Native to the Mediterranean, parsley (Petrosilenum crispum) is a rich source of vitamin C and iron, and is said to cure bad breath and cleanse the skin. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it lives for two years, growing leaves in the first year, then flowering in the second, before setting seed. For this reason parsley is treated as an annual and it’s best to sow seed each year.
Of the two types of parsley sold in supermarkets – curly parsley and flat leaf parsley – flat leaf parsley leaves have a stronger flavour and are more often used to add flavour. Curly parsley has a milder taste.
According to an old English folk tale, parsley grows best in a household where the wife wears the trousers. Whether you choose to grow parsley for mythical or feminist reasons, or for its culinary and medicinal properties, it’s a great addition to your herb collection.
How to grow parsley
Grow curled and flat leaf parsley in moist but well-drained soil in sun to partial shade. Growing parsley in pots is also very easy. Harvest the leaves as and when you need to. Sow seed every few weeks for a successional harvest.
How to sow parsley seeds
Sow parsley seeds directly into well-prepared soil, in rows 1cm deep and 30cm apart. Lightly cover the seeds and water in well. Parsley is slow to germinate and it can take up to six weeks for seedlings to appear. When seedlings are large enough, thin them to 15cm apart.
Alternatively, if you have less space available, fill a pot with seed compost and sow seeds thinly, covering with a light layer of compost and watering in. Make sure the compost does not dry out. Seeds can take six weeks to germinate and should be thinned out and potted on when big enough. When moving to a larger pot, use a mix of garden and soil-based compost, to prevent the young plants from drying out.
Sow batches of seeds a few weeks apart so you have a continuous supply of parsley.
How to care for parsley
A parsley herb plant needs plenty of water, particularly during dry weather, and benefits from the occasional feed of general seaweed fertiliser to boost leafy growth. Cut back any yellowing foliage.
It’s a biennial, so if you want to delay your plant setting seed deadhead any flowers that appear. After a biennial has flowered and set seed it will die. However, if you want to save seed, allow the odd parsley flower and wait until the seed has turned brown before collecting it.
Parsley will die down over winter if it’s planted in the ground. If you want to keep plants going, provide winter protection by placing a cloche over your plants. Alternatively, pot up your parsley and move plants into a greenhouse or bring them indoors and place on a sunny windowsill.
How to harvest parsley
Pick parsley as you need it. If you cut the stems at the base, parsley will regrow. Harvesting by cutting the stems, rather than just picking the leaves from the top, will also help create a bushier plant. You may want to grow several plants so that you can harvest from one while another is left to produce new growth. You should get a harvest from parsley right through summer into autumn.
How to store parsley
Parsley leaves can be dried and stored, but the flavour is less intense. With parsley plants so easy to grow and maintain, it makes sense to use a fresh supply. In terms of flavour, it’s better to chop parsley finely in a food processor and freeze if you do want to store for later use. You can pot up plants at the end of the season and bring them indoors for leaves throughout winter.