Intensely green and always vigorous, parsley looks every bit the nutritional powerhouse it is. Don’t make the mistake of relegating this herb to the role of garnish—eat it. According to Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening, one tablespoon or a good-sized sprig of parsley supplies the daily minimum requirements of vitamins A and C. If I am feeling a bit enervated after a long day’s gardening, I pick a few stalks of parsley, shake off the sand and graze on the tonic greens.
Choosing a parsley
There are three types of parsley, including root parsley. Most common is the curly-leaved variety that shows up on the side of plates in restaurants. Italian, or flat-leaved, parsley looks more like a small-leaved celery. In her admittedly “cantankerous and opinionated” book Green Thoughts, Eleanor Perényi commented, “Today, no food snob would consider using any but the flat-leaved parsley.” I’m with her in preferring the tightly curled, jewel-green mossy sort—more my idea of what parsley should be—but Italian parsley is full of flavor and as easily grown. Some seasons, it may bolt to seed in midsummer if dry or crowded, while curled parsley is always biennial.
Parsley seed is notoriously slow to germinate, traveling, according to legend, to hell and back in the three-week process. Some gardeners suggest soaking the seed in water over-night. “But,” notes one author, “you end up with a gelatinous mess that sticks to fingers and everything else and is impossible to sow properly.” Freezing the seed briefly helps to break dormancy by signaling that “winter” is over. Another approach is to soak the seeded flat or furrow with a kettleful of boiling water. And then there is patience: I generally seed a 4-inch-deep flat or pot indoors around April 10 and leave it someplace warm—near the woodstove—for the few weeks it takes the tiny green backs to show through. Grow the slow seedlings, thinned to an inch apart, in the sunniest window (though they are less light-demanding than tomatoes or peppers). In mid-May, or two weeks before the last frost, transplant parsley into the garden on an overcast day, spaced 8 inches apart; light frosts leave it unharmed. For vigorous growth, parsley needs fertile soil and adequate water. Compost or manure is a good start, a weekly soaking a must, and twice during the summer, drench parsley with dilute fish emulsion, followed by clear water to wash any fishiness off the leaves. Insects apparently don’t know what’s good for them and generally leave parsley alone.