How to Grow Parsley
Parsley is an easy to grow biennial grown as an annual for culinary use. It grows from seed in the first year, staying in a low clump, and in the second year it sends up a tall flowering spike. All the plants energy is then diverted into producing flower and seed. Flowering plants left in the ground produce mature seeds in about eight weeks. Once this is complete it dies. Leaving the seed stalk intact means you will a new crop of parsley plants for future use.
The rich green leaf foliage makes it an attractive plant for growing in the kitchen garden, in pots with other herbs or as a border or edging plant for brightly coloured annuals.
How to Grow Parsley
Parsley can be grown from seed or plants purchased from your local nursery. The varieties commonly grown for culinary use are the curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and flat leaf or "Italian" parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum) which has a stronger flavour than the curly-leaved cultivars. On average about 10 plants will be enough to provide a steady supply for most households.
When buying plants from your local nursery select smaller plants. Larger plants may be stressed or root bound making them more likely to bolt to seed when transplanted.
Seed can sown directly into warm garden soil in early spring after the last frosts. Thin seedlings to 20cm (8 inches) apart so they are appropriately spaced with room to grow. Water regularly to ensure the soil does not dry out. Note: never allow the plants to become waterlogged or crown rot may occur. Feed monthly with a liquid fertiliser.
To grow in pots or seed trays for transplanting later use a good quality seed growing mix in which to sow your seeds. Seeds can be slow to germinate taking 2-4 weeks. Soaking the seeds in warm water overnight before sowing can help speed up the germination process. The secret to growing from seed successfully is to keep the temperature consistent and the soil moist never allowing it to dry out. When seedlings are about 10cm high transplant out into the garden. For best results plant in warm sunny part of the garden that gets sheltered from the midday sun in nutrient rich, well drained moist soil, with a pH of between 5.5 - 6.7.
To keep the plants healthy refrain from picking young plants too soon as this can stunt their growth. Prune away any yellowed or dead leaves on mature plants and side dress with compost, manures or blood and bone in mid season. Take extra care while weeding as the long tap root does not like to be disturbed. If growing in a pot ensure the pot is tall enough to give the tap root room to grow as it will not thrive in shallow a container. To prevent parsley from going to seed break off the flat topped flower heads as they appear so the plant will produce leaves for a while longer. Keep parsley well watered in hot, dry conditions to prevent it becoming stressed and going to seed quickly, even in the first year of growth.
Parsley is useful as companion plant for asparagus, tomatoes and roses and is said to be an insect repellent when planted with carrots. To improve the health and vigour of parsley interplant with peppermint.
Selecting and Storing
When buying parsley choose a bunch with bright green leaves. The leaves should not be damaged or starting to wilt. Ensure the stalks are firm and not limp. Parsley can be stored with the stalks in a jar or glass of fresh water or in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Otherwise use straight from the garden as needed. Snip off fresh parsley stalks at the base as required. When using fresh in cooked dishes add towards the end of cooking to retain the flavour and colour. To dry parsley hang in bunches in a shady place. Store the dried parsley in an airtight container. Parsley can be frozen whole or chopped for use during the winter months. To make Parsley salt dry the leaves in summer, crush into a fine powder and add to salt for winter flavour.
Parsley is an important herb in the garden and a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals for the body containing many health giving properties. Parsley has been shown to contain many vitamins and is rich in vitamins A, K, some B vitamins and C. It is also a good source of beta carotene, folate, potassium, calcium and high in chlorophyll, protein and a source of fibre.
Parsley contains apigenin, a flavonoid that reduces allergic responses and is an effective antioxidant helping protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals naturally produced by the body during its every day actions. Research has shown that parsley also has anti-carcinogenic properties.
Stir into soups, omelettes, pasta dishes, sauces or casseroles. Use chopped parsley sprinkled over the top of rice or vegetables, in soups and egg dishes, with meat or fish or to a salad dressing or salad to increase its antioxidant power. Serve steaks and fish with parsley butter or small sprigs of quickly deep fried parsley.
When used with other herbs it is delicious in meat and poultry stuffing and it is a key ingredient in bouquet garni (see side bar for recipe). Chopped parsley is commonly added to white sauce to make it more interesting.
Herbal Medicine Chest
Chewing the fresh leaves acts as a natural breath freshener and is particularly useful after eating garlic. Medicinally parsley is a diuretic and good for fluid retention. It may be helpful for combating indigestion and flatulence and in the treatment of kidney and bladder infections.
Parsley tea - 2 teaspoons of fresh parsley in a teapot can be infused with 2 cups of boiling water. Leave three to five minutes and pour the liquid into a cup. Sip slowly for a calming diuretic hot drink that is rich in vitamin C or as a good winter beverage.
Caution: Parsley is a stimulant and should not be taken is large doses when pregnant.