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Italian parsley with nasturtiums in the foreground.  Photo by Stibolt.

Italian flat parsley with its seed pack & nasturtiums.

The Tale of Two Parsleys
by Ginny Stibolt

I purchased several types of seed from an Italian seed company last fall including a package of Italian flat parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum).  I planted a good-sized patch in my herb garden and an extra row out in one of the vegetable beds.

I figured that I'd planted enough both for us and for the beautiful black swallowtail butterflies that like to lay their eggs on parsley.

But, we had a parsley surprise...  The previous spring I'd planted some bouquet dill and nothing sprouted at all.  I read somewhere to try dill in the fall during the cooler season, so I tried again, but instead of dill, a nice crop of curly parsley (P. crispum var. crispum) grew.  I guess there was a hiccup in the labeling and packaging process at the seed company.  Before I tell my tale of two parsleys, here are some details on parsley.

Curly parsley and nasturtiums.  Photo by Stibolt

Parsley: an Ancient Herb

Records show parsley use back to the fourth century, BC and Pliny the Elder, a writer and naturalist in the first century AD, complained that parsley was served too often.  It's been used for various medicinal benefits, but modern tests show that the rich concentration of vitamins A, C, & K probably account for any health benefits.  Two tablespoons of fresh parsley contain 153% of the recommended amount of Vitamin K., 17% of vitamin C, and 13% of vitamin A.  The high levels of chlorophyll makes parsley an effective breath freshener, which may be one reason it's often used for a garnish on fish dishes.  But a word of warning, it contains oxalates, which should be avoided by people with kidney problems.  Large quantities of parsley should also be avoided by pregnant women, because its oil can stimulate contractions.

Parsley, a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae), is a biennial, but in Florida it may go through its complete cycle in one year.  In temperate climates, parsley puts out leaves and develops a thick taproot in the first year.  The second year it flowers and then dies.  Here in Florida though, without a hard winter, parsley sown in the fall may start to flower about now in June.

In addition to the flat and curly leafed varieties, there is a third variety (P. crispum var. tuberosum), which is grown for its root.  It's sometimes use in place of celery root.

Parsley flower.  Photo by Stibolt

My Two Parsleys

In doing my research on parsley, I found many references to the difference in taste between the two types.  The flat-leaf parsley is supposed to have a stronger flavor.  In tasting them both and using them in various ways, I have found no difference in the taste or its intensity, but my husband has a distinct preference for the curly variety.  Also, curly parsley doesn't wilt as rapidly as the flat leaf variety and it's definitely prettier as a garnish.

I planted both parsleys close to each other in the herb garden and at the same time, although as I said, I thought one of them would be dill.  Now at the beginning of June, the flat leaf parsley is turning yellow and some of the plants have flowered.  I tasted the leaves from the flower stalk and while these leaves are narrower, they taste the same to me as the rest of the leaves-not tough and bitter as described on more than one website.  I will leave the flowers for the butterflies.  The curly variety is still growing vigorously and not showing any signs of flowering or petering out from the hot weather.  

Lessons Learned

1) In the future I will purchase curly parsley seed instead of the flat leafed variety, although I have enough seed to last for a few more years.  (I keep leftover seeds in the refrigerator in a plastic box.)
2) As always, I take what I find on the Internet or elsewhere with a grain of salt, because people seem to repeat what they've heard from others without testing or tasting, things for themselves.
3) Not everyone tastes in the same way.  Maybe it's genetic.

The adventures in my gardens continue...

Ginny Stibolt would like to hear from readers who have suggestions and questions. After all, there are more than a few transplanted gardeners here in northeast Florida trying to figure out what works and what doesn't in planting zone 8/9. She's in the process of writing a book, "Sustainable Gardening for Florida," to be published by University Press of Florida.

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