Parsley (botanical name Petroselinum crispum) belongs to the family Apiaceae and is among the most well-known herbs that is extensively used for garnishing of over 2,000 years, but it is hardly ever consumed. In addition, the leaves, fruits and root of this herb have also been employed in traditional medicine for several centuries. Botanists have described the leaves of this herb as pinnate decompound, which denotes that they are divided and have an appearance slightly akin to feathers. As it is able to easily identify parsley by any individual who has eaten this herb anytime in any restaurant, however, there are a number of essentials regarding parsley. For instance, parsley is a biennial herb that is cultivated extensively. This herb produces small yellow flowers in clusters. The fruits of this herb, which are generally known as seeds, are vey small, oval-shaped whose color varies from grayish to grayish brown having interspersing furrows and ribs.
Precisely speaking, the herb parsley grows biennially or perennially for a brief period. The plant does not have any hair or bristle and its roots are slender, whitish, having the shape of a spindle that gives rise to a straight, hairless, furrowed and angular stem that may attain the height of somewhat more than two feet. Usually, people in California, Belgium, France, Germany and Hungary grow parsley as an annual plant for its undergrowth. Several varieties of this plant are in existence. The different parts of parsley that are used include its ripened fruits (also known as seeds), the leaves as well as the other parts of the herb that grow above the ground.
The herb bears white or greenish-yellow flowers in compound umbrella-shaped bunches (umbels) during the period of June and August. Intriguingly enough, parsley is toxic to majority of the birds, but extremely beneficial for animals, as it facilitates in healing their ailments, for instance, foot-rot in goats and sheep. In effect, wild parsley plants growing all over the British Isles are intimately related to the celeries and, in the ancient times, the Anglo-Saxons employed them to repair skulls fractured in combat.
In conventional medicine, fruits (seeds) of parsley were basically employed in the form of a stomachic or carminative (a medication that is beneficial for the stomach, especially in facilitating digestion as well as expelling the gases formed in the stomach). Similarly, the roots of parsley are used in the form of a diuretic (any medication that increases urine outflow). In addition, the fruits of parsley were also somewhat reputed to possess emmenagogue (any medication that enhances menstrual discharge) as well as abortifacient (encouraging abortion and menstrual flow) properties.
Parsley used in the form of a diuretic, digestive aid as well as emmenagogue is dependent on the volatile oil contained by the plant, which is present in the concentration of below 0.1 per cent in the root, approximately 0.3 per cent in the leaf and anything between 2 to 7 per cent in the seeds (fruits). Like in several other plants that have been cultivated by people over hundreds of years, several types of parsley may also be found. The chemical analysis of the volatile oil enclosed by parsley has been found to different in different varieties of the plant. While the purported German parsley oil encloses about 60 to 80 per cent of parsley camphor (known as apiol) as its main element, the French parsley oil encloses comparatively less apiol, but additional (about 50 to 60 per cent) myristicin – a natural compound that is originally present in nutmeg oil. Myristicin is quite akin to apiol and both of them are similar in their chemical and physiological actions. In effect, apiol as well as myristicin are uterine stimulants.
While people do not consume parsley in enough amounts, this herb is an excellent natural resource of provitamin A (carotene), vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and vitamin C. In addition, parsley also contains iron as well as other valuable minerals. Hence, when parsley is blended with bulgur as well as other ingredients in the delicious Lebanese salad called ‘tabbouleh’, it is an excellent nutrient.
Owing to the comparatively elevated amount of volatile oil enclosed by parsley, the fruits (known as seeds) of the plant are likely to have a number of diuretic as well as stomachic properties. However, both these actions of the plant are comparatively gentle. The volatile oil of parsley contains toxic substances like apiol, myristicin and other and hence, should never be administered to women during pregnancy under any situation. As the effectiveness of parsley fruits is not properly recorded and the hazards of using them are much more compared to the benefits, health authorities in Germany never suggest the use of parsley fruits (seeds).
Leaves, root, seeds.
Parsley leaves have a number of uses, including nutrient, medicinal as well as culinary. For instance, the fresh leaves of parsley are extremely nourishing and may be deemed to be a natural vitamin as well as mineral supplement in their individual capacity. Compared to the leaves of the plant, the fruits of parsley possess a very potent diuretic action and can be used in place for celery seeds (Apium graveolens) for treating arthritis, rheumatism, and gout. Both parsley as well as celery work by clearing out the waste substances from the tender and swollen joints as well as subsequently getting rid of them through the kidneys. In effect, in herbal medicine, the roots of parsley are more commonly prescribed in comparison to the leaves and seeds of the herb. Parsley roots are administered for treating a number of varied health conditions, including rheumatism, cystitis, and flatulence. In addition, parsley is also valued as a medicine that encourages menstruation and is especially useful in stimulating a belated menstrual period as well as in easing menstrual pain and discomfort.
