Parsley, Chervil, Lovage: More Than Garnish

Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley

Besides learning to grow parsley (Petroselinum hortense), it is my hopes that you remember the important fact that if you want to please Persephone, the goddess that will guide your dead loved ones to the underworld, you should plant parsley at grave sites. It pleases her greatly and winning her favor can only ensure a safe, pleasant trip for you as well, when it is your turn to head there.

Curley or Moss-Leaf Parsley

Parsley is also delicious. Duh. You know that. It is full of nutrition and can be used not just as flavoring for many meals, but as garnish. Besides being pretty, it’s abundance of chlorophyll fights bad breath. But don’t just think of Parsley as a garnish: the plant is more packed with iron than a large serving of liver, more vitamin C than an orange, and more calcium than a glass of milk. I suggest adding it to every salad.

A common mistake made with parsley is that people plant it in the wrong season. In many climates parsley is planted in spring. But in our arid land climate, where winters are fairly mild, parsley is best planted in fall, from seed. Avoid purchasing transplants from the nursery and instead find seed. Parsley transplants poorly. Funny enough, the ancient Greeks were superstitious about transplanting parsley–not sure why, something also to do with Persephone? But beside that, parsley just hates being treated that way. Plants started from transplants will bolt (go to flower/seed and thus expending all their life energy for reproduction) way sooner than plants started from direct seeding.

Another thing to note: parsley seed takes weeks to germinate and will do so sporadically, not uniformly. This may lead you to believe your seed was bad or you did something wrong. Nope. Parsley is just that way. You can encourage seed to germinate sooner and more uniformly by soaking seeds in the refrigerator overnight before you plant them.

Parsley, bolting.

Once seeds have germinated, thin to about 6 inches apart (slightly more if you plant the carrot-like, root-producing Hamburg parsley). Well-spaced plants will also be less likely to bolt. If you follow all these instructions, parsley will be TOUGH. In fact I have seen parsley become more like a perennial and last through summer without bolting when treated this way. Normally parsley will be an annual, bolting and dying when the summer heat kicks in.

Most plants benefit from good mulching to insulate the soil from the sun, cold and drying winds. But parsley will love it even more, since its root system is somewhat shallow. Parsley enjoys moderately fortified soil. So plant in soil that is prepared with a balance of aged manure, compost, etc., and feed moderately with any balanced organic soil food (fish emulsion, kelp meal). Compost tea makes parsley very happy.

In general there are three types of parsley: flat leaf, curley leaf and root-forming (Hamburg) parsley. In my opinion the flat leaf parsley is the better of the two leafy types. The flavor is better and it is generally easier to grow. But some people like the looks of the curly leaf varieties.

Hamburg Parsley

Hamburg parsley is grown for it’s root, which resembles a white carrot. This is not to be confused with parsnip which looks very similar.

There are also a few varieties that have a thicker stem, resembling and tasting much like a very skinny celery.



Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) is much more familiar (since it is often found in the grocery store unlike Hamburg parsley). It’s flavor is distinctly different, more buttery.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a French herb that is sometimes called “French parsley” but is not a parsley at all. And to be more confusing, there is also a root-forming species called turnip-rooted chervil (Chaerophyllum bulbosum), just like there is with parsley. It has a much more delicate flavor with a slight hint of anise or licorice. It is a delightful herb and well worth consideration in the garden.

Turnip-Rooted Chervil


Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is a parsley-looking herb that can confuse a gardener if the source was unknown. It has a much more complicated flavor, being something like chervil but much stronger.

If someone refers to Chinese parsley, they are talking about cilantro, which I have already written about in these pages.

The Cook’s Garden is a great source for a good variety of parsley.
Seeds of Italy also has some nice varieties, including lovage.
Bountiful Gardens has chervil and B & T World Seed has turnip-rooted chervil.
Try Victory Seeds for Parsnip.


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