Parsley, or garden parsley is a species of flowering plant in the family Apiaceae that is native to the central and eastern Mediterranean region, but has been naturalized elsewhere in Europe, and is widely cultivated as a herb, and a vegetable. Parsley is widely used in European, Middle Eastern, and American cuisine. The botanical name of parsley is Petroselinum crispum. Parsley leaves were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans as a flavouring and garnish for foods. The leaves are used fresh or dried, their mildly aromatic flavour being popular with fish, meats, soups, sauces, and salads. Parsley is often the principal ingredient of bouquet garni and fines herbes.
As a biennial plant, parsley grows vegetatively for its first season of growth, overwinters, and then flowers in the second season. The compound leaves—deep green, tender, and either flat or deeply frilled (curly)—develop in a cluster the first season; these are harvested for use. Many farmers do not leave parsley plants in the field after their productive leaf season. If left for the second season of growth, seed stalks rise about 1 metre (3.3 feet) tall and are topped by compound umbels of small greenish yellow flowers followed by tiny seedlike fruits, similar to those of a carrot but without spines. Parsley seedlings are small and weak; they emerge with difficulty from heavy crusty soils.
Table of Contents
6 - 36 inches
8 - 24 inches
6.0 - 7.0
Growth Nutrition of Parsley
While parsley can survive in dirt that's low in organic material, it will grow better in soil amended with organic matter. This fertilizes the soil with nutrients such as nitrogen, while also improving soil moisture retention. The latter is especially helpful for keeping parsley's shallow root system hydrated.
Types of Parsley
Parsley comes in several cultivars, categorized into distinct groups:
Curly (common) parsley: This group includes the standard type of parsley, which is easy to grow and attractive in the herb garden. Common varieties of curly parsley include 'Forest Green' and 'Extra Curled Dwarf', a fast-growing compact type.
Flat-leaf parsley: This group includes varieties that have flat leaves and grow relatively tall—up to 36 inches. It tends to be more flavorful than curly parsley. They also happen to make terrific additions to your butterfly garden! Cultivars of this parsley variety include Italian Flat Leaf, Gigante Catalogno, and Titan.
Hamburg root parsley: This parsley variety looks similar to flat-leaf parsley, and its leaves are only ornamental because most people find the flavor to be too strong. However, this variety also grows long, thick tubers that are parsnip-like. However, it’s also known by a few other names including root parsley and Dutch rooted parsley.
Japanese parsley: These are native to Japan and China and are evergreen herbs with a bitter flavor. They have strong stems that can be eaten like celery. It’s also known by the names Mitsuba, Purple-Leaved Japanese Wild Parsley, and Purple-Leaved Japanese Honewort.
Compared to other herbs, different types of parsley show little variation. The Japanese parsley (Cryptoptaenia japonica), also called Japanese hornwort or mitsuba, is only distantly related to parsley, but is used in exactly the same way. Japanese parsley is green to deep red and has significantly larger leaflets than our native parsley, and it is worth mentioning here too. Below are some of our favourite flat leaf, curly and Japanese parsley varieties for growing at home in the garden or in pots.
‘Einfache Schnitt 2’: The striking dark green foliage of this flat leaf parsley stands on sturdy stems. The plants are not only very hardy, but also exceptionally aromatic.
‘Gigante d’Italia’: An Italian flat leaf parsley with strong flavour and rapid growth. It reaches around 30 to 50 cm in height and can be harvested all year round.
‘Gigante di Napoli’: Another early-ripening Italian parsley that can be harvested just a few weeks after sowing. It has smooth, very large, dark green foliage and an intense flavour that is best suited for pesto and salsa verde.
‘Aphrodite’: A particularly aromatic curly parsley that produces numerous leaves on short stems. This compact parsley variety is also good for growing in pots.
‘Green Pearl’: An extremely productive curly parsley that can be harvested even after being overwintered, before flowering. The densely packed and stoutly stemmed leaves of these moss curled ruffles are characteristic of Green Pearl parsley.
‘Moss Curled 2 & Periwinkle’: They form dense, curly leaves that have little tendency to yellow under stress. These curly parsley varieties produce strong, short stems.
