Parsley is an often-overlooked herb, but it has plenty of uses. It's a pretty salad garnish and enhances the flavor of soups, stews, sauces, and more. Plus, it's remarkably easy to grow. Learn about the many types of parsley as well as how to use and cultivate it.
I never realized there were so many different types of parsley. After all, when recipes call for parsley, they almost never suggest that you use a specific kind. But then I got into cultivating herbs and using essential oils, and I discovered that there are several kinds of green garnish. Here’s a look at the different parsley varieties, as well as some ways to use them in salads and other dishes for extra flavor.
Types of Parsley
Also referred to as Petroselinum crispum var. crispum, curly leaf parsley is the most common type of parsley. It’s easy to grow and highly versatile. Its curled leaf makes it a popular choice for decorative purposes. But curly-leaved parsley also has a pleasant taste, so cooks use it to enhance the flavor of soups and other cuisines. There are different “sub-varieties” of curly parsley, such as Extra Curled Dwarf Parsley and Forest Green parsley. Another type is compact and grows especially fast.
This evergreen perennial herb hails from China and Japan. It has a somewhat bitter taste, but some people like to eat it anyway, munching on the sturdy stems as if they were celery.
This type (also called root parsley) is frequently added to soups and stews, where it impacts both their texture and flavor. The Hamburg variety is large parsley with roots similar to those of parsnips. Its leaves are ornamental and look somewhat like ferns.
Flat Leaf Parsley
When fully-grown, flat-leafed parsley can reach heights of 2-3 feet, definitely making it one of the taller herbs of its kind. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for herbs to put in your butterfly garden. Flat leaf has a stronger flavor than curly parsley, so it’s a culinary staple for chefs who like to give their creations a little extra spice. Within this broad parsley category are several types:
- Titan Parsley. This is a compact herb characterized by small, serrated leaves that are a deep green.
- Italian Flat Leaf Parsley. This flat parsley closely resembles cilantro and tastes like pepper. It has a milder flavor than curly parsley.
- Giant of Italy. This parsley variety lives up to its name and sets itself apart from other kinds of parsley. It’s especially hardy, as it stands up well to a wide range of growing conditions.
Origins of Parsley
The Parsley plant originally hails from the Southern Mediterranean area. It was eventually brought to Europe and is now cultivated worldwide.
It wasn’t always used for cooking. Ancient Greeks thought of it as a funeral herb and decorated gravestones with it. In Hebrew culture, parsley represented just the opposite, as it was a symbol of rebirth and spring. Hence, it was an important part of Passover celebrations. In ancient Rome, people used it as a breath-freshener to mask the smell of alcohol. It aided in digestion, likely helping the body metabolize alcohol faster.
Tips for Growing Parsley
Parsley is a favorite among herb gardeners because it has so many uses and is fairly easy to grow. Here are some parsley planting tips to help you yield the best possible harvest from your garden bed.
- Ten to twelve weeks before the anticipated last spring frost, plant parsley seeds indoors (one seed per pot). For improved germination, soak the seeds overnight before placing them in the soil.
- Growing parsley can take a while, at least in the beginning. It can take up to three weeks for seeds to sprout. But since they can handle the cold, you can plant them outdoors 3-4 weeks before the last spring frost typically occurs.
- Parsley grows especially well in soil that’s about 70°F.
- For best results, plant parsley near tomatoes, corn, and asparagus.
- Parsley seeds do well in rich, moist soil. Place seeds 6-8 inches apart. For thinner plants, leave 8-10 inches of space between them. Try to plant them in a spot where they won’t share the soil with weeds. This will make it easier to see the first sprouts.
- If you want to help the seedlings along, put them under a fluorescent light. The light should remain at least two inches above the leaves.
Caring for Growing Plants
- As they germinate, keep the plants well-watered.
- Make sure you water the herbs evenly, especially when summer’s heat sets in.
Harvesting and Storing Parsley
- To determine whether your parsley is ready to be picked, look for three-segmented leaf stems.
- When you need some parsley for soups and salads, cut the outer leaves as needed. (You don’t have to harvest them all at once). Don’t cut the inner portions of the plant, as they’re still maturing.
- To store fresh parsley, place the leaf stalks in water and refrigerate them.
