Who would have thought that parsley was once associated with death, heroism, and even the gates of heaven? This unassuming herb, so ubiquitous that supermarkets have been known to give it away, has a long and storied history.
In early times, parsley wasn't used as a culinary herb but instead was reserved for more sacred purposes. The ancient Greeks were so keen on the herb that at the Isthmian games they crowned the winner with parsley and made parsley wreaths for the tombs of their dead. In fact, the Greeks believed that parsley had originated from the blood of the hero Archemorus. The ancient Romans associated parsley with death, while early Christians connected it with the apostle Peter. Though several types of parsley exist, most of us are familiar with the plain- or curly-leafed varieties.
Parsley is high in iron and vitamins A, B and C. In folk medicine it's believed to relieve gout due to its diuretic properties. Herbalists commonly use parsley to treat allergies and sinus infections.
Widely used in American, European and Middle Eastern cooking, parsley is well known as a garnish on potatoes, rice, fish, chicken and in stews. It's also an essential part of the bouquet garni, the traditional European bundle of herbs used in stocks, soups and sauces. Parsley is a key ingredient in Middle Eastern dishes like tabbouleh.
Parsley seeds take three to four weeks to germinate, so it's a good idea to start the seedlings indoors. Once the seedlings have reached an inch high or so, they will need to be thinned out, as parsley plants will cover quite a bit of ground. Water well in dry weather and provide shelter from too much direct heat and light. Plain-leaved parsley varieties withstand cold temperatures better than the curly-leaved type.