Know Your Herbs: Parsley

Know Your Herbs: Parsley

Parsley is a necessary addition to any respectable herb garden. Not just one plant, but a good growth of parsley. Hear me out: parsley is perhaps the most seriously undervalued herb of our time. Visiting restaurants, eating mum’s home cooking, and perusing new recipes online, I have witnessed its constant marginalisation as a mere “garnish.” It only comes into play as the last step of any recipe. Poor parsley. Although these day it is found sitting quietly on the sidelines of any exciting culinary event, parsley has a rich, flavourful and somewhat tumultuous history.


In its natural range of southeastern Europe and western Asia, our lovely plate-decorating herb was encountered by early civilisations and quickly developed an association with death. This can be partially accounted for by the fact that humans took a long, long time to distinguish edible parsley from false, poisonous parsley; accidental poisonings over the generations led people to look upon parsley with a suspicious eye. Ancient Greece felt the strongest degree of mistrust. Parsley was an outright symbol of death and the afterlife. Illustrations of the goddess of the underworld, Persephone, often present her carrying bunches of parsley in arm. The herb is notoriously slow and difficult to germinate from seed, and I expect no less from the ancient Greeks than a fantastically whimsical explanation: they postulated that gods of the underworld had claimed the apparently unsuccessful parsley seeds as their own.


I think I’m going to start using that as an excuse. “Oh no! Your herb garden seeds didn’t germinate?” “Nah, mate, they’ve gone to the underworld. I’m hoping next batch will remain in this realm, though.”


Actually, parsley seeds are stubborn because they contain a natural herbicide to prevent competition. After the herbicide has been fully released and has run its course, then and only then will the parsley seed sprout. Tricky devils. Due to this underworld connection, parsley was banned from mealtime in ancient Greece. Rather, it exclusively made appearances at funerals, tombs, and major battles. Parsley, along with the superstitions surrounding it, spread throughout Europe.

Parsley was first employed as a garnish in Rome. The herb was originally worn as a garland to dispel the less appealing odours on one’s breath, such as onion, garlic, and alcohol. It was later chopped finely and scattered atop dishes to prevent bad breath more directly. Modern day herbalists recommend chewing fresh sprigs of parsley to alleviate bad breath – but I guess this really depends on whether or not you enjoy the scent of parsley.    

Eventually we warmed up to the idea of parsley, for our own good. It is a highly nutritious herb, loaded with vitamins A, B, C and K. This helps to boost immune systems and keep our bodies and minds in check. The diuretic (water-expelling) properties of parsley have found purpose in kidney cleanse diets and treatments for urinary tract infections. High folic acid content can help your heart. Carotenoids can maintain your eyesight. High iron content makes for a fantastic daily supplement. Parsley root has long been used to treat digestive disorders. Knowing all the benefit of parsley makes me want to put an end to this whole “garnish” nonsense. Let’s change the world one dish at a time!