‘Riccio Verde’: A particularly compact growing variety. This moss curled parsley is early to medium maturing and has dark green, heavily curled leaves.
Mitsuba (Cryptotaenia japonica) means “three leaves” and describes this Japanese parsley very well. Mitsuba’s triple leaflets are much larger than those of flat leaf parsley and have a flavour reminiscent of chervil, celery, and cloves.
Mitsuba ‘Bronze’: A deep red to bronze coloured variety. Hardy and perennial, it can be used with its stems and is delicious chopped and sprinkled over all kinds of dishes.
Mitsuba ‘Purpurascens’: Has deep red foliage and makes for a special ornament in pots and beds.
When to Plant
Seeds either can be direct-sown outdoors or started indoors. Plant them outdoors roughy three to four weeks prior to your area's last projected frost date in the spring or indoors about eight to 10 weeks prior to the last frost.
Selecting a Planting Site
The planting site should get lots of sun and have good soil drainage. Container growth is also an option. Aim to keep the area free of weeds and other vigorous growers to avoid crowding out the parsley seedlings.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Seeds should be planted only about 1/4 inch deep and between 6 and 10 inches apart. Make sure to mark the spot to remember where your seeds are to avoid disrupting them, as parsley is slow to germinate. A support structure won’t be necessary.
How to Grow Parsley in Pots
Growing parsley in pots is a good option if you don’t have garden space for it—or if you want to keep fresh herbs available over the winter. A container that’s at least 8 inches wide and deep will suffice, and it should have ample drainage holes. Unglazed clay is a good container material, as it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls. Keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy, and make sure the container gets lots of sun. Use grow lights indoors if sufficient natural light is not available.
How to Grow Parsley From Seed
Starting parsley from seed is a slow endeavor. It can take two to four weeks for the seeds to germinate, and there's often a fairly low success rate. Stratify the seeds before planting by chilling them in the refrigerator and then soaking them overnight in warm water. This can promote successful germination. Seed-grown plants are typically ready to harvest 12 to 14 weeks after planting.
Parsley prefers full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days, for optimal growth. However, it does appreciate some afternoon shade in hot climates.
The herb grows its best foliage in loamy soil that's rich in organic matter. The soil also should be well-draining, so the plant does not become waterlogged. A slightly acidic to neutral soil pH is ideal.
Parsley plants love evenly moist but not soggy soil. Your plant will benefit from at least 1 to 2 inches of water per week (either from rainfall or manual watering methods). Never allow the soil of your parsley plant to dry out. The herb does not tolerate drought well and will quickly wither and brown.
Temperature and Humidity
Parsley can withstand a wide temperature range, but it does best in temperatures between roughly 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A soil temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for germination. Parsley has no special humidity requirements.
Though not wholly necessary for its success, parsley can benefit from a bit of fertilization once or twice at the beginning of the growing season. Treat plants once a month in the spring with a balanced organic liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength; make sure to use something suitable for edible plants. Alternatively, you can amend your soil with lots of organic matter and compost to up the nutrition.
Parsley is pollinated via bees and other pollinators. Its blooms are especially attractive to black swallowtail butterflies.
When the leaf stems have at least three segments, parsley is ready to be harvested.
Cut leaves from the outer stems of the plant whenever you need them. Leave the inner portions of the plant to mature. Ideally, allow 2 to 3 weeks for regrowth between major harvests.
If you want fresh parsley throughout the winter, replant a parsley plant in a pot and keep it in a sunny window.
How to Store Parsley
One method of storing the parsley fresh is to put the leaf stalks in water and keep them in the refrigerator.
Another method of storage is drying the parsley. Cut the parsley at the base and hang it in a well-ventilated, shady, and warm place. Once it’s completely dry, crumble it up and store it in an airtight container.
Pruning and Propagating Parsley
No pruning beyond periodic harvesting is necessary for parsley. However, you should trim off any broken stems that drag on the ground to avoid introducing pests and diseases to the plant.