Findings of several studies have shown that myristicin, an organic compound present in the volatile oil obtained from parsley helps to slow down the formation of tumour, particularly in the lungs, and, at the same time, stimulates the enzyme called glutathione-S-transferase, thereby facilitating the molecule glutathione to bind to as well as combat oxidized molecules. Although toxic in nature, myristicin also has the aptitude to combat carcinogens, such as benzopyrene found in cigarette smoke, which may go through the body. As a result, this compound helps in combating colon as well as prostate cancer.
Parsley is a very rich storehouse of antioxidants, which include luteolin – a flavonoid that scavenges as well as eliminated the harmful free radicals that harm the cells by causing them to undergo oxidative stress. In addition, luteolin also encourages metabolism of carbohydrates and is useful for our body in the form of an anti-inflammatory agent. It may be noted that two tablespoonfuls of finely minced parsley enclose about 16 per cent of the RDA of vitamin C as well as more than 12 per cent of the RDA of vitamin A – two very potent antioxidants.
Together with luteolin, the vitamin C present in parsley works as an effectual anti-inflammatory agent inside the body. If parsley is consumed on a regular basis, it is able to fight against the start of any inflammatory problems, for instance, rheumatoid arthritis (a malady that causes inflammation of the joints) and osteoarthritis (the deterioration or collapse of the joint cartilage as well as the essential bones).
As mentioned earlier, parsley contains vitamin A and vitamin C and these nutrients work to fortify the immune system of our body, although in dissimilar manners. It may be noted that vitamin C is essential for collagen – the key structural protein present in connective tissues. While helping to speed up the ability of the body to heal wounds, this indispensible nutrient also facilitates in maintaining healthy teeth and bones.
Then again, vitamin A facilitates in strengthening the points in the human body through which different substances may enter inside. Such entry points include the respiratory tract, mucous membranes, intestinal tracts as well as the inside layer of the eyes. In addition, white blood cells or lymphocytes depend on vitamin A to combat contagions in the body.
It may be noted that an amino acid found in the body called homocysteine actually menaces the blood vessels of the body when the levels of this amino acid become extremely elevated. Fortunately enough, the folate or vitamin B9 present in parsley assists in transforming homocysteine into risk-free molecules. Hence, consuming a garnish of parsley on a regular basis may facilitate in protecting against cardiovascular ailments, for instance, stroke, heart attack and atherosclerosis.
Two tablespoonfuls of finely minced parsley contain a large amount of 153 per cent of the RDA of vitamin K that is essential for the amalgamation of osteocalcin – a protein which fortifies the composition of our bones. In addition, vitamin K also helps to avoid accumulation of calcium within the tissue and this may result in atherosclerosis, stroke as well as cardiovascular disease.
Last, but not the least important, the vitamin K present in parsley is necessary to synthesize sphingolipid – the fat required to sustain the myelin sheath around the nerves, and, hence, the nervous system in general.
Other medical uses
Parsley is one herb that is extensively used for culinary purposes and they are extensive. However, it is important that parsley’s use should not be restricted only to using it for garnishing flavourful dishes. You may add the leaves of parsley to stews, soups, sauces, vegetable dishes, stuffing, spicy pies, eggs as well as casseroles. In addition, you may use parsley leaves to dishes you prepare with fish, meat and even shellfish.
Moreover, you may also add parsley to your salads. In effect, this plant is an indispensable ingredient of tabbouleh – a delicious mainstay cuisine of the people in the Middle East. Parsley may also be used in spicy dips, biscuits, mousses and crackers. It may be noted that chefs in Italy have a preference for a more potent taste of the variety of parsley (flat-leaved) grown in that country and use it widely.
Additionally, parsley is a stable of excellent French culinary. It is added to bouquet-garni, together with thyme and bay leaf, in aux fines herbes – combination of parsley, chives, tarragon, or chervil as well as persillade (a finely sliced mixture of parsley and shallots that are conventionally included in any preparation immediately prior to the cooking being finished).
The oil extracted from the parsley leaves as well as its fruits (seeds) is commercially employed to add flavour to curries as well as canned meats, sauces, condiments, soups, pickles and baked items.
Habitat and cultivation
Currently, one will hardly find parsley growing in the wild. However, today this herb is extensively cultivated throughout the world in the form of a nourishing herb. The leaves of parsley are harvested anytime between spring and autumn – the growing season of the plant. The fruits (seeds) of the herb are collected immediately when they are ripe.
Generally, parsley is cultivated in the form of an annual plant. The curvy leaves of parsley are well accepted in the form of a garnish. However, the Italian variety of parsley, which is flat-leaved, is known to possess additional flavour. Both these varieties of parsley have a preference for a fertile, properly drained soil and complete sunlight or semi shade locations. Parsley is propagated by its seeds, which germinate extremely sluggishly. If you are growing parsley, you need to have patience after sowing the seeds in damp soil – ideally about 8 inches away from one another.
Parsley grows best in extremely rich and well-drained soil and can endure pH range between 4.9 and 8.2. This plant needs to be watered to keep the soil moist in dry seasons. Parsley flourishes in complete sunlight, but also grows in partial shade.
