How to Grow, Harvest and Use Parsley

It’s easy to enjoy the many health-promoting properties of parsley: The plant is a cinch to grow and is one of the world’s most versatile culinary herbs.

Tabbouleh Salad

Add oft-neglected parsley to your go-to herb list to benefit from it's medicinal properties.

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While most people probably think of parsley as nothing more than a garnish, this herb warrants greater inclusion in our diets and natural medicine cabinets. Not only is parsley packed with nutrients, it can help prevent diabetes; can prevent and treat kidney stones; and is a proven cancer preventive. We would all do well to use more of this humble and often-overlooked herb.

A Brief History of Parsley

Native to southern Europe, parsley has been in use for more than 2,000 years. Like many of the world’s most treasured foods, parsley has been transported all over the globe and it now calls many places around the world home. According to the ancient Roman statesman Pliny, “not a salad or sauce should be presented without it.”

While we tend to think of parsley primarily as food, our ancestors thought of it primarily as medicine. It was in this capacity that they used parsley to treat conditions such as gallstones, arthritis and insect bites. It was even used as an aphrodisiac and to curb drunkenness, as ancient people believed parsley could absorb the intoxicating fumes of wine, preventing it from causing drunkenness. While we now know this doesn’t actually work, we also recognize that many of parsley’s other reported uses have scientific validity.

Growing Parsley

Parsley, both flat- and curly-leaf varieties, is incredibly easy to grow. Considering the herb suffers a loss of flavor and vitality after being shipped, you might want to keep its culinary and healing properties at your fingertips by growing it at home. Parsley plants are prolific biennial plants, meaning they grow for two years before you need to start new plants from seed. In winter, you can grow parsley indoors in a sunny spot (see page 77 for tips on growing herbs indoors). Be sure to water sufficiently to prevent seedlings from drying out.

If you want to transplant parsley to the outdoor garden, transplant plants that are at least 10 to 12 weeks old 6 to 8 inches apart, after the threat of frost has passed. Parsley particularly likes to be planted near tomatoes, corn or asparagus, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. In spring, you can also plant parsley directly from seed or handy “seed tape”—seeds embedded in a long piece of paper that you plant directly to ensure even growth.

Harvesting Parsley

To harvest, wait until leaf stems have three segments. After that, cut outer portions of the plant as needed. To dry parsley, tie 1-inch bundles of stems together with elastic bands and hang upside down until dry. Once dry, store in an airtight jar. You can also chop or purée fresh parsley (stems included) with olive oil or water and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen, move the cubes into a freezer container for storage. Simply pop a cube into a soup, stew or pasta, or thaw and use to make vinaigrette or parsley pesto.

Using Parsley

Parsley is high in many nutrients, including iron and vitamins A and C. Parsley is also a good source of sulphur, which is essential to a healthy liver. Parsley leaves and stems can be chopped and added to soups, stews, salads, pasta dishes, fresh juices and more. Parsley is one of the most versatile herbs, making it easy for us to benefit from its many nutritive properties.

Anticancer Powerhouse: A recent study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that parsley has potent anticancer properties and works against cancer in a few distinct ways: It acts as an antioxidant, destroying free radicals before they damage cells; it protects DNA from damage that can lead to cancer or other diseases; and it inhibits proliferation and migration of cancer cells.

Diabetes Prevention: Exciting new research in the Journal of Nutrition found that eating foods high in a naturally occurring nutrient known as myricetin can decrease risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26 percent. Parsley is one of the best sources of myricetin.

Curb Kidney Stones: In a study published in The Journal of Urology in 2012, researchers found that ingesting parsley leaves and roots reduced the number of calcium oxalate deposits (found in kidney stones) in animals. The researchers also found that ingesting parsley leaves and roots helped break down kidney stones in animals.

Enjoy bold flavor and health-promoting herbs with this Gluten-Free Tabbouleh Salad recipe.