In Ancient Greece parsley was a ceremonial plant dedicated to the dead and tombs were festooned with wreaths of parsley. Gradually it was used more both medicinally and in cooking and by the t’4iddle Ages was a popular herb.
Parsley, carum petroselinum (or petroselinum crispum), is probably the best known of all the herbs and the one most widely used. It is a biennial plant mostly grown as a hardy annual since the leaves have a more delicate flavour in the first year. Parsley has an abundance of crisp, very curly, bright green leaves. In the second year the main stem grows quite tall and branched, each branch carrying a flat-topped umbel of tiny yellow flowers. If the flowering stems are cut as soon as they appear the parsley plant will continue for another year. There is a plain-leaved variety which is not attractive to look at but has all the same properties as curly-leaved parsley. Yet another variety is known as Hamburg parsley, grown entirely for its edible root. The roots are either round like a turnip or long and fleshy, resembling a parsnip and they have a sweet flavour similar to that of parsnip.
In the kitchen parsley has many uses, in soups and stuffings, with fish and finely chopped in salads, with vegetables or simply used as a garnish. Parsley is rich in Vitamins A, B and C and should be part of a healthy everyday diet. The round root of the Hamburg parsley can be used to flavour soups and casseroles while the long roots are eaten as a vegetable on their own and cooked like parsnips. Parsley has a mild deliciously savoury taste and has the ability to soften or disguise other harsher flavours. It is particularly useful in banishing the flavour of garlic — either mixed with it or eaten later on its own.
Parsley can be sown two or three times a year so that it is available throughout the year. It grows in good garden soil and in sun or semi-shade. Sow seed in February, May and again in early August. The first sowing will take time to germinate — perhaps up to six weeks. When the seedlings are large enough thin them to a handspan apart, and to keep the leaves tender and sweet water well in a dry spell. The seed sown in August should be sown in a sunny sheltered position for picking fresh parsley throughout the winter.
For cooking parsley is mostly used when fresh picked but it can be successfully dried for winter use. It is always used dried for parsley tea. Gather young leaves for drying in their first year of growth then dry and store in the usual way.
Parsley is full of iron and calcium as well as vitamins and it stimulates the circulation and the digestive system. It is a good tonic herb and is a remedy for troublesome flatulence. Parsley is also mildly diuretic and said to be helpful in cases of rheumatism, as it removes excess fluid from the body. It is believed to be an internal remedy for painful haemorrhoids when a short course of parsley tea should be tried. At the same time use parsley lotion to bathe the affected part. Parsley tea taken hot last thing at night can be effective in loosening a stubborn cough. For medicinal purposes parsley tea is most usually made from the dried leaves.
* To make parsley tea: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons chopped parsley and leave to infuse for 5 minutes then strain. A cup of hot parsley tea once a day is recommended.
* Fresh crushed parsley leaves can be used externally for relieving insect bites and stings. As an instant remedy take fresh or pulped leaves and place on minor cuts and abrasions to soothe and heal.
* Parsley contains slight bleaching properties and can be used on a regular basis to fade freckles. The juice freshly expressed each day can be dabbed on to the freckles and allowed to dry.
Parsley lotion will help to clear a muddy complexion and stimulate the circulation of blood to the skin.
* To make parsley lotion: Soak a handful of crushed fresh parsley leaves in water and cover for 12 hours or overnight. Strain into stoppered jars. Cleanse the face night and morning before using the lotion then leave it to dry. Keep the lotion in a cool place or in a refrigerator and use twice daily. The lotion can also be made by pouring 2 cups of water on to 2 large handfuls of parsley in an enamel pan. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Cool, strain and pour into a bottle. This lotion will keep longer than the unheated in fusion. To make the treatment more effective a cup of parsley tea (see Medicinal Use) taken daily will be found helpful.
Parsley helps to combat oily skin, especially if mixed with yoghurt and used as a face pack.
* To make a face pack: Make a strong infusion of parsley by pouring a cupful of boiling water on to 2 handfuls of parsley. Strain and leave to cool a little before mixing it with the yoghurt. The mixture must not be too liquid. Cleanse the face and thinly brush the pack over the skin, avoiding eyes and mouth. Cover the eyes with cotton wool pads or balls soaked in cold water. Relax for 15 minutes. Remove the face pack with warm water and pat parsley lotion over the skin.
To make a flavoured butter that adds zest and flavour to grilled fish and meat or makes a crispy hot herb loaf, take 6 tablespoons butter and beat in a bowl until soft. Add I tablespoon lemon juice, 2½ tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Beat thoroughly until all the ingredients are well combined. Chill in the refrigerator until firm.