Botanical name: Petrosalinum sativum
Some know parsley only as an attractive leaf garnish that's ignored, not eaten. It's true that parsley leaves are an attractive plant with small, scalloped leaves, but it has more than a pretty appearance. It’s an annual herb thought to have originated in southeastern Europe or western Asia, now grown in gardens throughout the world.
There are two basic parsley types: one with curly, crinkly leaves and the more familiar Italian parsley, which is flat. The latter is hardier for withstanding cold in Northern or Midwest gardens. Parsley usually reaches one to two feet in height in the first year before flowering, and grows best in partial shade. It's been suggested that because it's a bit difficult to start from seed, taking up to two months to sprout, buying small parsley seedlings (organic is best!) may be a better way to start this in your indoor pots or late spring garden. One tip involves pouring a kettle of boiling water along the row before covering the seeds. As a potted plant, keep it evenly moist.
Chopped fresh or dried and combined with thyme and bay leaves, parsley is included in the French combination of herbs called bouquet garni, used to season stock, stews, and soups. It can be added to sandwiches, any type of casserole and adds a fresh, spring-like flavor to dips and cheese. The best way to keep fresh parsley sprigs is to wrap them in damp paper towels, place in a sealed zip-lock baggie, and keep refrigerated. Dried parsley flakes are useful for several months when stored in a tightly sealed glass container and stored in cool, dark, and dry place.
Health Benefits of Parsley
If you want to be impressed by parsley, take a look at its vitamin K content – a whopping 574% of the daily recommended value. What this does is promote bone strength, but it also has a role in the treatment and possible prevention of Alzheimer's disease by limiting neuronal damage in the brain. The vitamin K dominance is enough to make the 62% daily value of vitamin C and the 47% DV in vitamin A look positively paltry, but the “C” content is 3 times more than in oranges, and the “A” augments the carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin, helping to prevent eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration.
The iron in parsley (twice as much as in spinach) is essential for the production of an important oxygen-carrying component in the red blood cells called heme. Copper is important because it’s required by the body for normal metabolic processes, but must be supplied through outside sources. The manganese in parsley contains super-antioxidant superoxide dismutase, and the folate helps form red blood cells and make up our genetic material.
Parsley is useful as a digestive aid with its high fiber content. This helps move foods through the digestive tract and controls blood-cholesterol levels, but has a diuretic effect as well. A tea made from parsley is a traditional remedy for colic, indigestion, and intestinal gas. As an herb sprinkled in food, it actually helps purify the blood and fight cancer. Eating parsley is now thought to be a way to detoxify the system of harmful compounds like mercury, sometimes found in dental fillings.
Quite a unique compilation of compounds and volatile oils is contained in parsley. Eugenol is used in dentistry as a local anesthetic and an antiseptic to help prevent gum diseases. It's also been found to reduce blood sugar levels. Polyphenolic flavonoids and antioxidants include apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol, and alphathujen. Volatile oils include myristicin, limonene, apiol, and alpha-thujene. It also contains one of the highest antioxidant counts among plants, with an oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of 74,349 per 100 grams of fresh, rawparsley.
Parsley is often an afterthought - an additive used to enhance the flavor or presentation of an already existing dish.
Using herbs and spices like parsley in cooking is a great way to boost flavor and look of a dish without adding sodium, but also a way to provide additional nutrients and health benefits at the same time.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of parsley and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more parsley into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming parsley.
Possible health benefits of consuming parsley
The following possible health benefits have been associated with the consumption of parsley:
1) Cancer prevention
Myricetin, a flavonol found in parsley and other plants, has been shown to have chemopreventive effects on skin cancer. Sweet potatoes, parsley, blackcurrants and cranberries are among the foods containing the highest concentration of myricetin (per 100 grams).
Parsley is often used to enhance the flavor or presentation of a dish.
Parsley and other green herbs and vegetables that contain high amounts of chlorophyll have been shown to be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines, which are generated when grilling foods at a high temperature.
If you tend to like your grilled foods charred, make sure to pair them with green vegetables to help negate these effects.
A natural chemical found in parsley, celery and other plants known as apigenin has been found to decrease tumor size in an aggressive form of breast cancer in a recent study conducted at the University of Missouri. Researchers say that this shows apigenin to be a promising non-toxic treatment for cancer in the future.
2) Diabetes prevention
Myricetin has also been evaluated for its effectiveness in the treatment and prevention of diabetes. In vitro and animal studies have showed that myricetin may lower blood sugars as well as decrease insulin resistance and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-hyperlipidemia effects.
3) Improving bone health
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption (which parsley provides in just 10 sprigs) improves bone health by acting as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improvingcalcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.4
Consuming fruits, vegetables and herbs of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions. The more foods you consume that are grown from the earth versus manufactured, the healthier you will be. It is important to realize that the isolation of one chemical or vitamin from food will not likely result in the same health benefits as consuming it in its whole food form.