Parsley 101 – The Basics

Yes, parsley seems to be one of those “mundane” herbs that some recipes call for. We’ve used it so long that we hardly think of it. Yet, it is the world’s most popular herb and has been used for thousands of years. Not only does it provide flavor to foods, but it has valuable health properties as well. If you need to know a little something about parsley, hopefully you’ll find your answer below!


Parsley 101 – The Basics

About Parsley
Parsley is the world’s most popular herb. We often see a sprig of parsley as a garnish on the plate in restaurant meals, not only for its color, but also as a breath freshener. Despite its popularity and common use, it is often underappreciated.

Parsley belongs to the Umbelliferae family of plants. Its Latin name is Petroselinum crispum. The two most popular types are curly parsley and Italian flat leaf parsley. There is another type of parsley, turnip-rooted parsley, which is cultivated for its roots. Botanically, parsley is related to anise, caraway, carrots, celery, celery root, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, and parsnips.

Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe. It has been cultivated for over 2,000 years, but was used as a medicinal plant long before it was used in foods. The turnip-rooted variety is relatively new, having been cultivated for only a couple hundred years. It is slowly gaining in popularity.

Nutrition Tidbits
Parsley contains two types of unusual compounds: volatile oils and flavonoids. These give parsley unique health benefits. The volatile oils in parsley, particularly myristicin, have been shown to inhibit the formation of tumors (especially those in the lungs) in animal studies. The volatile oils in parsley qualify it to be categorized as “chemo protective,” meaning it can help to neutralize carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. The flavonoids in parsley function as antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory agents.

On top of its special compounds, parsley is an excellent source of Vitamin K and a good source of folate and iron. Parsley is also rich in Vitamin C and beta-carotene, and other carotenoids. This further enhances the antioxidant properties of parsley in helping to ward off heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. So, the next time you’re offered a sprig of parsley as a garnish, remember to eat it too for its many healthful properties!

The special combination of nutrients in parsley helps to ward off cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, supports bone health, and helps to protect your eyes against age-related macular degeneration. Studies have shown that parsley extract may also have antimicrobial properties. With all things considered, we should all add parsley to our foods when we can!

How to Select Parsley
Parsley is available both dried and fresh in most grocery stores. As with most foods, the fresh variety will have a better flavor than the dried version. Choose parsley that is rich in color and looks fresh and crisp. Avoid options that look withered or yellowed, as they are older and not your best choice.

How to Store Parsley
Keep fresh parsley in the refrigerator wrapped in a paper or kitchen towel, placed in a plastic bag. If it is slightly wilted, either sprinkle it lightly with some water or wash it without completely drying it before storing in the refrigerator. Fresh parsley will keep up to two weeks.

How to Dry Parsley
Parsley can easily be washed then dried by patting it with a paper towel. Remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves in a clean paper bag. Close the opening of the bag and lay it down in a dry area. Once or twice a day gently shake the bag and turn it over, allowing the leaves to shift around so they all get exposed to air. Check them from time to time to see if they are all completely dry. When dry, transfer to an air-tight container and store in a dark, cool, dry place.

How to Freeze Parsley
Parsley can easily be preserved by freezing. Simply take the leaves off the stems and place them in a freezer bag and store in the freezer. Use them in cooking without thawing.

Fresh parsley leaves can also be chopped, mixed with water, and then frozen in ice cube trays.

Any way it is prepared, parsley will keep for up to 6 months in the freezer.

How to Prepare Parsley
Fresh parsley is fragile, so it should not be washed until you are ready to use it. Simply rinse it under running water, or (if it is really dirty) swish it around in a bowl if cool water until all dirt is removed. Repeat the process if needed. Shake off the water, or pat the leaves dry, then use it as desired in your recipe.

The stalks and leaves are all edible, however, the stalks may be a bit tough, depending on how large/thick they are. Those may be best used in stocks or soups.

Cooking/Serving Ideas and Quick Tips for Using Parsley
Italian flat leaf parsley has a stronger and somewhat sweeter flavor than the curly variety, and holds up better with cooking. With that, most chefs prefer flat leaf parsley when adding it to cooked dishes. It is helpful to add it toward the end of the cooking process for better color, flavor and nutritional value.

Quick serving ideas and tips for using fresh parsley:

* Combine chopped fresh parsley with bulgur wheat, chopped scallions, mint leaves, lemon juice and olive oil to make tabbouleh, a classic Middle Eastern dish.

* Add parsley to classic pesto to add more texture to its green color.

* Use a combination of chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest, as a rub for chicken, lamb and beef.

* Add parsley to soups and tomato sauces.

* Try a salad of fennel, orange, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and parsley leaves.

* Sprinkle chopped parsley on different foods such as salads, tomato dishes, baked potatoes, egg dishes, vegetable sautés and grilled fish.

* Try making an herb butter by kneading 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh parsley leaves into ¼ cup of softened butter.

* The stems of parsley are edible, but of course, are more coarse and chewy than the leaves.

* Parsley tea has been used throughout history for its medicinal purposes: to improve digestion, increase urine flow, soothe asthma, remove mucous due to coughs and colds, and ease inflammation. Steep ¼ cup fresh parsley leaves (or 2 teaspoons of dried parsley flakes) in 8 oz boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the leaves and enjoy. It may become bitter and strong flavored with longer steeping times.

Herbs/Spices That Go Well With Parsley
Basil, bay leaf, capers, celery root, chervil, chili pepper flakes, chives, cilantro, cumin, fennel seeds, garlic, ginger, lovage, marjoram, mint, pepper (black), rosemary, salt, savory, sorrel, sumac, tarragon, and thyme

Foods That Go Well With Parsley
Proteins, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans, chickpeas, eggs, fish, legumes, lentils, pine nuts, poultry, veal, and walnuts

Vegetables: Artichokes, beets, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, chiles, chives, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, greens (salad), mushrooms, olives, onions, parsnips, peas, potatoes, radishes, scallions, shallots, spinach, squash (summer and winter), sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini

Fruit: Apples, avocados, lemon, orange

Grains and Grain Products: Barley, bread crumbs, bulgur, corn, couscous, noodles, pasta, and rice

Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter and cheese

Other: Oil (olive), stocks, and vinegar

Parsley is commonly used in: Baba Ganoush, bouquets garnis, chimichurri sauce, dips, fines herbes, hummus, Mediterranean cuisines, Middle Eastern cuisines, Moroccan cuisine, pasta dishes, pestos, pizza, salad dressings, salads, salsas, sandwiches, sauces, soups, stews, stocks, stuffings, and tabbouleh

Suggested Flavor Combos:
Parsley + artichokes + garlic
Parsley + bread crumbs + butter + garlic + shallots
Parsley + bulgur + lemon + mint + tomatoes
Parsley + capers + garlic + lemon + olive oil
Parsley + chili pepper flakes + garlic + olive oil + vinegar
Parsley + garlic + gremolata + lemon
Parsley + garlic + lemon + mint + olive oil + walnuts

Recipe Links
25 Ways to Use Parsley

11 Delicious Ways to Use Up a Bunch of Parsley

40 Different Ways to Use Up That Big Bunch of Parsley

Parsley and Lemon Pesto Recipe

The Best Ways to Use a Plethora of Parsley

40 Parsley Recipes, from Meaty Dinners to Herbaceous Salads and Sauces

Our 10 Best Parsley Recipes

Chicken Breast With Garlic and Parsley

Walnut Parsley Pesto

Mediterranean Parsley Salad


Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Mindell, Earl. (1992) Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

About Judi

Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.

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