Special for Savor the Southwest October 2014 by Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D.
Ever notice that restaurants often provide a sprig of fresh parsley on each dinner plate? They may not even know why, but it is a holdover from Victorian times and parsley’s reputed value as a digestive aid. Most diners avoid this strongly flavored green, but they shouldn’t! It may well be the most nutritious thing on the plate! Rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 B9 (folate), C, and K as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and zinc. Parsley also helps the body in manganese absorption, a mineral important in building and maintaining healthy bones.
Parsley is one of those plants that is easy to add to the garden, or even just a pot on the patio. And now is the time to plant them! First – there are several parsleys to choose from. Curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum) or flat leaf parsley (P. neopolitanum), and popular for stews, parsley root (P. crispum var. tuberosum). All of these forms of parsley are members of the Carrot Family. [[By the way, cilantro is als in the same family and can be grown just like parsley.]]
Soil. All carrot kin grow best in a well drained, even sandy, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. That makes them easy to grow in containers. Use a pot one and a half feet deep. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media.
Light. Six or more hours of winter sun to do well.
Plant. Parsley can be bought as a seedling from a nursery or grown from seed. One or two plants are usually enough for most families so seedlings might be a better option.
Water. Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. You can let parsley dry a little more between water once they get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.
Fertilizer. Parsley gets very lush and full with some fertilizer. However, if you amended your soil at the start you don’t need to purchase fertilizer. Plus, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. Come late February you could apply a half strength general purpose fertilizer.
Harvest and Storage. Parsley tastes wonderful when fresh but loses much flavor when dried. Freezing the leaves retains more flavor. Select healthy leaves, rinse, pat dry but leave some moisture. Chop into roughly quarter inch squares and freeze in a labeled plastic bag or yogurt container. This can be used directly from the freezer.
Not only does parsley look pretty on the plate and in the garden, it also attracts winged wildlife. Indeed, one species of swallowtail butterfly use parsley as a host plant for their larvae. Caterpillar are black and green striped with yellow dots, and will feast upon parsley for a brief two weeks before turning into lovely butterflies. Along with butterflies, bees visit the blooms. Seed eaters such as the lesser goldfinch also adore the seed. I let some parsley develop flowers and go to seed each year so the animals can enjoy it once I am done harvesting the leaves. And I save some seeds for replanting.
Note: Jacqueline A. Soule has been writing about plants and growing in Tucson for decades. Her latest book “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening” (Cool Springs Press $22.99) is available at local bookstores and botanical gardens. (Call first though, some venues have been selling out.)
If you wish to receive timely tips for garden and landscape each week, Jacqueline produces weekly “tidbitts” available at: http://www.tidbitts.com/jacqueline-a-soule/gardening-with-soule
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