Parsley is the world’s most popular herb. The name, parsley, means rock celery. Parsley is, in fact, related to celery. Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe and has been cultivated for more than 2000 years. It has been used for medicinal purposes since prehistoric times. The Romans were familiar with both the flat and curled leaved varieties. The Greeks held the herb to be sacred and used it to crown the heads of athletic contest winners and for decorating the tombs of the deceased.
During the Middle Ages, perhaps because of Charlemagne who grew the herb on his estates, parsley began to be used as a seasoning. In some countries, curly leaved parsley is much more popular than flat leaved parsley. Though it is not known for certain, this popularity may be because the flat leaved variety resembles fool’s parsley, which is a poisonous weed.
Parsley is a hardy biennial. Once it is well established in a garden, it usually comes back year after year. There are fundamentally three types of parsley; the flat leaved type has a stronger taste than others and is preferred by many chefs; the curly leaved type is not a strongly flavored and is used most commonly as a garnish; the turnip-rooted or Hamburg type is grown for its roots which are eaten like carrots.
Parsley seed is very, very slow to germinate. It usually takes 3-4 weeks. To speed up germination, soak seeds for at least 24 hours before planting. Parsley can be grown in many types of soil and does not need a rich, fertile soil to do well. Parsley also makes an excellent container plant. One plant can be grown in a 4-6 inch pot. Direct seed thinly, planting seed ¼ inch deep in rows 12-18 inches apart. Thin seedlings to 4-6 inches.
Parsley can be harvested as soon as the plant is 3-4 inches high by cutting stems from the outside edges. Root parsley is harvested in the fall or throughout the winter, as it overwinters well. Parsley is a very cold hardy herb and, if mulched, can be harvested throughout much of the winter.