By Pauline Lloyd

I am going to start off my contribution to the Growing for Health column with parsley (Petroselinum crispum), which is one of the most nutritious and health-giving plants that you can grow. As well as being a good source of fibre and the vitamins A and C, it’s also high in potassium, copper, calcium and iron. Don’t be afraid to include generous amounts of this tasty herb in your diet. It can of course be cooked, although it’s much tastier when eaten raw and is at its nutritional best when freshly picked from the plant just before eating.

Growing instructions

Parsley belongs to the Umbelliferae family. Strictly speaking it’s a hardy biennial, although is best treated as an annual. Make regular sowings in order to ensure a constant supply throughout the year. Parsley can be sown directly into the ground and makes an excellent bed-edging plant. Choose a sunny position and make sure that the ground has warmed up properly before sowing. Sometime in April is generally the best time to make a first outdoor sowing, with a further sowing around August time. It prefers a fertile soil and likes plenty of moisture. Growing up to 60cm in height, depending on the variety, parsley also makes an excellent container plant. I find it useful to grow some in a pot indoors on my windowsill for winter use. Indoors sowings can be made more or less all year round, but I usually start it off in my airing cupboard when it’s cold, otherwise the seeds can be slow to germinate.

Varieties

Curly-leafed varieties and plain leafed varieties are the commonest types available. Flat-leafed varieties include Italian Giant and Plain French and these have a more pungent flavour than the curly leafed types. Champion Moss Curled is a very reliable curly leaf variety, which crops for a long time. Newer curly varieties include Green Perle and Forest Green. There’s also Hamburg Parsley, which is mainly grown for its white parsnip-like roots rather than its leaves, although its leaves can still be used as a garnish. Finally, there’s Mitsuba, a Japanese parsley that has a flavour, which is a cross between parsley and celery.

Culinary uses

Finely chopped parsley can simply be sprinkled over cooked vegetables such as new potatoes, mixed in with sandwich spreads, added to salads, sprinkled on to soup, or made into a tea, which is supposed to be good for rheumatism and to have diuretic properties. Whole sprigs of parsley can simply be rinsed clean and used for decorative effect, the curly kinds of parsley being especially suitable for this. In addition, several varieties of parsley are grown especially for their roots, which are usually roasted or grated up and used in salads.

Mail order suppliers include:

The Organic Gardening Catalogue www.organiccatalogue.com

Tamar Organics www.tamarorganics.co.uk

Seeds of the common flat and curly leafed varieties of parsley are, however, usually fairly easily purchased from local seed suppliers. Also look out for Sutton’s ‘Sow Easy Seeds’. There is a Parsley Moss Curled 2 Seed Tape in this series. This pre-seeded tape consists of a 5-metre strip that you simply roll out in a row along the soil. Price around £1.69.

This article appeared in Growing Green International magazine Num 19 (Summer 2007), p17.