Jane McLeod: Cheery chervil
April 13, 2009
Most gardeners like to try growing something new and different mixed in with the tried and true, and for herb aficionados, chervil might just fill that need.
It is a culinary herb that has been used and loved since ancient times with continued wide use in Europe, though little this side of the Atlantic. Chervil is a native of southeastern Europe and western Asia that is now naturalized in every continent.
A member of the umbellliferae family, chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a delicate looking fern-like hardy annual with a refreshing spicy flavor – subtler than parsley with a hint of myrrh (anise).
Chervil grows as tall as 18 inches in height on slender hollow stems with lacy light green leaves (resembling a carrot top) which fade to a pinky color after the tiny white clusters of flowers have dropped leaving their long seeds. Sow seeds in the desired location – because of a long tap root, it does not transplant – in rich, well-drained soil and if possible in a lightly shaded cool spot. The seeds germinate so quickly that it is best to sow them lightly in successive plantings so that you have a fresh supply all summer.
Thin the seedlings to 6 inches apart and start harvesting the leaves when the plant is about 4 inches in height and the leaves are at their height of pungency for cooking. Snip off the leaves with scissors rather than attempting to break off sprigs.
Chervil will like our cool nights, but at the apex of hot summer conditions chervil quickly bolts and runs to seed. So you may well find that after producing lush growth in the spring, it will die back during the hotter days only to flourish again in late summer and early fall. Alternatively, it is an herb that does well in a container, and this way, you can move it back and forth from sun to shade – just make sure you don’t plant it with an herb that needs to soak up the sun all day long. This is not an herb that grows in the wild, but its distant and toxic look alike relative hemlock does, so never ever harvest anything but the known culinary species from the safety of your herb plot.
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Chervil is one of the staples of classic French cooking and along with chives, tarragon and parsley completes the marriage of a blend they call ‘Fines Herbes.’ It is the herb that gives Bernaise sauce its distinctive taste. Chervil is a fresh green asset to any meal – use the leaves generously in salads, soups, sauces, dressings, with vegetables (particularly carrots, young asparagus, and baby green beans), new potatoes, chicken, fish and definitely egg dishes such as an omelette. Chervil’s flavor is lost either by drying the herb or to too much heat, so add chervil freshly chopped near the end of cooking. The leaves are rich in vitamin C, carotene and some minerals.
The ancient Greeks felt this herb warmed the heart and made one cheery. Additionally, they gave it credit for sharpening the wit and bestowing youth upon the aged. Looking over seed catalogues with the outside temperature barely crawling to a robust seven degrees for the day – who can resist adding it to the list?
Jane McLeod is a Master Gardener through the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office. For information: http://rcextension.colostate.edu or call 879-0825.
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