Parsley’s worldwide use in the kitchen befits its popularity as the most commonly used herb.
Its name, Greek in origin, translates “rock celery,” and this member of the celery family has been used throughout history as a medicinal herb.
Native to the eastern Mediterranean, parsley has been cultivated for more than two thousand years for its healing properties. It was used medicinally long before it took its place in the kitchen.
Considered sacred by the ancient Greeks, parsley was used to adorn its favored citizens and decorate the tombs of the deceased. Believed to have sprung from the blood of their beloved hero Archemorus, the herb itself was never consumed.
In contrast, the Greek people placed huge medicinal value on the seeds and roots, which were used in infusions to alleviate the symptoms of kidney and bladder problems.
Ancient Romans used the herb as a garnish, similar to the way we see it displayed on the dishes of today’s restaurants. The plant was also used to make the garlands worn during feasts and believed to have the power to ward off intoxication and evil.
I for one believe they just liked wearing them!
Regardless, the Romans didn’t consume the herb either, and even went so far as forbidding its presence around pregnant women. Somewhere along the way, the Romans had aligned the presence of parsley and pregnancy with an infant’s being born epileptic.
Unbelievably, that claim was made again thousands of years later in 1805 by Phillip Miller in The Gardeners Dictionary. In his dictionary, Miller cites the consumption of parsley in small birds as a cause of death, and that consumption by human beings can result in injured eyesight and possibly be the cause of epilepsy.
The Hebrews used the herb during Passover celebrations as symbol of rebirth.
It is believed that at some point during the Middle Ages, parsley finally made its entrance into the culinary world as a food rather than a decoration. Charlemagne grew the herb on his estates, and favored the addition of its seeds to his favorite cheeses.
Medieval party goers placed it on banquet tables and wore it around their necks to ward off foul odors. Medieval doctors praised its use as an anecdote for poison, and medieval herbalist, St. Hildegard of Bingen prescribed parsley infused wine as a cure to improve circulation and treat heart ailments.
During the Tudor reign, its leaves were used extensively as a remedy for baldness.
Uses in Modern Times
Today, parsley is hailed as a diuretic, a blood purifier, and detoxifier. Regular consumption is said to aid in digestion, boost metabolism, and stimulate the appetite.
In addition, there are claims that the herb can actually reduce your heart rate and control blood pressure. An invaluable source of vitamins and minerals, parsley contains large amounts of vitamins A and C (known cancer fighters), and its decidedly high content of histidine (known to inhibit the growth of tumors).
The plant’s nutritional value also includes potassium and folic acid (known to prevent cardiovascular disease), in addition to calcium, manganese, and iron.
The consumption of this plant can also be beneficial in women’s health concerns. Often, women take high doses of calcium supplements to lessen their chances of contracting osteoporosis.
Unfortunately, this supplement can also interfere with the body’s natural ability to absorb manganese which is in fact a bone builder. The leaves contains both manganese and calcium, not to mention that when paired with foods such as shellfish and whole grains actually enhances the absorption of manganese.
Women should avoid the consumption of parsley while pregnant because its essential oils may stimulate uterine contractions. After childbirth, the opposite would be true as the plant’s properties promote lactation and tone the uterus.
Cultivating parsley is not for the impatient, and what really is a quite simple process may also be a challenge. A biennial herb, this plant often doesn’t come back as expected and more often than not needs to be planted annually.
Initial planting should be done indoors and in pots as the plant’s germination period lasts from three to four weeks. Always sow several seeds in your pots, making sure the pot has adequate drainage holes. Soil should be nutrient rich; compost makes a great addition to any soil.
Many seeds will not germinate, and after sprouting only the healthiest shoots should be kept. Thin seedlings should be pulled.
Parsley loves the sun, and it’s advised that it be placed in full sun for a good portion of the day. Germination requires warm temperatures, so it is also advised that you keep your pots indoors rather than move them outside.
Shoots will come up slowly and unevenly and if planted early enough will be ready to transplant into the garden late in the spring. It is said that six to ten plants can accommodate an entire family. Leaves should be picked off a few at a time as needed.
Related to the carrot, celery, and parsnip families, parsley is a low growing plant with fine green leaves. Filled with beneficial and necessary nutrients, it is usually consumed in such small amounts that it has little or no effect on a person’s health.
With all of the benefits it provides, it is no wonder that today parsley is utilized far differently than in the past. Whether straight from the garden, the pot, or your favorite grocer, this plant remains the world’s favorite herb.
Are you a gardener? If so, check our our parsley growing guide over at our sister site, Gardener’s Path.
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.
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