Jane McLeod: Too good to be forgotten
December 6, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Parsley is undoubtedly one of the most familiar herbs — maybe even too familiar to generate much excitement. Some of us remember and dismiss it as a garnish that perched (often paired with a slice of orange) on the side of every restaurant entree we ever ordered. Little did we know, or probably care, that the little piece of ruffled leaves was packed with vitamins, minerals and antiseptic chlorophyll, making it a beneficial as well as attractive.
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-leaved for decoration and the flat-leaved for flavor because it is a little stronger.
All varieties of parsley are hardy biennials but usually are 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 as long as three to four 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 an 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 in a hot and dry summer.
The precise origin of parsley is unknown but it potentially is 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 before eventually arriving at parsley.
Parsley was 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 chewed to freshen the breath to infused 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. When chopped and added, there are very few dishes that don't benefit from the addition of 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.
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Jane McLeod is a Master Gardener through the Routt County Extension Service. If you have questions, call 9710-879-0825.