Hail the Essential Parsley

| April/May 2006

Sitting in a restaurant recently, I overheard a conversation between a young boy and his mother. The boy asked, “Mommy, what’s this green stuff on my plate?”

Glancing over, I saw a plate of half-eaten child-sized pancakes, a glass of soda and a plate of fried chicken nuggets with a little sprig of green on it.

“Oh, that’s just parsley, it’s for decoration, not something you eat,” the mother said. Never mind it was the only fresh, healthy food on his plate. But to teach a child that parsley’s not edible? Heavens!

The Romans and the Greeks knew better. They used parsley in great quantities and looked upon it as an essential herb. The Greeks made wreaths of it and used them in celebrations as gifts to the gods. The Romans thought parsley could keep away drunkenness, so they ate exotic salads of parsley with rose petals and violets at the great banquets to ward off inebriation.

Fresh parsley has a flavor of its own, which makes it useful in cooking, although dried parsley has virtually no flavor. Curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum) has a pleasant flavor, but I?find flat-leaf or Italian parsley (P. crispum var. neapolitanum) more versatile because its more robust flavor is perfect in soups, salads, salad dressings, gremolatas and pestos.

Parsley is an excellent breath freshener, thanks to its high chlorophyll content. It is high in vitamins A and C, and one cup of minced fresh parsley contains more beta-carotene than a large carrot, almost twice as much vitamin C as an orange, more calcium than a cup of milk and 20 times as much iron as one serving of liver.

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