By Paris Wolfe~ Education Committee- Western Reserve Herb Society
For the past 26 years, the International Herb Association has chosen an Herb of the Year™. The ubiquitous and versatile biennial parsley ( Petroselinum crispum) is the star of 2021.
Parsley – both flat and curly – is probably one of the Western world’s most popular herbs. And why not? It’s been cultivated in Europe for more than 2000 years. Or so they say. Greek mythology, which reaches as far back as 900 BC, associates parsley with Archemorous or the hero-God Ophletes.
The story vaguely goes something like this … where Archemorous blood was shed, the herb sprouted. At some point Persephone gathered his spirit in the form of parsley. Because Persephone helped guide souls to the underworld, she is often depicted with a bouquet of parsley. And that led to parsley use to decorate tombstones and memorials.
Legend says parsley must visit Persephone’s husband – Hades -- nine times before sprouting. Anyone who has tried to cultivate it from seed knows that sprouting takes so long that might be true.
Charles the Great (742 AD - 814 AD), the influential Roman emperor who brought together western and central Europe, is given some credit for the herb’s popularity as he grew it all over his property.
Two main groups of parsley are the original Italian aka flat and the new-ish French aka curly. Some folks (like my late mother-in-law) claim flat-leaf parsley is superior because of its stronger flavor. Other folks prefer the frilly leaves and lighter herbaceousness of the curly variety. Flat leave varieties have other benefits … they’re easier to cultivate and more weather tolerant.
This Herb of the Year is extremely versatile in the kitchen and blends well with other seasonings. It has fans, as both seasoning and garnish, around the globe. Parsley-forward preparations include persillade, tabbouleh, Italian salsa verde, gremolata and more.
Its useful properties include breath freshener, supposedly strong enough to fight garlic. It also has diuretic properties, but should not be consumed in large quantities, especially by pregnant women.
New herbies will find it among the easiest plants to grow in containers or soil, once sprouted. Actual sprouts require patience as they may take 4 to 6 weeks to appear. Once above ground, parsley plants will thrive in ordinary soil in almost any light.
Their first year the plants form a whirl of mostly prolific foliage. (Unless the critters get there first.) The second year, leaves are sparse and flower umbels appear. As the leaves are harvested for cooking, they are replaced by new growth.
Whatever your preference – flat or curly – celebrate parsley this year!