Essential Folk Wisdom: Parsley

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You now commonly find it as a garnish to cleanse your palate at the end of a meal, but over the ages parsley has been used for many different purposes. In fact, throughout history, parsley has been considered a healing herb much more than a seasoning herb.

In the past, parsley was a treatment for a wide variety of afflictions and diseases, including kidney and bladder stones, genital pains, uterine disorders, syphilis and gonorrhea. Parsley seeds and leaves could also be boiled in alcohol to make an antidote to poison. This would also be applied as a poultice on dog bites to prevent rabies. Because parsley was known to soothe the stomach, the herb was often prescribed for any “pains in the side,” which could mean anything from cramps to appendicitis. It was even thought to relax muscles and was commonly given to epileptics and paralytics. 

Parsley can be difficult to grow, especially if you’ve been storing the seeds
for a while. If your seeds aren’t germinating properly, plant fresh seeds.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert/Courtesy

Parsley was used during all stages of pregnancy, as well. The root of the plant was greatly esteemed as an aphrodisiac. Also, in order to induce an abortion, women were instructed to ingest large quantities of parsley seeds at a time. In contrast, however, the juice of parsley was supposed to prevent miscarriages. If a women was bleeding too much after giving birth, midwives would tell her to hold on to parsley stems to staunch the blood flow.

And parsley wasn’t only used for medical treatments. In ancient Rome and Greece, parsley sprigs were braided into garlands and wreaths to give to partygoers with the belief that the parsley would allow them to better hold their liquor. Throughout Europe, parsley was associated with marriage, birth and death and was therefore a part of many marriage ceremonies, birth rituals and funerals for centuries. In Germany, folk healers would tell women to wash their faces with parsley water or tea for clearer skin. Parsley tea could also be used as a hair rinse to make dark hair shinier and smoother. Powdered parsley seeds were brewed in lard and then applied to the scalp in order to stave off head lice. In Cambridgeshire, a salve of pounded parsley and hen’s fat was marketed to heal chapped hands. Women were often instructed to eat parsley regularly, for it helps to lessen body odors and sweetens breath.

Today, parsley is recognized for its rich nutritional benefits and its diverse functions. The leaves contain large quantities of vitamins A, B and C, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphorous and potassium, and because of this, it is used to help stimulate the appetite and the digestive system, making it an ideal dietary supplement for anemics or people recovering from long illnesses. Parsley roots and seeds are consumed to cleanse the blood, kidneys and bladder and to expel excess water from the body. When taken with other herbs, parsley can even help relieve rheumatism and gout. Parsley can be applied to insect bites and stings to ease the pain, and it can also be used to treat light burns, milk knots and swelling. A tea made from the herb is still given to nursing mothers to wean her child and stop the flow of milk.

So the next time you find parsley on the side of your plate, remember that it’s so much more than just a garnish to brush off and discard. You may not need it to ward off rabies or treat appendicitis, but you can at least use it to freshen your breath.

Read More:Essential Herbal Wisdom: A Complete Exploration of 50 Remarkable Herbs by Nancy Arrowsmith

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