GENUS: Petroselinum
SPECIES: P. crispum

Petroselinum crispum (P. crispum) is an herb in the family Apiaceae native to southeastern Europe and western Asia. “The generic name is derived from the Greek for rock, petros, which alludes to the plant’s native habitat of cliffs, rocks, and old walls, and selinum, celery; the specific name refers to the crisped leaves of many cultivars.” (1) The Greeks held parsley in high esteem and used it to crown victors at the Isthmian Games. They also used it medicinally, and Homer noted that they fed it to their horses. Parsley became popular in Roman times as a food. “They consumed parsley in quantity and made garlands for banquet guests to discourage intoxication and to counter strong odors.” (2) It gained favor as an attractive plant that could be used as an edging in the garden or grown in a container. One variety, turnip-rooted parsley (the roots are said to be about six times the size of regular parsley roots) has been grown since the 16th century, although it is now a small-scale crop.

Parsley is a biennial herb with bright green, fern-like leaves on stems that grow up from a central crown. The typical height of parsley is 12 to 15 inches. When it produces bloom and seed-producing stems, it can reach a height of 27 to 30 inches. The typical spread of the plant is about 12 inches.

The leaf stems have a stronger flavor than the leaf. The leaves provide a fresh taste and are high in nutrients. They contain vitamins A, B, and C, and the minerals iron, calcium, and magnesium. The presence of high amounts of chlorophyll gives it antiseptic qualities. There are three types of Petroselinum crispum grown in the U.S.

P. crispum
var. crispum – Curled-leaf (curly) parsley. The leaves are bright green and finely cut with a toothed leaf margin.

P. crispum
var. neapolitanum – Flat-leafed (Italian) parsley. The leaves are flat, less finely cut, and dark green, with a stronger flavor than P. c. var. crispum. Flat-leafed parsley is generally hardier than the curled-leaf.

P. crispum
var. tuberosum – Turnip-rooted parsley. This parsley has flat leaves, but is grown for its large, edible root which is prepared as a vegetable.

Parsley grows best in bright light in a rich, well-drained soil. However, it will also grow well in partially shaded gardens. Seeds can be sown from spring to late summer. The seeds should be soaked in water, changed daily, up to three days before planting. After planting, keep the seed well-watered. If the soil and seed dry out, the seed will not germinate. It is best to thin the young plants to about nine inches apart.

When cold weather comes, plants will continue to supply your needs for fresh parsley if they can be protected. In cold climates, parsley will provide a continuous crop if planted in a cold frame. Parsley can also be grown in a pot outside and on a windowsill in the winter. The more you clip it, the more it will grow.

During the first year of growth, if flower stalks appear, cut them out to prevent the plant from going to seed. The leaves will retain a better flavor. It is also recommended that new plants be started each year for the best flavor.

Parsley is the most widely cultivated herb in Europe, and the most used herb in the United States. Many cultivars exist of both the curled leaf and flat-leaf types. Each cook/gardener will need to determine what is available at their local nursery, and which one best suits their particular palette.

Parsley is best when harvested and used fresh. It is also best during its first year. The second year is a seed-producing year, and the leaves tend to take on a bitter flavor. Cut the leaves and use them either whole or chopped, depending on the dish. If you want a stronger flavor, also use the more flavorful stems with the leaves. Parsley can be dried and stored in the dark (to retain color) in an airtight container, or frozen (chopped and put into water in ice cube trays or wrapped in foil and placed in a zip lock bag), pulled out, and used as needed. Freezing maintains its freshness for later usage.

Parsley leaves can be added raw to salads or sprinkled onto a sandwich. They are good in salad dressings, sprinkled over fish just before serving, or added to tomato, potato, or egg dishes. Mix leaf parsley with other herbs into butter to create herb butter. Parsley sprigs are also used as a garnish.

Parsley serves as a flavor enhancer when cooked. It is used in the preparation of meats, stuffing, soups, and stews. It is best if added toward the end of the cooking time.

Root parsley can be grated raw into a salad, added to soups or stews, or cooked and served as a root vegetable.

Parsley is one of the herbs in fines herbes, along with chervil, chives, and tarragon. It is also a standard ingredient in bouquets garnis, along with thyme and bay leaf.

Companion Plant
Parsley grown with roses is said to improve their scent and keep them healthier. It is also a good companion for tomato plants and attracts honeybees when in bloom. Curly parsley, when planted in dense lines, can provide bright green edging in not only herb and vegetable gardens but also in long low containers. It is also visually effective if planted randomly in and around taller annuals.

Leaves infused in water make a good hair tonic and conditioner or can be added to body lotion for dry skin.


Eating parsley leaves serves as a good breath freshener. A digestive tonic can be made by infusing leaves. Parsley tea has been used to improve circulation. Root decoctions have been used to treat kidney ailments and as a mild laxative.

Topically, leaves have been used in a poultice as an antiseptic dressing for wounds, bites, and stings, and juice from the roots has been used to reduce swelling.


Caution must be exercised when using Petroselinum infusions or decoctions internally. High concentrations may cause inflammation, abortion, or damage to the digestive or urinary systems.


Tucker, Arthur O., Ph.D., and Thomas DeBaggio. 2009. The Encyclopedia of Herbs. Timber Press. Portland, Oregon. Pp. 393-394.

Bremness, Lesley. 1998. The Complete Book of Herbs. Dorling Kindersley. London. Pg. 108.

Bown, Deni. Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. Dorling Kindersley. London, 1995.

Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal. Dorset Press (first published in 1931). New York, 1992.

Hemphill, John and Rosemary. Herbs Their Cultivation and Usage. Blandford Press. Dorsett, 1984.

Schlosser, Katherine. Essential Guide to Growing and Cooking with Herbs. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2007.

Tucker, Arthur O., Ph.D., and Thomas DeBaggio. The Big Book of Herbs. Interweave Press. Colorado, 2000.

Joyce E Brobst, The Herb Society of America 2012.

Plant Information, a free service of the University of Minnesota Libraries Online, is a source to links to North American seed and nursery firms.