By Gaius Robinson, Sonoma County Master Gardener
Parsley is a versatile plant to tuck into your garden. Its short, mounding growth habit makes it ideal for the front of any perennial border or rock garden. Vegetable gardens can be given a nice living border if you use parsley around the perimeter. Two varieties, curly leaf and flat leaf are available. The flat leaf has a bit more flavor, the curly leaf is more ornamental, but still tasty. One established, it grows well in hot or cold weather. Well draining soil, rich in humus, will help this little herb thrive. It does best with partial sun, tucked beneath a large tomato plant or in the shade of a tall rose bush, but it will even flourish if you plant it in full sun.
As a native of the Mediterranean countries, it thrives in Sonoma County. It does not seem to have many pests that destroy it, except for rabbits, who love to eat it to the ground. If you have a rabbit problem, plant your parsley in a deep pot, and bring it close to the house where rabbits are less likely to venture. Black swallowtail caterpillar also will eat parsley, but an infestation of these soon-to-be beautiful butterflies is most unusual.
Ancient Greek lore about parsley instructed not to eat this herb because it sprang from the blood of Archemorus, the forerunner of death. Parsley was used in funeral rites, not as a food decoration.
Some people still believe today that it is bad luck to transplant parsley or give it away. Maybe that is because of the Greek myth or folklore that decrees that the seeds have to go to hell and back before they germinate.
The seeds contain a natural weed inhibitor, a chemical that also appears to retard the germination cycle. Soaking the seeds overnight before planting seems to reduce this chemical and improve germination.
Parsley is well known as a garnish or decoration, but is actually much more of a culinary workhorse. You can find recipes for parsley soup and parsley sauces (such as the Argentine steak sauce chimichurri) and many chefs make abundant use of parsley in mixture such as meatloaf or meatballs. One of my favorite salads is parsley salad, or tabbouleh. (Also tabouli, tabouleh.) A recent family Scrabble game led me to victory over everyone, as my word, “ tabouli” let me use up all my tiles in one swoop. It appears the old stories were correct, parsley can lead to other’s downfall if you transplant it….even on a Scrabble board.