Most gardeners get acquainted with parsley early because it’s such an easy-to-grow-herb, but you might be surprised by its many other benefits.
What Are the Health Benefits of Parsley?
Like other leafy greens, parsley is high in vitamins A, C, and K, as well as calcium, potassium, and folate — nutrients especially beneficial for bone and eye health. Parsley also contains the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to help protect eyes against harmful blue light, a leading contributor to macular degeneration.
Parlsey’s antioxidant properties may be why some research has found that it may help lower the risk of certain cancers. Early research also shows the herb has diuretic properties, which may help bladder and kidney health, and it may be an effective treatment for menstrual cramps due to its pain-relieving properties and action of two specific compounds, apiol and myristicin.
The herb also has mental health benefits. Although studies in humans are still needed, preliminary research in mice shows parsley may be a promising natural treatment for depression, even outperforming low doses of certain prescription antidepressants.
How To Use Parsley in the Kitchen
It’s easy to all reap those health benefits because parsley is also incredibly versatile in the kitchen. A native Mediterranean herb, parsley has been used for cooking as far back as the ancient Greek and Roman empires. The main variety used for cooking is flat-leaf (sometimes called Italian) parsley, while curly parsley, which has ruffled leaves that resemble a smaller, more delicate kale, is often relegated to garnish status. Some people say curly parsley packs less punch and is more bitter, but it often depends on the plant, and it’s perfectly acceptable to use either variety in pretty much any dish.
All parsley has a slight bitterness to it, along with a distinctive grassy flavor that is mild enough to pair well with so many other foods: eggs, potatoes, pasta, vegetables, grains, mushrooms, and meat, poultry, and seafood. This ubiquitous quality is probably why parsley can be found as a foundational flavor in so many cultures’ culinary mainstays, from the French Herbs de Provence to Argentinian chimichurri, a green sauce for grilled meats. In Italy, that dish is gremolata, a simple but flavorful condiment that’s made with just three ingredients but has endless uses (see recipe below).
Parsley has also become popular to enjoy as a “tea.” While it’s not technically tea, because it’s not brewed from the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, parsley tea is a soothing herbal drink that’s easy to make and can impart some of the herb’s many health benefits. Simply chop a few tablespoons of fresh parsley, add them to boiling water (how much depends on how strong you like it; start with 2 tablespoons per cup and increase as desired), then strain into a teacup and enjoy. You can add lemon or a bit of honey if you prefer.
How to Preserve Parsley
If your parsley plants went particularly crazy this year, you can dry or freeze any extra and it will be good to use for up to a year. Hang bunches of leaves to air dry, then chop or crumble them finely and store in a spice jar. Just remember that when cooking, you’ll need slightly less dried parsley than you would fresh. You can also chop fresh parsley and freeze it in ice cube trays (I prefer to cover it with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil). Then, whenever you need some fresh flavor in a sauce or soup, drop in a cube, or thaw one and stir it into omelets, salsas, grain salads, or any of a hundred other dishes.
This zesty Italian condiment’s name can be roughly translated as, “to grind something that grows.” That something is parsley, and you definitely want it fresh for maximum flavor in this recipe so it can stand up to garlic and lemon zest (only the yellow part, as the white underneath the peel can be bitter; you also want to wash your lemon thoroughly before zesting). You can make the mix as fine as you’d like by grating or cutting the pieces very finely, so they almost form a paste. Then, dollop spoonfuls on anything for extra flavor: risotto, pasta, fish and other proteins.
1⁄4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
Zest of 1 large lemon, preferably organic
Combine all ingredients and serve.