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What is Parsley?

Mary Elizabeth
Updated May 16, 2024
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An herb is a plant whose leaves, seeds, or flowers are used for flavoring food or in medicine. Other uses of herbs include cosmetics, dyes, and perfumes. The name derives from the Latin word herba, meaning “green crops.” Parsley (Petroselinum) is a hardy biennial herb in the family Apiaceae, like anise, dill, caraway, cumin, fennel, and lovage. It is probably native to southeastern Europe.

There are three main types: curly (Petroselinum crispum); flat leaf or Italian (Petroselinum crispum latifolium or Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum); and turnip-rooted, a.k.a. Hamburg or root parsley (Petroselinum crispum tuberosum). The first two are used as herbs, and the third as a root vegetable, similar to a parsnip. Moss leaf and fern leaf parsley are other varieties.

History. Parsley is notably mentioned in two Ancient Greek documents. One is a poem, in which it is sought along with roses and violets.

Where are my roses?
Where are my violets?
Where is my beautiful parsley?

The other is Homer’s Odyssey (line 72, translation by A.T. Murray 1919), in which the fields on Kalypso’s island are described as follows:

And round about soft meadows of violets and parsley were blooming.

Description. This plant grows 12 to 8 inches (30 to 45 cm) and produces white or greenish to yellow flowers in June through August.

Gardening. Parsley prefers fertile, well-drained soil and sun or partial shade. If you use a lot of the herb, serial planting is a good idea. It is best used fresh.

Store parsley in a plastic bag in the crisper for a week or more. It can also be kept in a glass of water, either in the refrigerator or on a window sill, but not in direct sun. Remove yellow leaves and any slimy bits, rinse, and place in fresh water as necessary.

Food and Other Uses. It is said that curly leaf parsley is more popular in the United States, and flat leaf is more popular in Europe, North Africa, and the Near East. This is perhaps because flat leaf both has a stronger flavor and holds up to longer cooking.

The herb is used both as a garnish and a main ingredient. It is an essential component of French persillade, a parsley and garlic garnish; bouquet garni, a French mixture of herbs used to prepare stock, stew, and soup; and gremolata, an Italian mix of minced parsley, lemon peel, and garlic traditionally served with osso bucco. It is used as a garnish on Middle Eastern foods, for example, hummus, baba ghanoush, and tabbouleh and other salad-style dishes.

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Mary Elizabeth
By Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to writing articles on art, literature, and music for DelightedCooking, Mary works as a teacher, composer, and author who has written books, study guides, and teaching materials. Mary has also created music composition content for Sibelius Software. She earned her B.A. from University of Chicago's writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont.
Discussion Comments
By somerset — On Feb 15, 2008

I use parsley as garnish, but also as seasoning. Usually i use flat leaf parsley because it has stronger flavor. For instance one way I use it is by placing chopped parsley together with chopped garlic in some good olive oil. It needs to sit like that for a while, so all the flavors of garlic, parsley and oil combine. This infused oil is excellent with poached, or grilled fish.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Passionate about reading, writing, and research, Mary Elizabeth is dedicated to correcting misinformation on the...
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