“In social gatherings”…..lamented the 20th-century wit Dorothy Parker, “I rank somewhere between a sprig of parsley and a single ice skate.”
Parsley – for both its culinary and nutritional offerings –deserves better company and more respect than that. It may be ubiquitous but a ho-hum garnish it is not!
Petroselinum crispum, that perky bright green sprig that routinely graces the plates of fast food and haute cuisine dishes alike has a pedigree few of us know about starting with the fact that it belongs to the same colorful botanical family that includes carrots, parsnips, cumin, chervil, celery, coriander, dill, and fennel.
Native to the Mediterranean part of Southern Europe, parsley has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years, starting out life as a medicine, not a food, used for everything from bad breath to gonorrhea in the form of a tea, tonic, or essential oil. The ancient Greeks considered parsley to be sacred, using it to not only adorn victors of athletic contests but also for decorating the tombs of the deceased. The practice of using parsley as a garnish (it works wonders as an aid to digestion, so it makes perfect sense) goes back to the ancient Romans. Symbolically, parsley represents victory, joy, and feasting.
Parsley began to be consumed primarily as a seasoning herb sometime in the middle Ages. It is speculated that the emperor Charlemagne (celebrated for having founded the Holy Roman Empire) was also a parsley gardener and may have been responsible for its early popularity.
Whether the curly variety (sometimes called French parsley) or the flat-leaved (aka Italian parsley) or in the form of parsley root, it deserves more than sprig status as a true green superfood. Let us count the ways.
Nutrition in a Sprig
Parsley is a storehouse of nutrients we all need — providing Vitamin C (for the immune system) as well as vitamin A, folate, plant-based iron, and a dozen other macro and micro minerals. The activity of parsley’s volatile oil components qualifies it as (besides a superior breath freshener) a chemo-protective food. According to a 2013 report in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, parsley is useful in treating gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension, cardiac disease, diabetes, and a variety of skin conditions. Both the leaves and roots of the plant are used by herbalists as a diuretic and for a variety of ailments including urinary tract infections, kidney stones, cystitis, and edema.
Parsley also provides high levels of vitamin K, an essential nutrient for maintaining bone density, fighting bone breaks and fractures. Vitamin K works synergistically with the other high-profile bone-building nutrients in parsley — calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and magnesium. According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, parsley provides more than 1,000% of your daily need for vitamin K.
Parsley root (not to be mistaken for parsnips which they resemble) comes from a subspecies of garden parsley known scientifically as Petroselinum crispum Tuberosum. Its flavor is more assertive than parsley leaves but it offers the same high level of flavonoids and antioxidants, the kind known to relieve oxidative stress, even help reduce wrinkles and age spots, reports the Journal of Dermatological Science.
Forget a sprig. Munch a bunch! Besides being the stuff of which a memorable pesto, chimichurri, salsa verde, gremolata, and tabbouleh are created, parsley– in all its forms—can be the foundation for simple get-well stay-well green juices.
More uses for that bouquet of parsley?
- Why not grow it? Italian or flat-leaved parsley is easier to grow than curly and provides the more assertive flavor, but either will grow on your sunny windowsill. And they double as sweet ornamentals.
- [Parsley juice (from the leaves or the root) supports whole-body detoxification. To get all the benefits of this full spectrum herb, aim for 2 tablespoons a day –raw, juiced, or cooked in cold and/or warm dishes.
- Place your bouquet of parsley (stem ends down) in a tall glass of water and cover with a plastic baggie hoodie. Should keep for a week, maybe longer, or wrap in damp paper towels and store in vegetable drawers for a few days.
- Use parsley everywhere and anywhere. Chopped or minced leaves add a top note of earthy freshness to salads, soups, juices, smoothies, sauces, salad dressings, omelets, pizza toppings, even pizza dough, and pancake batter. Dried parsley in a pinch also has many of the benefits of its fresh counterpart.
- Don’t toss those stems! They can be pureed and stirred into tomato sauce sauces, or added to homemade broth or stock where they will be strained out later to boost flavor and nutrition
- Use parsley in any recipe calling for cilantro. They are close cousins.
- Parsley root can be a stand-in for carrots in most recipes and is tasty shredded raw into salads or soups or stir-fries.
1-2-3 PARSLEY PESTO
- 1/2 cups curly or flat-leaved parsley stemmed and washed and dried
- 1/3 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts
- 1/3 cup + 2 teaspoons grated dairy or non-dairy parmesan cheese
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper or to taste
Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and buzz, stopping twice to stir to make sure everything is incorporated. For a slightly grittier pesto, stop before complete smoothness is achieved.
Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Makes 8 or more servings
*Substitute toasted cashews or sunflower seeds for walnuts or pinenuts;
* Use avocado oil in place of olive oil
*Substitute ½ cup basil leaves for 1//2 cup parsley
PARSLEY-PLUS BREAKFAST JUICE
1 /2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 large kale leaves (stems removed)
1 cup of frozen berries or tropical fruit
1 teaspoon flax, hemp, or chia seeds (optional)
1 cup spring water
Place all ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Add more water if needed. Makes 2 servings.
*Substitute coconut water for spring water
*Use ¼ cup each curly and flat-leaved parsley in place of the ½ cup flat
* Use spinach leaves or arugala in place of kale
PARSLEY ROOT FRIES
- 2 large parsley roots
- high-heat cooking oil like peanut or canola oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- chopped fresh rosemary (optional) and /or parmesan cheese
*Preheat oven to 400°F.
* Peel roots (if not organic) and cut them into french-fry sized sticks. The thinner, the crispier they will be. Toss with some oil, a few pinches of salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary and or parmesan cheese if desired.
*Roast for 20 minutes, toss, and place back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes until golden on the edges with crispy ends and a tender center. Serve with salsa or mayo.
Last but not least? A two-ingredient green tea that is not that “green tea” but every sip as nutritious.
OLD FASHIONED PARSLEY TEA
Start with ¼ cup cleaned and finely minced parsley leaves.
Pour 1 cup of boiling filtered water over them. Let steep, strain, and sweeten to taste plus a squirt of lemon and a lemon slice on the side. Toss any leftover tea into your next blender drink or soup.
Also good chilled, and frozen as ice cubes for other drinks!