Although the germination process of parsley seeds is extremely sluggish, this herb should necessarily be propagated from its seeds. In order to hasten the germination process, you may drench the seeds in tepid water overnight and sow them on the following morning. It is advisable that you put on your gloves while sowing the seeds, since parsley seeds become sticky and have a tendency to glue to your fingers when they are wet. Alternately, freezing the seeds for a brief period before sowing them also helps in breaking their latency or inactiveness.
It is best to sow the seeds indoors, preferably approximately four to six weeks prior to the last spring time frost in your area. The seeds need to be sown about 6 mm (1/4 inch) below the soil. Normally, the germination is slow and the seedlings appear about 15 to 21 days after sowing. You should transplant the seedlings outdoors in your garden approximately a week prior to the last frost date. Although light frosting will not cause any damage to the young plants, you need to be cautious to ensure that the taproot is not harmed due to frosts.
Instead of sowing the seeds indoors, you may also sow them directly in their permanent position outdoors during spring when it is easy to work on the soil. Here is a word of advice – never sow the seeds outdoors too early, since it may result in the withering of the plants ahead of time. In case you are sowing the seeds straight away in your garden, it is advisable to mix a number of radish seeds (it germinates fast) with a view to distinguish the rows of parsley plants.
During the germination phase as well as the early part of the growth of parsley plants, ensure that the soil is always damp. It is important that you sow the seeds in rows and at intervals of 30 cm (12 inches) to ensure their proper growth. It may be noted that the plants are vulnerable to crown decay as well as infestation of parsley worms, aphids and carrot rust fly from time to time.
In the first year of their growth, parsley plants have a solitary leaf rosette. If you are growing parsley for its fruits (seeds), allow the plants to remain in the ground till their second growth season, when they actually bloom and produce seeds.
As a cool season plant, parsley has the aptitude to sow by itself. In case you wish to collect the seeds in the second season of their growth, the plants need to be lightly mulched in order to protect them from the chilliness and frosts during the winter months. Nevertheless, you need to ensure regular harvesting and sow the plants’ seeds each year.
It may be noted that parsley is an excellent pot herb for growing on patios, decks as well as window boxes in cool places which are outside the hot sun. In effect, a pot measuring 10 inches to 12 inches (25 cm to 30 cm) that is packed with normal potting soil and some amount of old manure is able to accommodate one big parsley plant or three dwarf plants of the species. Also ensure that the soil remains damp all through and supply reasonable manure once every month.
In order to grow parsley indoors, you need to pot up one plant from the garden during the later part of summer or propagate new plants from the seeds. If you desire to have the optimum results, place the pot in a window that is cool and receives full sunlight. Alternately, you may also place the pot under artificial lights for about 12 hours every day.
As aforementioned, chemical analysis of parsley has revealed that the plant encloses a volatile oil, which includes approximately 20 per cent myristicin, roughly 18 per cent apiole and several other terpenes, coumarins (counting bergapten), flavonoids, phthalides, vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E as well as elevated amounts of iron. The flavonoids enclosed by parsley possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory attributes. On the other hand, apiole and myristicin possess diuretic properties. The volatile oil facilitates in providing relief from flatulence and cramps. In addition, it is a potent stimulant for the uterine.
Medicinally, the leaves and roots of parsley are used in two forms – infusion and tincture.
Infusion: To prepare an infusion with parsley leaves or roots, add one to two teaspoonfuls of the herb into a cup (250 ml) of boiling water and allow it to permeate for about five to ten minutes in a covered container. Subsequently, the liquid should be strained and cooled. For best results, drink this infusion thrice every day.
Tincture: The tincture prepared with parsley leaves or roots should be taken in dosage of 2 ml to 4 ml thrice every day.
Side effects and cautions
A number of individuals may develop dermatitis (skin inflammation) following the use of parsley oil. Since the oil of this herb is highly toxic in nature, it ought to be dealt with only by competent professionals.
At times, parsley is employed in big amounts for remedial purposes. It is advisable that this oil should never be used in such high amounts by women during pregnancy since this herb is known to be a potent stimulant of the uterus. In addition, people enduring inflammatory kidney ailments should also stay away from using parsley in large amounts.
Collection and harvesting
The external leaves of parsley are harvested for using them fresh, drying them or even freezing them all through the growing season of the plant. If the leaves are not harvested young, they turn out to be rough and their essence lessens. It is ideal to pick the leaves during the early part of the morning, when the atmosphere is cool. In order to dry out the leaves, you should spread them over a screen and place it in the shade and an airy place. The dried leaves should be crumbled and stored in a sealed container for later use.
On the other hand, and, if possible, freeze the leaves on a cookie sheet and subsequently store them in freezer containers. This will help the parsley leaves to retain their color as well as flavour much better than when they are dried.
To prepare a parsley salad, you require a number of ingredients:
- six tablespoonfuls of olive oil
- 1.5 tablespoonful of vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of granulated sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon of dry mustard
- one large head iceberg lettuce
- half (125 ml) cup of finely chopped up parsley
Blend all the above-mentioned ingredients, except the parsley and the lettuce, using a blender at a low speed for about one minute. Freeze the blended ingredients and the lettuce. Just prior to serving the salad, mix the lettuce with the dressing and later with parsley.