Parsley or Garden Parsley is probably one of the most well known herbs. It is native to Europe, especially to the central Mediterranean area and is cultivated as a herb, spice and even a vegetable. Parsley derives its name from the Greek word meaning “rock celery” and is a biennial plant that will return to the garden year after year once it is established. It grows best in moist, well drained soil and likes the full sun and it can be grown easily from seed, although germination is slow. Parsley can be grown in pots and can often be found on kitchen window sills.
Garden Parsley is a herbaceous plant with bright green, hairless leaves and if grown outside, the plant attracts many different insects including bees and butterflies. The swallowtail butterfly lays its eggs in the Parsley plant which in turn produce black and green striped caterpillars which then feed on the leaves before turning into butterflies. Birds such as the goldfinch will feed on the seeds of the Parsley plant.
It is mainly the leaves of the Parsley plant that are used in cooking. There are different varieties of Parsley, the most popular for garnishing being the curly leafed variety. The flat leaved variety is easier to cultivate as it is tolerant to both rain and sun and it also has a stronger flavour. Parsley leaves can be used fresh or dried as part of Bouquet Garni, the mixed herbs used in stocks, soups and sauces. Parsley is widely used in most cuisine including the Middle East and Asia and is an essential ingredient for fish, chicken, and many meat dishes. It is said to take away the smell of curry and is therefore often eaten fresh by many Asians after a meal. Whenever possible, choose fresh Parsley over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavour. Choose fresh Parsley that is deep green in colour and looks fresh and crisp. Avoid bunches that have leaves that are wilted or yellow as this indicates that they are either over mature or damaged. If you choose to purchase dried Parsley, try to select organically grown Parsley since this will give you more assurance that the herbs have not been irradiated.
Fresh Parsley should be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. If the Parsley is slightly wilted, either sprinkle it lightly with some water or wash it without completely drying it before storing in the refrigerator. If you have excess flat leaf Parsley, you can easily dry it by laying it in a single layer on a clean kitchen cloth. Once dried, it should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place. Curly Leaf Parsley is best preserved by freezing, as opposed to drying. Although it will retain most of its flavour, it has a tendency to lose its crispness, so it is best used in recipes without first thawing.
Root Parsley is grown in Central and Eastern Europe and is commonly used in soups and stews. It is similar to the parsnip and can be eaten as a snack.
Parsley has numerous health benefits as it is a good source of antioxidants including luteolin, folic acid, one of the most important B Vitamins, and Vitamins C and A. It is also thought that Parsley can boost the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties