Parsley is a favorite of most Western cooks—used for its clean, fresh taste in sauces, salads, stuffings, and omelettes. It’s commonly added at the end of cooking for its fresh peppery and tangy flavor. It has a light spicy aroma with hints of anise and lemon.
There are two types of parsley: flat-leaf parsley, also called Italian or French parsley, which is flat leaved and has the best flavor for cooking, and curly parsley which is typically used as a garnish and to give color to mayonnaise and other sauces.
Both the flat-leaf and curly parsley plants grow to about 12 inches (30 cm) tall forming a beautiful rosette of deep green foliage. Parsley can be grown alongside vegetables, with other herbs, or with flowering annuals. It grows easily in beds, containers, and window boxes.
Parsley is a biennial which means that it grows to its full size the first season and after winter’s cold temperatures, it blooms, sets seeds, and dies in its second season. If you are growing parsley for kitchen use and not seed, you may want to simply treat the plant as an annual and plant it anew each spring.
In freezing winter regions, you can pot-up the plant and bring it indoors for the winter if you like. In warm-winter regions, it will grow on through the winter outdoors.
Yield: Two or three parsley plants should be sufficient for fresh use. Grow more if you plan to freeze or dry the leaves for winter use.
Planting time: Sow parsley indoors in late winter or early spring. Sow parsley outdoors in early spring when the soil temperature has reached 50°F (10°C). Parsley grows best where the air temperature is about 60° to 65°F (16-18°C). In hot summer regions, start parsley outdoors in the fall and let it grow on through the winter. Seeds germinate in 5 to 6 weeks and plants mature in 70 to 90 days.
Site: Grow parsley in full sun or partial shade. Parsley grows best in compost-rich, moist soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.7. Add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil before or at planting.
Planting and spacing: Sow parsley seed ¼ inch (6 mm) deep. Set plants 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) apart.
Companion plants: Asparagus, sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes.
Water and feeding: Keep the soil evenly moist but do not overwater parsley. Parsley is a heavy feeder. Feed parsley with liquid seaweed extract two to three times during the growing season. Side-dress parsley with aged compost in midseason.
Care: Remove flower stalks that form (when flowers are allowed to remain, the leaves will become bitter) and prune away dead leaves at needed to keep the plant tidy. Where the weather gets hot, mulch around plants to keep the roots cool; be sure not to cover the crown which can cause rot. Towards the end of the growing season, cut back plants to promote new growth.
Propagation: Use fresh seed each year. Soak seed in warm water for 24 hours before sowing.
Container growing: Parsley grows and yields well in a container. Choose a container at least 12 inches (30 cm) wide and deep. Bring containers indoors for winter harvests and to avoid freezing damage.
Pests: Cabbage loopers, carrot rust flies, carrot weevils, whitefly, nematodes, parsley worms, and spider mites. The brightly striped parsley worm caterpillar which becomes the swallowtail butterfly will feed on parsley. You may want to plant enough parsley to feed the parsley worm caterpillar to support a butterfly colony.
Whiteflies can attack parsley in large numbers. Spray the undersides of the leaves thoroughly with insecticidal soap to control whiteflies.
Diseases: Crown rot, leaf spot; but usually no serious diseases if planted in well-drained soil.
Harvest: Parsley will be ready for harvest 70 to 90 days after sowing. Cut outer leaf stalks at the base for fresh foliage (inner leaves will continue to grow). Cut the whole plant at once and it will re-grow. Gather parsley stems and leaves as needed. Harvest parsley by cutting the leafy stems from the base of the plant—this will also serve to make the plant grow back bushier. Harvest the larger, outer leaves first.
Varieties: ‘Giant Italian” and Giant of Naples” are flat-leaf Italian parsley for cooking; ‘Moss Curled’ and ‘Extra Curled’ are curly-leaf parsleys. Italian flat-leafed parsley is a bit more heat tolerant than curly parsley.
Storing and preserving: Cut for fresh use; freeze whole or chopped; hang in bunches to dry in the shade. Dried parsley will not have as intense flavor as fresh or frozen.
Use: Use parsley fresh, dried, frozen, or marinated. It’s best used fresh. Parsley added at the last minute to cooked foods will be crisper, tastier, and greener. The flat-leaved Italian parsley is thought to have superior flavor, while curly parsley has more ornamental appeal.
Parsley pairs well with meat and egg dishes, potato and pasta dishes, vegetables, rice, salads, and soups, as well as cottage cheese and herb butters. Parsley is also a chief ingredient in bouquet garni.
Common name: Parsley, curly-leafed parsley, flat-leafed parsley
Botanical name: Peroselinum crispum (curly leafed parsley): Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum (flat or plain-leafed parsley, also called Italion parsley)