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Parsley’s Fascinating History

“If parsley flourishes… the missus is master” was an old saying.
(And now you know why my parsley flourishes.)

“To be an old sage, you have to eat lots of parsley” was another.

botanical drawing of Parsley
1913 Parsley illustration from Britton and Brown

Here are more snippets from parsley’s fascinating history.

  • It is widely believed that parsley originated in Sardinia, although an early writer says that parsley has the “curious botanic history that no one can tell what its native country is.”
  • The fact that the seeds are slow to germinate led to the belief that the seeds have to travel down to the ‘warm place’ and back before the plants will appear.
  • An old wives’ tale says that pouring boiling water over newly sow seeds will hasten the germination process – presumably to fool the seeds that they have already visited the ‘other place’.
  • For centuries Greek soldiers believed that any contact with parsley before battle signalled impending death. Because of this association with death, parsley was planted on Greek graves.
  • Ironically the above custom changed popular belief as it was then believed to have sprung from the blood of a Greek hero. So the Greek warriors then fed it to their chariot horses, and victorious athletes at the Isthmian games were crowned with parsley garlands.

Eish! And Asterix (from Gaul) thought the Romans were crazy.

Famous herbalists also praised the virtues of parsley.

  • Roman physician Galen prescribed it for “falling sickness” (epilepsy) and as a diuretic for water retention.
  • The Romans were also to first to munch parsley sprigs to freshen their breath.
  • Medieval German abbess/herbalist Hildegard of Bingen prescribed parsley compresses for arthritis and parsley boiled in wine for chest and heart pain.
  • Nicolas Culpepper (17th-century British herbalist) reiterated Galen and prescribed parsley to “provoke urine and women’s courses… to expel wind … to break the stone and ease the pains and torments thereof… and against cough.”
  • It’s listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia 1850 – 1926 and King’s American Dispensatory 1898.
  • Commission E, the expert panel that evaluates herbal medicines for the German counterpart of the FDA, approves parsley as a diuretic.

What about parsley tickles you the most?

Illustration from: Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 642.

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Why Use Unsalted Butter?

Most chefs prefer using unsalted butter.

Most chefs agree that there is a big taste difference between salted and unsalted butter. The salt acts as a preservative. Which explains why unsalted butter is not that readily available and why it is normally more expensive than salted butter – it is fresher and has a shorter shelf life.

The amount of salt added varies widely between different brands. So if you change brands often, you have to adjust accordingly. Producers claim that the salt also improves the taste of the butter. But that is not entirely true as in most cases people have and insatiable appetite for salt. So it makes commercial sense to make your butter slightly more salty than your competitors.

It is generally best to buy unsalted butter (especially if you bake a lot) because then you’ll know exactly how much salt you are adding to your dishes (and family’s diet). And when making something like gourmet flavoured herb butters this amount of control really is critical.

Because salt overpowers the natural sweet flavour of butter, flavoured butter recipes generally call for “salt to taste” or no salt at all. This means that if you are one of those people who automatically season food with salt without even tasting it first, then salted butter will be just perfect for you.

Becoming a better cook is all about getting to know your ingredients intimately, learning how to make the most with what you have on hand, pleasing your own palate and above all – having fun.

Hungry for More?
Maître d’Hôtel Butter

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Cooking with Parsley

flat leaf parsley
Flat leaf parsley, also knows as Italian parsley, is preferred by chef’s.

Parsley is proof that fresh is the best when cooking with herbs. When using parsley in cooking I only use the fresh leaves. If there aren’t any, I’ll rather omit it from the recipe – dried parsley is a poor substitute. For medicinal purposes I use both the seeds and root of the parsley plant.

Fresh parsley has a clean, green aroma with a versatile fresh green taste. Slightly peppery.  At times a little like celery with an aftertaste of green apple. Dried parsley smells like old dried grass and tastes like dust.

Fresh leaves keep very well – for up to 10 days – in the refrigerator in an airtight container. It also freezes well – just chop finely and mix with a little water.  Pour into ice trays and freeze.

Parsley can be used in virtually any dish.  It is a well-mannered and polite herb that will compliment and not overpower other herbs.

