Friday, September 21, 2007
Steamboat Springs Parsley is undoubtedly one of the most familiar herbs - maybe even too familiar to generate much excitement. Some of us dismissed it as a garnish that was perched (often with a slice of orange) on the side of every restaurant entree we ordered. Little did we know, or probably care, that the little clump of ruffled leaves was packed with vitamins, minerals and antiseptic chlorophyll, making it a beneficial as well as attractive garnishing herb.
Parsley comes in many forms, but the two most familiar culinary ones are the curly-leafed (Petroselinum crispum) and the flat-leafed (P. neapolitanum), often called Italian parsley. Many chefs utilize the curly leafed variety for decoration and the flat-leafed for flavor.
All varieties of parsley are hardy biennials but are usually treated as annuals because in the second year, the leaves toughen and it very quickly flowers and goes to seed. Propagation is from seed sown from spring (when the ground has warmed) to late summer. The seeds are slow to germinate and can take up to 3 or 4 weeks. To hasten the process, either soak the seeds overnight or, once sown, water the seeds with hot water. Thinning or transplanting the seedlings (when about 1 inch high) to 8 inches apart is imperative, as the plants dislike being cramped. Choose a partially-shaded to sunny spot in rich, well-worked moist soil, water liberally in dry weather and protect the plant from becoming burnt up in a hot and dry summer.
The precise origin of parsley is unknown, but it could be from Sardinia and other parts of southern Europe. Its name comes from the Greek word "petro," meaning rock or stone, because it could be found in stony places. The pronunciation and spelling went through many derivations, arriving eventually at parsley. Held in very high esteem by the Greeks, they used it medicinally, fed it to their chariot horses, used it as a sacred burial herb and crowned the victors at the Isthmian sports games with it. The Romans were the first to use it as a food, and its popularity and lip-smacking uses were quite unparalleled, with the Emperor Charlemagne eating three cases of parsley cheese a year and Henry VIII loving roasted rabbit with a parsley sauce. This herb deserves its rich legacy as a curative herb, and its long and rather illustrious history includes myriad uses, from poultices for sprains or insect bites to chewing to freshen the breath, to infusion as a tea during World War I to cure soldiers of kidney problems brought on by dysentery.
Today, it is one of the most-used culinary herbs, enhancing not only the flavor of food but other herbs as well, and there are very few dishes that don't benefit from the addition of chopped parsley. The amount of parsley to use is a matter of individual taste, but as a general rule, it can be added generously to enhance the flavor or, in the case of dishes containing a lot of garlic, to soften the flavor. Whatever the case, if you haven't already, reacquaint yourself with this dexterous herb.
Jane McLeod is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.