Parsley is typically grown from seed or nursery starts. It is possible to propagate via cuttings, though the method isn’t always successful. But it is an inexpensive way to create a new plant and one way to use up excess parsley stems you won’t consume. Here’s how:
On a healthy, mature plant, find a stem that’s at least 6 inches long. Use sterile scissors or pruners to cut the stem at its base. Remove leaves on the lower half of the cutting.
Plant the cutting in a container of moist soilless potting mix. Using a biodegradable peat container is best, so you won’t have to disturb the new roots when transplanting.
Put the container in bright, indirect sun, and keep the soil moist. It can take a few weeks for roots to form. When they do, you’ll feel resistance as you gently tug on the stem.
Potting and Repotting Parsley
A loose, well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix is ideal for parsley. One that’s formulated for herbs is often a good choice. As parsley doesn’t like its roots disturbed, it’s best to plant it in a container that will fit its mature size right from the start. That way, you can avoid having to repot. If you’re starting seeds indoors, use biodegradable peat pots that can go directly into the ground or a larger container.
If left to overwinter in warm climates, parsley will continue to grow and flower in its second year. But the taste will become bitter after its first year, which is why many gardeners treat it as an annual.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Parsley doesn't have any serious pest or disease issues. But it can be prone to fungal diseases, including septoria leaf spot, leaf blights, powdery mildew, and damping off. Starting with quality, disease-free seeds and allowing the plants access to good air circulation can help prevent the onset and spread of disease.
The biggest pest problem for parsley is the caterpillar of the black swallowtail butterfly. Parsley is a host plant for these butterflies, and the caterpillars will hatch and munch on the leaves, doing considerable damage. However, because these butterflies are so welcome in the garden, it is recommended that you don't kill the caterpillars. They will mature soon enough and leave your plants alone.
Benefits of Parsley
May Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Parsley and its essential oil are rich in an antioxidant called myristicin. Myristicin may help regulate blood sugar levels. It may also lower insulin resistance and inflammation. However, more research is needed to understand these effects.
May Aid Kidney Health
Parsley is a natural diuretic. It may help remove toxins and germs from the body. Rats fed with parsley seed extract showed more urine output than when they were drinking just water. Parsley may inhibit the sodium potassium pump that is involved in the urine regulation in kidneys.
May Improve Heart Health
Parsley has been used in folk medicine to help treat hypertension. The rich flavonoid content in parsley helps in improving heart health and reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Parsley is also a good source of folic acid. Folate intake is associated with good heart health. Low levels in folate can be harmful for the heart. Hence, including parsley in one’s diet can be helpful in this regard.
May Support Bone Health
Parsley is a good source of vitamin K. The vitamin helps in the formation of bone cells called osteocytes. Parsley was found to inhibit bone resorption (a process where bones and absorbed and broken down by the body) in rats.
May Help In Digestion
Traditionally, parsley is used to help treat digestive and gastrointestinal disorders. The fiber content in parsley helps in digestion. It helps in moving the food in the digestive tract and also acts as a prebiotic fodder for the good bacteria in the gut.
May Boost Immunity
Parsley contains many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, including flavonoids. Apigenin fights inflammation in the body.
Parsley also contains vitamin C. The nutrient is a potent antioxidant that boosts the immune system. Parsley contains flavonols, such as kaempferol and quercetin, that fight oxidative stress and cellular damage.
May Help Protect The Eyes
Parsley contains vitamin A, a nutrient that can help in improving eye health. Parsley also contains carotenes, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, that help in protecting the eyes. These pigmented antioxidants help in keeping the eyes healthy by preventing oxidative damage. They reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
Curly leaf parsley is used often as a garnish.
Green parsley is used frequently as a garnish on potato dishes (boiled or mashed potatoes), on rice dishes (risotto or pilaf), on fish, fried chicken, lamb, goose, and steaks, as well in meat or vegetable stews.
Parsley seeds are also used in cooking, imparting a stronger parsley flavor than leaves.
Freshly chopped green parsley is used as a topping for soups such as chicken soup, green salads, or salads such as salade Olivier, and on open sandwiches with cold cuts or pâtés.
In manufacturing, parsley seed oil is used as a fragrance in soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes.
The leaf, seed, and root are used to make medicine.