- To make dried parsley, cut it at the base and hang it somewhere that’s warm, well-ventilated, and shady. Be sure it’s completely dry. Then, crumble it and store it in a sealed container.
- If you want fresh parsley year-round, replant some in a pot and keep it on a sunny windowsill.
Ways to Use Parsley
Parsley is an underappreciated herb, often overlooked in favor of bolder flavors like sage and basil. But if you have a bundle of parsley on hand, there are a surprising number of fun ways to enjoy it. Here are some creative ways to get the most out of this useful herb.
Chopped parsley enhances the flavor of a variety of foods. Some people think it tastes great on everything. The key is not to cut up the leaves too finely. Larger pieces of greenery (especially the curly variety) are more pleasing to the eye and taste better too. To get started, try tossing some of the fresh herbs over roasted potatoes, grilled veggies, cold green bean salads, and more. You can even serve it atop grains like quinoa and couscous.
This is often added to soups, stews, casseroles, and more. You will need:
- 1/4 cup parsley (fresh or dried)
- 2 tablespoons dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon ground, dried bay leaf (or 2 whole dried bay leaves)
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary (optional)
Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Then, place them in a double-layered cheesecloth square. Form a pouch by gathering the sides together. Use kitchen twine to secure it. Leave the section of string long enough to easily pull the bundle from the pot once you’ve cooked it. Either use it right away or store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to six months.
Easy Parsley Salad
Toss together a few cups of Italian parsley, a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Or, instead of salt, use umeboshi vinegar for a more sophisticated dish.
A Different Take on Basic Salad
For a variation of the basic parley salad, use flat leaf parsley. Add lemon juice and lemon zest, honey and sesame seeds, and walnut and sesame oil. It tastes so good you’re not likely to have leftover, but if you do, you’ll be happy to know that they can last up to three weeks in the fridge.
Parsley Sumac Salad
Here’s what you need for this parsley-tomato salad:
- 2 tomatoes, roughly diced
- 1/4 cup white onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup parsley leaves, roughly chopped
Toss these ingredients together and drizzle olive oil over them. Then add sumac, salt, and pepper to taste.
Creamy Salad Dressing
To make the dressing, combine the following ingredients:
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (preferably the kind made with whole milk)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley (You can add more if you’re a big fan of parsley).
- Kosher salt (to taste)
- A pinch of fresh ground black pepper
Mix the ingredients by hand or use an immersion blender. You can use a regular blender or food process too, but an immersion blender allows for the easiest cleanup. Not only is this a great salad dressing, but it’s a great dip for chips and veggies, too.
This salad contains a few basic ingredients, so you can enjoy it as-is or add to it to customize it. To make it in its simplest form, chop a cup or two of curly or Italian parsley and mix it with mild lettuce. (Butter lettuce is a popular choice for this salad). Then, drizzle your favorite vinaigrette over it.
We usually expect green smoothies to contain spinach or kale. But you can put parsley in them too, along with mint and other ingredients. If you don’t like throwing parsley stems away, you can instead store them in a sealed bag in the freezer and add a few to each smoothie.
Garlic Parsley Butter
In chic restaurants, this stuff goes by a much fancier, French name, Beurre Maitre d’Hotel. The recipe, however, isn’t complicated. It just requires:
- 1/2 cup of butter
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
Cream the ingredients together, starting with the butter, then gradually adding in the other components — in order. You can add a little lemon zest, too. (If garlic really isn’t your thing, you can make this sauce sans the pungent seasoning). This concoction is a great addition to seafood, vegetables, and grilled meats.
Simple Parsley Sauce
This is a somewhat simpler, toned-down version of the French garlic sauce. To make it, combine:
- 1 cup (about half a bunch) of parsley leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Blend the ingredients thoroughly.
What’s cool about this sauce is that there are several variations of it. Here’s what else you can do with this recipe.
- Gremolata. Add lemon juice and lemon zest.
- Parsley Pesto. Add Parmesan and toasted nuts.
- Extra-Zesty Sauce. Substitute shallot for the garlic and throw in just a little anchovy paste
What’s great about these versatile sauces is that they go with a lot of different dishes — grilled cheese sandwiches, vegetables, steak, fish, soups, and stews. Plus, the sauce has a fairly long shelf life in the fridge.
