Some people claim it’s not worth growing parsley when you can buy a bunch so inexpensively at the supermarket. I disagree.
It would be impossible to count the times a pot of parsley growing on my patio has provided just that sprig or two I’ve needed for a recipe. And too often when I’ve purchased this herb at the market, the majority of it got lost at the bottom of the refrigerator hydrator and turned into a soggy waste before it was rediscovered or needed again.
A Border Plant
Besides, in addition to the common variety, I can raise Italian parsley, cilantro and chervil, which aren’t always available at markets when needed. My plants do well in medium-size pots, deep enough to accommodate the tap roots, but parsley also grows well as a border plant, or it may be tucked in between other flowers or vegetables.
Even novice gardeners should have no trouble raising any of the species listed. They thrive in the cooler weather this time of year.
PARSLEY (Petroselinum crispum) is the most familiar variety, with curly, bright-green, tooth-edged leaves. Sometimes called French parsley, it’s a biennial, producing foliage the first year, flowers the second. Gardeners, however, usually treat parsley as an annual because the leaves lose their flavor once the flowers appear.
You can grow parsley from seed, but since germination sometimes may take up to three weeks, many people prefer to buy small plants at the nursery. If you do choose to grow it from seeds, soaking them for 24 hours before planting will improve chances for germination.
Moist, Rich Soil
Plant parsley in moist, moderately rich soil. The plants like sun-filtered shade or morning sun and afternoon shade, and grow in a neat mound six inches to a foot high. When harvesting parsley, you should pick the outer leaves and preserve the inner growing area.
HAMBURG PARSLEY (P.c. Tuberosum) is a hardy variety with flat leaves, also called turnip-rooted parsley because it forms an 8- to 10-inch edible, well-flavored root. This may be used to flavor soups and stews, boiled like parsnips or grated raw in salads.
You probably won’t find any plants of this variety at nurseries, but seeds are available from Taylor Herb Gardens, 1535 Lone Oak Road, Vista, Calif. 92084.
ITALIAN PARSLEY (P. crispum var. neapolitanum) is another variety, also known by the names flat, single or plain-leaf parsley. The dark-green leaves have a stronger flavor than Petroselinum crispum. Use where parsley is called for in Italian recipes and to flavor soups, gravies, stuffings and batters.
CHERVIL (Anthriscus cerefolium) sometimes is referred to as the gourmet’s parsley, although it’s an annual, rather than a biennial. Chervil grows 1 to 2 feet in height, and because of its tap root, is not easily transplanted. Grow it from seed or small plants. By planting several crops a few weeks apart, you can ensure an ongoing supply.
Chervil plants prefer semi-shade and may be trained as an edging or grown in containers. The lacy leaves are lighter green than parsley. As it matures, delicate white flowers grow in flat heads. By pinching off most of the flowers, you’ll prolong growth of the leaves, but leave a few and the plant will reseed itself.
The delicately flavored leaves may be cut as soon as the plants are about 4 inches high (six to eight weeks), and used much the same as parsley: in soups, salads, sauces and herb butters. It also makes a good addition to vinaigrettes and marinades. Chervil is a key ingredient in bearnaise sauce and in fines herbes blends with parsley, chives and tarragon. This time of year, when it’s not possible to raise tarragon, the similar anise flavor makes chervil a good substitute.
CILANTRO (Coriandrum sativum) . It may sound strange, but you plant Coriander seeds to raise cilantro (also called Chinese parsley). Cilantro may be raised from small plants, too, typically labeled coriander by nurseries.
This parsley relative is an annual that grows upright from a tap root to a height of 12 to 18 inches. The plants like sun (except in the very hot summer) and moderately rich soil with good drainage. If you’re growing them strictly for the cilantro leaves, the plants do well in containers.
Salsa, Soups, Stews
Begin picking cilantro leaves when the plants reach 4 to 6 inches in height. As the plant matures, the leaves become more delicate and lacy, and flat, umbrella-like flower clusters form at the ends of the stems. These go to seed relatively quickly, so to ensure an ongoing supply of cilantro leaves, you need to start new plants every few weeks.
If you allow the plants to mature, collect the seeds after they’ve turned brown but before they drop. Use them for replanting, or grind to produce coriander.
Cilantro is the main seasoning in many Mexican, Chinese and Mediterranean recipes. Use it in salsa, guacamole, soups, salads, stews, stir-fries and sauces.
PERILLA (Labiatae) . There are several different species of this annual, including frutescens, according to Betty Taylor of Taylor Herb Gardens, which carries the seeds. The plant also is called shiso and is commonly known to the Japanese. It’s leaves are large, egg-shaped, deeply toothed and dark purple in color. They’re used like parsley, in salads and vinegars, where their color is imparted to the liquid.