Growing Parsley (petroselinum crispum):
Parsley has traditionally been used as a food garnish and flavouring, for head-dresses and even for adorning tombs during ancient Greek times.
It is probably the most under-used herb in the garden but is rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly iron. Gram for gram, parsley has more vitamin C than citrus fruits.
There are a number of different varieties. The most commonly used are the curly leaf and Italian flat leaf types which are added to many recipes, as well as being an attractive garnish.
Parsley originally grew wild in Mediterranean areas, but has been cultivated throughout Europe and America for many centuries.
In recent years, the remarkable properties of parsley have been well documented and the herb is freely used in professional and home kitchens although there is still a temptation to use it only as a garnish.
Parsley is effective in freshening the breath after eating garlic.
Parsley likes to grow in a sunny spot, and thrives in a rich soil. It grows well in containers and can be dotted around the garden to grow with other herbs and vegetables. Varieties of parsley differ so much that it’s hard to tell they come from the same family sometimes. Try growing flat leaved and tight curly leaved varieties to compare.
Buy ready grown young plants from a nursery or garden centre to get your crop going quickly. But these plants are often started in forced conditions and are not hardened to cold nights. It’s unlikely the plants would survive if put out too early. Keep plants on a sunny windowsill and keep well watered. They may be transplanted a little later in the year, although a healthy parsley plant will keep green and fresh right into the winter months on a sunny windowsill.
Always ensure pots are well-drained, but parsley needs to be kept moist, so water regularly.
Choose a well-drained sunny spot outside. Parsley will tolerate some shade but the soil will need to be rich in nutrients for it to thrive. Dig over the ground and remove and perennial weeds and dig in some well-rotted manure or rich compost, if available.
Parsley will grow readily from seed, but can take more than six weeks to germinate, so it needs to be started in a clean compost where the seeds won’t be drowned with weeds. Some growers soak the seed for 24 hours before planting to speed up the germination process.
Sow a few seeds in pots, and keep warm and the soil moist. When the plants come up, thin to one plant per pot. The seedlings you remove could be planted elsewhere, but consider how many parsley plants you may need. The thinnings may be better off in the salad bowl.
Seeds can be planted directly outside, but not until the weather is warmer. As parsley needs a long growing period, it’s generally better to start them in early spring in a greenhouse, or indoors.
When all danger of a frost has passed young plants can be transplanted into the garden, and containers can be put outside. Parsley is a heavy feeder, resulting in iron and mineral rich leaves. If your soil could be lacking in nutrients, parsley will benefit from a regular organic feed.
Start using the leaves when the plants are at least 8 inches (20cm) tall. Use all through the year. During the second year of growth, parsley will produce flower and seed. The seeds can be collected when ripe.
Parsley has a long tap root and tends to look after itself fairly well once it settles in, but it should never be allowed to dry out. Water regularly in dry weather.
For seed collection: Hang flower heads upside down in a paper bag when the seed has started to form. Leave in a dry airy place until the seeds drop from the rest of the plant, then store seed in a sealed jar. Remember to label the jar and store out of direct light.
Parsley leaf can be dried: Hang the whole stems or lay on racks to dry, then crumble leaves and store in sealed jars. Label and again, store out of direct light. Whole stems of parsley can also be frozen.
Medicinal uses for Parsley:
Because of its high iron content, parsley is thought to strengthen the blood. It also has high quantities of vitamin C and is therefore a healthy herb to use as a vegetable. Parsley also freshens the breath and is a must-have with garlic bread!
This text is an extract from Growing 20 Everyday herbs.