Use it freely (about 1 tablespoon per serving), and unless the recipe states otherwise, add it about 10 minutes before serving to allow the flavours to develop.

Parsley is flavour pals with:
Sweet basil, bay leaves, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, garlic, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, watercress and winter savoury.

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Your Best Parsley Sources

Bouquet Garni Herb Stand
You’ll find Bouquet Garni Herbs in selected garden centres in Gauteng.

Parsley ‘Moss Curled’, the curly parsley we all know so well, is readily available freshly cut in most supermarkets and green grocers.

Flat-leaf parsley (also know as Italian parsley) which is superior in flavour is not that readily available (in South Africa anyway) and you should sow and grow your own if you want to indulge in this herb.

If you are not into gardening and/or can’t find fresh cut parsley, you can purchase dried parsley from your local supermarket. But be warned, it is no better than dried grass and only fit to be used when the in-laws come to visit.

No store bought parsley will be able to beat the flavour and freshness of your own home grown parsley. So your best parsley source is growing your own.

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7 Popular Potted Herbs

I’m often asked to recommend herbs for beginners. The following are 7 of my favourite potted herbs. And they all do well in colder areas as well.

potted herbs on a window sill
Potted herbs do exceptionally well on a windowsill.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is the hardiest of all the herbs. It makes a small, bushy pot plant and the more the leaves are picked the better it does. An infusion of lemon-scented thyme, helps relieve coughs and colds. Use thyme in casseroles and stews, to garnish roasts or added to salad dressings and salads.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a robust herb that stands up well to cooking especially in slow simmered casseroles, roasts and grills. It also combines well with cheese. An infusion of sage leaves can be used to treat colds and coughs and it also makes an excellent gargle for sore throats. To make a Sage gargle infuse 3 teaspoons fresh leaves in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes, strain and cool. Gargle three times a day.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) does better in semi-shade if grown in a pot and the soil should be kept moist. The leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, E, and Iron. Build your immune system by eating two tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley each day. Sprinkle it on salads, add it to meat, pasta or cheese sauces at the end of cooking or juice it up in a blender with apple or tomato juice.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) actually prefers cooler weather. Its delicate, fern like leaves are full of vitamin C and have a slightly aniseed taste. It’s best used like parsley, chopped as a garnish or added to salads, soups, sauces, vegetables and meat dishes at the end of cooking. An infusion of the leaves stimulates digestion, relieves head colds, and acts as a blood cleanser.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) easily withstands winter frost but likes full sun. The more you harvest the better it grows. It has a strong aromatic taste ideal for rich winter food, but use sparingly or it can be overpowering. An infusion of oregano can be used to treat coughs, tiredness and irritability.

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) grows well in pots and tolerates quite cold weather. It has a bushy form and attractive spikes of blue flowers. Both the leaves and flowers can be used in an infusion to treat bronchitis and loosen mucus. The leaves have a peppery taste and are a good addition to thick soups and stews.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is principally a medicinal herb and can be used to bring down fevers, and helps relieve infections, influenza, and sinusitis. Both the leaves and flowers of the plant are used as an infusion. Add peppermint or a teaspoon of honey if you find the leaves a bit bitter. I use it en-masse in borders and Teresa likes using the flowers in arrangements.

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Rosemary for Remembrance

rosemary in a big pot
Rosemary does exceptionally well in pots, big and small.

Thinking about something special to give to a loved one?

Why not give one of nature’s most amazing little miracles? A rosemary plant.

A symbol of friendship, loyalty, and remembrance, rosemary is traditionally carried by mourners at funerals and by the bride at her wedding.

Greek scholars wore garlands of rosemary when they were sitting examinations, to improve their memory and concentration.

In the 14th century Queen Izabella of Hungary claimed that, at the age of 72, when crippled with gout and rheumatism, she had so regained her strength and beauty by using Hungary water (rosemary tops macerated in alcohol) that the King of Poland proposed to her.

In Hamlet, Ophelia gives Hamlet a sprig, saying, “There’s rosemary … for remembrance.”

The most important health benefit of rosemary is the fact that she is one of our richer sources of antioxidants. And antioxidants help to preserve our health and vitality and to prevent cancer.

So why not give that special person in your life a rosemary as a token of your love… and to help them stay healthy and beautiful?