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Chervil tea, a well loved modern folk remedy, is sometimes taken as a blood purifier in the spring and the fall. Native to southern Russia and the Middle East, the herb’s essential oils are quite similar to the resinous oil brought by the wise men to the baby Jesus in the Bible. Thus, ancient Romans called it “myrrhis.”
Because of its link to the baby Jesus, some European cultures consider the herb symbolic of new life, and use it during Easter celebrations. Traditionally, these households prepare and serve a tasty form of chervil soup each Holy Thursday, in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection.
Members of both the Catholic and Anglican churches are said to include the plant in some form at their Holy Thursday celebrations because of its “life giving” qualities.
Chervil (or Anthriscus cerefolium), as it’s known today, was spread far afield as the Romans conquered and colonized. Pliny, a first century Roman scholar, hailed its warming properties.
Centuries later, 17th century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper made a similar claim, citing that that the herb “does much to please and warm the old and cold stomach.”
Introduced to France and England by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago, the herb has been used to treat a number of different ailments. During the Middle Ages, hiccups were reportedly relieved by consuming an entire plant, or its leaves soaked in vinegar.
Medieval women soaked in chervil baths while pregnant, and valued its essential oils for use in lotions made to cleanse the skin. In 1577, Thomas Hill published “The Gardener’s Labyrinth” in which he wrote:
Chervill provoketh urine, and sendeth downe the terms in women: it looseth fleume: it putteth away gripings of the belly, it ingendreth winde: it killeth wormes in the belly: it healeth a canker: it ceaseth ach in the hips: it recovereth the dandry of the head: it healeth running sores, it healeth the bit of a mad dog, it breaketh the stone of the bladder, and provoketh urine, it dissolveth the bloud gathered into knobs — Chervil healeth impostumes behinde the eares.
Health Benefits of Chervil
Today, modern herbalists still recommend chervil for its many health benefits. It is said to stimulate digestion, improve circulation, help alleviate liver problems, and treat chronic respiratory ailments.
But regardless of its long history and endless list of uses, its anise-like fragrance and delicate white flowers make this plant pleasing to the eye, and a beautiful addition to any garden.
The bonus? It tastes great, too. It can be used to make deliciously flavored vinegars; chopped up and added to a number of different sauces, soups, and stews; not to mention sprinkled over chicken, fish, and egg dishes, and mixed with cheese or butter.
An aromatic plant, it is closely related and similar in appearance to parsley, but with one very important difference: the flavor.
When planting, the gardener should first take into consideration that, unlike most other herbs, chervil loves the shade and thrives in a cool, moist location.
If you plant in the summer heat, it will go to seed rapidly. But in any weather its season can be lengthened by keeping the tops pinched off.
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Containers are also a great option for planting, but take care to give the herb room to grow. The tap root is quite long and doesn’t like being crowded, but potting the herb will provide you with nutrients all through the winter months. To germinate successfully, keep your pots in a cool place, preferably below 59°F.
Leaves should be collected for use while the plant is young. The leaves of a mature plant will turn somewhat purple. But at that point they will have lost their zesty flavor, and will be little more than useless.
Admittedly, the plant itself will still be attractive to the eye. Unfortunately, it won’t be as attractive to the palate.
Chervil is at its best during the spring and summer. Its leaves are their most tender then, and its aroma is far richer than during any other months.
Four-inch stems are the preferred length for cutting. And if you’re growing your own, take care to continually re-seed the herb so you’ll have young, tender shoots available at all times.
Chervil in the Kitchen
Cherished for its essential oils and bitters, chervil is also a great source of vitamins A and C (both excellent for vision). Note that the benefits of these nutrients may only be realized if the herb is consumed with some type of fat at the same time – what an excellent excuse to have your bread and butter without guilt!
Rich in minerals, the herb also boasts large amounts of iron, calcium, and magnesium, which are important for blood production and the healthy function of nerves and muscles.
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During the winter, soup is a healthy addition to the weekly menu. First, make up a batch of your family’s favorite broth (store bought will work as well). Saute an onion in two tablespoons of butter, and dice a few cups of your favorite vegetables. Add three to four ounces of sour cream, salt and pepper to taste, and a dash of coriander if you please.
Simmer the soup until the vegetables are tender. Just prior to serving, add a generous helping of the chopped fresh herb.
It is important not to add the plant during the cooking process itself. Overcooking will strip the herb of its aroma, and cause the loss of many nutrients.
As stated earlier, the herb is sometimes used seasonally in folk remedies as a blood purifier. Suffering from springtime lethargy? Consuming chervil is viewed by many as an excellent way to increase your lagging vigor, and reawaken low spirits.
It is said to stimulate the digestion process and gently promotes the body’s natural waste removal system. Because of this, chervil’s recommended use should be gradual, with a little taken each day over a course of a few months.
What’s your favorite way to add chervil to your cuisine? Let us know in the comments! And be sure to check out Foodal’s Ultimate Guide to Herbs and Spices for more great ideas!
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.