Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is commonly known as French parsley, cow parsley, salad chervil and garden chervil. It’s an annual herb native to southern Russia and Asia Minor and is naturalized throughout Europe. It is one of the fines herbes used in French and Mediterranean cuisines, along with parsley, chives and tarragon. It has a sweet green, subtle anise flavor and is used chopped or diced in almost all forms of cuisine: soups, stews, sauces, egg dishes, meat and fish, steamed and cooked vegetables, and salads. The roots, leaves and flowers are all edible and high in calcium.
Chervil has slightly hairy stalks, leaves with lacy foliage and small white flowers with five petals. It grows 18 to 36 inches tall from a central base with a long taproot. Because of this it doesn’t transplant well and should be seeded directly in place for best growing results. Chervil is a cool-season crop like lettuce and does best when planted in early spring and late fall or in a winter greenhouse. Its delicate foliage can be cut several times during the spring or fall and will grow a second crop. Chervil self-sows readily. If you want to save seeds for next season, let a stand of chervil flower and set seed, and collect seeds when they start to brown and dry.
Chervil is a green annual herb with a long taproot. It’s easy to grow by sowing seeds directly in warm garden soil in the spring. A location with filtered sunlight is best because chervil will bolt like lettuce if grown in hot, sunny conditions. The plants grow from a central base to form a lacy green cluster, with flower stalks emerging from the center in mid-summer. Clip bunches of foliage in spring or fall to use fresh in cooking, and chop leaves to add to ice cubes for freezer storage. If you don’t want plants to set seed, cut them back to about two inches when flower stalks form in mid-summer, water them and provide a shade cover if possible. You’ll get a flush of fresh growth if the sun and heat is not too intense. Sow chervil seeds every three weeks for a continuous supply of fresh foliage without a lot of maintenance. Plant a patio container with chervil, tarragon, chives and parsley for a fresh supply of your own fines herbes to use in the kitchen. Chervil’s cool season growth habits make it a perfect kitchen herb to grow on the counter or windowsill all winter for a fresh supply of tasty herbal greens.
Chervil is used more for culinary than medicinal purposes, but does have some beneficial properties. Water from boiled chervil is a refreshing skin cleanser and pore reducer, and reduces puffy eyes when cotton balls soaked in it are applied to closed eyelids. Tea made with the flowers has anti-inflammatory and diuretic effects, for relief of bloating and water weight during menstruation and to relieve edema. Try drinking chervil tea in sweltering heat to relieve swelling feet or fingers. Chervil is a source of potassium, selenium, magnesium, and high in calcium, and is also high in Vitamins B and C and beta carotene, making it a healthy addition to salads and side dishes. The fresh pressed juice from chervil, either with a wheat grass juicer or mortar and pestle, provides relief from bladder irritations and pain.
Fresh-cut leaves are best for cooking, but chopped frozen leaves are a good alternative. Blanch fresh leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, rinse them in ice water and pat them dry with a paper towel, then chop them and spread them on a cookie sheet to freeze them. Once frozen, store in freezer containers until you need them for cooking. Chopped fresh leaves added to savory dishes impart a subtle anise, lettuce-like flavor. Chopped with the other three fines herbes, parsley, chives and tarragon, this fresh chopped herb mix livens up scrambled or poached eggs, fish and poultry. Spread the chopped fines herbes on a cookie sheet and dry them quickly in a hot oven for five minutes to make your own fines herbes to have on hand in the kitchen.
Chervil is a pretty garnish, similar to parsley. It’s a flavorful addition to root vegetables, beans, mushrooms and tomatoes. It combines well with other herbs including chives, basil, cress, dill, lemon thyme, mint, parsley, marjoram and tarragon. Chervil adds its delicate flavor to herb vinegars, sauces and consommés, as well as fresh and warm salads. A half cup of fresh chopped chervil makes a tasty topping for steamed carrots or potatoes, and is a tasty addition to classic Bearnaise sauce, along with chopped tarragon and shallots.
• The New Oxford Book of Food Plants; John Vaughan and Catherine Geissler; copyright 2009
• Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces; Gayla Trail; copyright 2012
• Medieval Herbal Remedies; Anne Van Arsdall; 2002
• Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s Reference; Jill Norman; 2002
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