You can brew fresh leaves or dried leaves as tea.
Therapeutic Uses for Parsley
In addition to enhancing the flavor and appearance of dishes, parsley is used for its medicinal and therapeutic benefits too. Parsley seeds, roots, and leaves all have therapeutic qualities. Here are some practical uses for this multi-purpose herb. If you’re thinking about using parsley as part of your healthy lifestyle regimen, consult a qualified healthcare provider first.
Parsley-Infused Bath. Adding parsley to bathwater has to calm as well as cleansing properties.
Some people use parsley to manage
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- High blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal conditions
Parsley can be applied directly to the skin to reduce facial dark patches. Parsley can also relieve cracked, chapped skin. If you’re dealing with hair loss, parsley may help stimulate new growth. Parsley can also help the skin recovery from bug bites and bruises. Some patients even use it to manage tumors.
Manufacturers frequently incorporate parsley seed essential oil to add fragrance to soaps, perfumes, and cosmetics.
Health Benefits of Parsley Seed Essential Oil
Here are some of the health benefits of parsley seed essential oil.
- Antimicrobial. Since it inhibits microbe growth, it can limit the spread of infections. It may also help prevent wounds from becoming septic.
- GI Support. Parsley oil can relieve intestinal complaints such as nausea, stomachaches, vomiting, indigestion, and gas. It also boosts digestion and improves appetite.
- Arthritis Relief. The oil can improve circulation and alleviate pain associated with arthritis and gout.
- Diuretic. Parsley seed oil can increase urine output, helping to reduce fluid retention in the body and eliminating calcium deposits in the kidneys and urinary tract.
- Menstrual Support. Because it promotes estrogen secretion, parsley oil can reduce menstrual issues such as cramps, nausea, and fatigue.
- Cardiovascular Help. The oil can reduce hypertension while boosting circulation and removing toxins from the blood.
How do you store parsley in the refrigerator?
You can refrigerate fresh parsley for 3-5 days. First, rinse the parsley in a colander, and use paper towels to dab it dry. Then, use the same towels to wrap the herb loosely. Place the whole bundle in a sealable bag, seal it completely, and place it in the refrigerator. This method works well because you don’t have to dry the herbs completely, thus retaining moisture and freshness.
How do you preserve parsley in the freezer?
There are two ways to store parsley in the freezer. Freezing is recommended if you need to store the parsley for more than 3-5 days.
- Bundle the herb into a “parsley cigar.” Rinse the parsley in a colander and use paper towels to dry it as completely as possible. Place washed and dried parsley to the bottom of the bag and roll the bag up like a cigar, pushing all the air out through the top. Be sure to roll the bag tightly. Getting the air out of it prevents freezer burn, which shows up as white crystals and can remove much of the flavor from your food. Then, seal the bag and freeze it. Use kitchen shears to chop sections of the cigar as needed.
- Make parsley ice cubes. Rinse the parsley in a colander. Dab it dry with some paper towels. Use a knife to chop up small quantities. If you have a lot, go ahead and throw it in the food processor. You can reduce it to the consistency of a paste if you want. If you’re using the blender, add 2 tablespoons of oil that have a neutral taste. The oil melts faster than water and preserves the herb’s flavor.
There are two ways to make parsley cubes or blocks.
- Ice cube trays. Spoon finely chopped parsley into the wells of an ice cube tray. If you haven’t already added oil, now is the time to do it. When the cubes are completely frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe bag.
- Freezer bags. Place the whole batch in a freezer bag. If you haven’t already, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Then, close the bag almost completely. Flatten the herbs into an even layer and push all the air out of the bag before sealing it completely.
What can you do with frozen parsley?
Thawed parsley will be less supple than the fresh kind. Therefore, it doesn’t make the best salad garnish. However, you can still add it to soups, stews, dressings, and sauces.
How is parsley essential oil obtained?
The essential oil is extracted from dried seeds through steam distillation. This process involves using steam, to separate materials that are temperature-sensitive (in this case, volatile oils). Steam is added to distillation equipment to lower the boiling point of the materials so that they can be isolated at temperatures lower than those at which they decompose. This preserves the integrity of the oils or compounds being separated.