Growing parsley is easy for beginners and expert gardeners alike. Parsley offers a nutritious, delicious herb that can be used as a flavor enhancer in many dishes. It can also be diced and added to salads, pasta dishes, and other dishes where greens are called for in the recipe.
I have a confession to make: I love growing parsley! Whether I’m growing parsley for my butterfly garden or for my vegetable dishes, parsley always has an important place in my garden.
As a biennial plant – or a plant that creates seeds in its second year – one parsley plant yields plenty of leaves for cooking or drying.
But it’s not only people who love parsley. I discovered after losing almost all of my parsley overnight that in addition to dill, parsley is a favorite food for the Eastern Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. The caterpillars are welcome to it – my parsley grows plentifully in the garden, so there is enough for all.
All About Parsley Herb
Always enjoy cultivated, culinary parsley as both an herb for health and a culinary garnish or seasoning herb. Much folklore surrounds parsley as a poisonous plant because the so-called “fool’s parsley”, which grew wild in ancient Greece and other lands, is poisonous.
Common household parsley such as the kind you can buy and grow from any good nursery or garden center is actually quite healthy for you. Parsley contains very few calories and plenty of vitamins C, A, and iron. It is extremely good for you.
Parsley Is Biennial
Parsley is a biennial plant. The first year, it grows and establishes itself. In the second year, it creates flowers and may produce seeds.
If you see flowers on your parsley plant, the leaves will probably be bitter. It’s a sign that the plant is finished its life cycle.
You can leave it in the garden for butterflies to enjoy or pull it and compost it when it flowers. The leaves become too bitter to eat, like lettuce leaves after the plant has bolted (set seeds.)
Growing Parsley from Plants or Seeds?
Parsley is very slow to germinate from seed, so if you’ve planted seeds, be patient. It can take up to three weeks for the seeds to sprout.
Start parsley seeds inside about six weeks before the last frost date for your gardening zone. Keep them moist until they germinate.
Gradually transition the young plants to the outdoors after they have several sets of leaves by moving them outside during the day and taking them back into the house at night. This process, called hardening off, helps the plants acclimate to the variable temperature, light, and wind outside.
If purchasing a parsley plant at a garden center or nursery, plant it outside in your garden after all danger of frost is over. Dig a hole the same size as the pot or container. Gently tip the container over in your hand and pat the sides to loosen the roots from the container. Pull the plant out by the stem or leaves. Be gentle!
Place the roots in the hole, push the soil back around it, and pat it down. Water it daily until it starts to grow again. You will see new leaves emerging when the plant is finally settling down in its new location.
You can also keep a small parsley plant indoors on a windowsill. It can be a lovely house plant and a good herb to keep in the kitchen so it is handy while you are cooking.
Parsley Growing Information and Tips:
- Where can you grow parsley? Parsley can be grown in zones 3 through 8. The flat-leaf, Italian parsley is more heat tolerant and recommended for zones 7 through 9, with zone 9 gardeners planting it in the fall for winter use.
- Light requirements for parsley: Parsley is one of the few garden herbs that can tolerate partial shade. You can grow it in full sun or partial shade.
- Soil: Soil pH should be around 5.5. to 6.5. It prefers rich, well-drained soil….but mine is growing in acidic, poor soil, so go figure. Actually, I’ve never known parsley to be fussy about soil. It’s always a good idea to enrich the soil with compost or well-rotted manure before planting.
- Water: Keep parsley moist. Water it daily.
- Harvesting: Pinch the leaves back and use them frequently in your cooking. You can also snip off leaves and dry them in the sunshine, in a dehydrator or in your oven. I prefer solar or dehydrator drying for parsley, as I find the leaves tend to degrade when I use oven heat, no matter how low I set the heat.
Parsley Uses: Culinary Benefits
I think everyone is aware of the ubiquitous sprig of parsley used as a garnish at restaurants, especially on steaks. There are many culinary uses of parsley, including:
- Flavor extender: Diced parsley is said to be a “flavor extender” in dishes, helping to bring forth many subtle flavors in a dish.
- Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking: Many dishes include parsley as the key flavor note, paired with lemon, lentils, rice, and meats such as lamb or goat.
- Third wheel herb: If you have a recipe that calls for two very strongly flavored herbs, parsley can be added to balance the two tastes or to link them on the palate.
- Vegetable: At only 22 calories for one cup, parsley provides over 100% of your daily RDA for vitamins C and A. You can mix it into larger salads, vegetable dishes, and grain dishes for added vitamins.
Parsley Recipes to Try
Parsley Herb: Herbal and Wellness Uses
As always, please see your doctor before using this or any other herb.
As I mentioned earlier, parsley wasn’t used in ancient Greece or Rome as a curative herb because so many people mixed it up with the wild, poisonous plants. The Romans wore garlands of parsley to their feasts thinking it wards off intoxication.
Web MD lists parsley’s wellness uses as:
- Urinary tract infections (parsley tea)
- Kidney stones (parsley tea)
- High blood pressure
The curious thing about these traditional herbal uses for parsley is that the parsley herb is a diuretic, and diuretics help your body release stored water. Today, doctors prescribe diuretic pills on occasion for patients suffering from high blood pressure. Anemia also makes sense for parsley because parsley contains a good amount of iron. So this is a case where folk medicine meets science for a happy outcome.
If you’re growing parsley this spring, I can’t think of a friendlier, more useful herb for the home garden. Even if you find it’s not to your taste, it’s pretty enough that you can leave it as a border plant to welcome butterflies to the garden. And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up starting a tiny butterfly nursery if you’re lucky enough to have Eastern Swallowtail caterpillars munching on it!
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.