaves transpire and dry. Make sure the stems are in the water and trim the stems when they start to get brown on the lower edge.

Keep the ends under water when you trim, so air bubbles won't form in the stems and keep water from being absorbed.
Keep the ends under water when you trim, so air bubbles won't form in the stems and keep water from being absorbed. | Source

What About Live Plants?

Now, some people will say, "Can't I just keep a potted living parsley plant on my windowsill?"

By all means! If you have the right conditions of temperature and light (It likes about five hours of sunlight a day), and remember to water it on a regular basis, it's a great idea.

Of course, you will have to be careful not to cut too many stems and wait for it to grow out. It also needs a deep pot because the plant develops a long taproot.

Many and various health benefits have been ascribed to parsley from inhibiting tumors to freshening breath.

It is native to the Mediterranean areas of Europe, though most commercially grown parsley now comes from California.

The ancient Greeks considered the plant to be sacred. They used it medicinally, and if it didn't work, they also used it to decorate tombs. I like it better for decorating plates.

So Many Uses....

You can put it in your soup-- before and after cooking.
You can put it in your soup-- before and after cooking. | Source

Questions & Answers

  • How much is one serving of parsley?

    Parsley is strong-tasting, and is rarely used as a side dish on its own. It is more likely to be used as a garnish or an ingredient. Even a tablespoon, or so, of chopped parsley sprinkled over potatoes or another vegetable, can add a significant amount of nutrients, especially vitamins A and K.

  • Can I sprinkle dried parsley on my rice or soup?

    Yes, you can.


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    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      9 months ago from California Gold Country

      I did a little searching and couldn’t come up with a reference. Sorry. I’ll post if I find anything.

    • profile image

      Lori Alden Holuta 

      9 months ago

      Do you have any further information on that anecdote about the control freak chef that used parsley as his 'approval' when inspecting plates? This fascinates me, and I could use the info in my writing projects too. Anything you could share would be very appreciated!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks for commenting, Thelma Alberts. Parsley has a lot of nutrients in a little sprig-- I always think of it as an extra helping of vegetables.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      7 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      I love to eat parsley. For me, it is very yummy that I tend to eat the parsley decoration first before eating the food. Some of my friends said that I´m weird. I don´t care specially that I read somewhere that parsley is good for the heart. Thanks for sharing;-)

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      10 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks, Oliversmum. This parsley hub has been dormant for awhile, but when I read it again, it was better than I remembered.

    • oliversmum profile image


      10 years ago from australia

      Rochelle Frank. Hi. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your hub, with great information and ideas for parsley. We do have it growing in our garden, and eat it fresh from the bush, a lot of the food that I cook always has parsley in it which gives it a wonderful taste and great color on the plate. Thank you. :) :)

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      That would probably keep the parsley better, too-- but I like to see it on the windowsill, and it reminds me to use it.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      11 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Many of the chefs use minced parsley to sprinkle around the plate as a finishing touch. No sprig, as you mentioned. I never thought of keeping parsley in a vase as you do until needed for cooking. Good idea!

      We always keep our asparagus in an upright position in water placed in the refrigerator until we use it. It keeps much better that way.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      THanks! It is time for  the parsley cliche to make a comeback!

      I never thought of googling that, but when I did I found out I made a spelling error (me?-- Imagine that!)

       It came up: "Did you mean: 'tempura -fried filigree of butterfly wing' " and of course , I did.

      The only reference was mine, so I suppose I should copyright it.

    • MellasViews profile image


      11 years ago from Earth

      What a great Hub. I really liked how you mentionedparsley being considred cliché!! I never knew that, and I have been wondering why I have gone to resturants and not gotten my parsley sprigs... instead they sprinkle carrot shavings around the edge of my plate. lol.

      I have to google this term though:

      tempura -fried filligree of butterfly wing

      I want to see what this looks like!!!! Great Hub again...

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      11 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I've had good success with starting parsley from seed, despite my low-life (oops, I mean low-light) conditions.  The seed takes about 21 days to germinate, and all it needs is moist seed-starting medium (without being soggy), and a relatively warm place to sit (my kitchen).  The big problem for me is how to give it enough light once it germinates, so I time the germination to finish around May 15 (last frost date in my area), and take it outside to fend for itself in its little pots for about 3 weeks.  Then it's ready to plant in the ground.  Yes, the nurseries have plants much more robust than mine at that time, but I still get a walloping good harvest starting in late summer.

      I hope you do make a Hub of recipes.  Parsley needs redressing, as many traditional and retro things do, including myself, I think. :)

      About parsley coming back, it's a biennial.  In its first season (planted from seed) in a temperate climate, it produces lush green growth.  After it winters in the ground, it produces a modest amount of greens in the spring, and then sends up an ugly flower stalk, and the greens lose most of their essence.  I know you know where I'm going with this...if you start parsley from seed two years in a row, you will always have greens, because it will be reseeding itself, going through its lush periods in the late summer, and its sparse periods of greens but abundance of seed in the early summer.

      Whew.  Big comment.  For sure, you touched a particular love of mine.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks Sally,

      I thought of adding some recipes. I really like tabbouli. If you use whole cracked wheat, tomatoes onion garlic and lots of parsley-- you can hardly get more good nutrition in a bowl.

      Parsley can be uses instead of basil for pesto-- or it can be half and half.

      Also while researching this, I found out that some people plant parsley near their tomatoes, because it attracts a wasp that wil eat the larve of those ugly tomato hormworms.

      It isn't easy to stat from seed, but potted plants are usually abvilable in garden centers. Once you get it going, it often comes back,

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      11 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Beautiful tribute to parsley! I didn't realize it has such nutritional benefit. My mother makes a kind of parsley pesto for serving on toast or over pasta, and I'm guessing that pesto of hers is pretty-well packed with vitamins and antioxidants.

      Then there's tabouli, parsley-lemon-butter sauce, parsleyed new potatoes, or just chomping on a fresh sprig to clear the palate and freshen the breath. Not to mention how beautiful it is in the garden, on its own, or as a companion to fine-leaved plants such as threadleaf coreopsis.

      Can you tell how much I love this plant? Thumbs up! And thanks for the tip about cutting the stems under water. I didn't know that.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      I needed a pedestrian subject to help cover up my previous one. Besides, I'm passionate about my parsley. Thanks for your comments.

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      11 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Rochelle, you manage to make a rather pedestrian subject both interesting and playful (I love the "I'd rather chew than eschew my parsley" -- touche on that phrase!). Hadn't thought about it, but yes. Parsley has become something of a cliché. And you no longer see it in higher end, more modern restaurants.

      I hope it doesn't go the way of butter mints!!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      "Larder" always sounds to me like a place to keep lard.

    • Teresa McGurk profile image


      11 years ago from The Other Bangor

      Yep -- like you I like to munch on the garnish. Your hub made me hungry, though; so I'm off to raid the larder.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      11 years ago from California Gold Country

      I had some in the planter near my patio. It seems to survive a little freeze and comes back. Unfortunately it doesn't survive gourmet deer. I try to hide it by planting it between the rosemary bushes, which the deer don't fancy as much.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      11 years ago from Central North Carolina

      I have parsley in my flower bed. Last time i looked it was still green, but we just had a few temps in the teens so I don't know if its still there. I love the flavor and add it to salads and soups.


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