In addition to great plate décor, parsley has excellent potential health benefits. It contains volatile oils such as limonene, myristicin and eugenol and beneficial flavonoids like apiin, apigenin and luteolin. The volatile oils act as anti-carcinogens (in animal studies) and may act similarly in humans. Myristicin activates an enzyme that attaches glutathione to highly reactive molecules (some are carcinogens) neutralizing them. The flavonoids have antioxidant properties and help neutralize oxygen-containing free radicals, preventing them from damaging cellular components (membranes, DNA, enzymes, etc.). Parsley is a great source of vitamins K, C and A. Vitamin K helps maintain a healthy bone matrix and may help prevent some cancers. Vitamin C is an antioxidant protecting cells from damage in water-soluble areas all over the body. Both vitamins C and A strengthen the immune system. Folic acid renders homocysteine in the blood harmless, protecting blood vessel walls from damage.
Vitamin and Mineral Content
Vitamins – K, C and A
Minerals – Iron and others in trace amounts
Reduces risk and helps stop cell growth in lung cancer. Research suggests vitamin K helps resist liver and prostate cancer. Eating foods rich in vitamins C and A, like parsley, lowers the risk of atherosclerosis, colon cancer, diabetes and asthma. Arthritis sufferers may also gain relief by the anti-inflammatory actions of vitamins C and A. Folic acid is important for proper cellular division in both the colon and cervix, reducing the risk of those cancers. Folic acid’s effect on homocysteine helps prevent cardiovascular diseases.
How to Grow
Whether used as a topping or worked into a sauce, parsley puts a finishing touch on dishes. There are two main types: flat and curly leafed. Flat leafed is the pungent Italian parsley. Curly leafed is used for cooking and garnishing plates. Both are biennials and grow about 14 inches. Plant out in the spring or start them indoors, which might be better, since the seeds take a month to germinate. In either case, soak them in warm water for a few hours or over night before planting. Space seeds out about 6 inches. They grow in well-enriched fertile soil in both pots and the ground. They prefer a bit of shade. For a harvest every year, plant new parsley every spring. They are frost hardy and come back to life the second year to flower if the winter is not too harsh. If you cut off the flower stalks, they will not die in the second year. Conversely, if they flower and go to seed, they can sow themselves and need little effort to reproduce. Those able to sow themselves are healthier and taste better. Harvest the leaves as needed from the outer leaves in. Taking inner leaves first prematurely sends the parsley to seed.
Generally, no pest problems with parsley. Herbs attract pollinating insects, like bees, for other plants and beneficial predatory insects to control other pests.
Parsley does not keep long. Either freeze it or dry it in an oven to preserve for later use. If you want to grow it during winter, sow seeds in a pot during mid-summer and bring them in just before the weather cools down. To save seeds, harvest the stems as the seeds ripen and hang them upside down over a cloth in a ventilated shed.