Sunday, May 10, 2009

Benefits of the purty garnish...parsley!

I always thought of parsley as an irritating garnish and a waste of a plant. That was until Hubby bought some for my herb garden (I asked for cilantro, but, whatever). Of course, it's the herb that grew more heartily than any of our other herbs (sage, basil, rosemary, basil, and lemon sage). Hubby brought in a huge pile of it one day and I just stared at it wondering what the heck to do with it all. I have a plastic thing stuck to the wall over my stove that holds spatulas and stuff and it quickly became the drying center for the parsley. I told Hubby we needed to bust a hole in the ceiling so we could dry the herbs from the rafters like they used to in the 1700's (See? I remembered something from our trip to Williamsburg!). He didn't respond to that suggestion.

So, with all this newly drying herb I decided I should do a little research on it. I was curious as to the nutritional value of of it more than the taste as I've been known to simply throw in whatever herbs and spices are within reach while I cook.

Who knew that parsley is actually the most popular herb in the world? And not just as a pretty garnish. The name parsley came from the Greek word which means "rock celery." Learned something else new- it's related to celery. And here's some good news, it'll keep growing back every year...yay!

Here's a cool little nutrient chart I found to show that it's more than just purty to look at:

Food Chart

Look, it's extremely low in calories!

Here are some of the health benefits:

Parsley contains two types of unusual components that provide unique health benefits. The first type is volatile oil components-including myristicin, limonene, eugenol, and alpha-thujene. The second type is flavonoids-including apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol, and luteolin.

Parsley's volatile oils-particularly myristicin-have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, and particularly, tumor formation in the lungs. Myristicin has also been shown to activate the enzyme glutathione-S-transferase, which helps attach the molecule glutathione to oxidized molecules that would otherwise do damage in the body. The activity of parsley's volatile oils qualifies it as a "chemoprotective" food, and in particular, a food that can help neutralize particular types of carcinogens (like the benzopyrenes that are part of cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke).

A Rich Source of Anti-Oxidant Nutrients

The flavonoids in parsley-especially luteolin-have been shown to function as antioxidants that combine with highly reactive oxygen-containing molecules (called oxygen radicals) and help prevent oxygen-based damage to cells. In addition, extracts from parsley have been used in animal studies to help increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood.

In addition to its volatile oils and flavonoids, parsley is an excellent source of two vital nutrients that are also important for the prevention of many diseases: vitamin C and vitamin A (notably through its concentration of the pro-vitamin A carotenoid, beta-carotene).

Vitamin C has many different functions. It is the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant, rendering harmless otherwise dangerous free radicals in all water-soluble areas of the body. High levels of free radicals contribute to the development and progression of a wide variety of diseases, including atherosclerosis, colon cancer, diabetes, and asthma. This may explain why people who consume healthy amounts of vitamin C-containing foods have reduced risks for all these conditions. Vitamin C is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, which explains its usefulness in conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. And since vitamin C is needed for the healthy function of the immune system, it can also be helpful for preventing recurrent ear infections or colds.

Beta-carotene, another important antioxidant, works in the fat-soluble areas of the body. Diets with beta-carotene-rich foods are also associated with a reduced risk for the development and progression of conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and colon cancer. Like vitamin C, beta-carotene may also be helpful in reducing the severity of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. And beta-carotene is converted by the body to vitamin A, a nutrient so important to a strong immune system that its nickname is the "anti-infective vitamin."

Parsley for a Healthy Heart

Parsley is a good source of folic acid, one of the most important B vitamins. While it plays numerous roles in the body, one of its most critical roles in relation to cardiovascular health is its necessary participation in the process through which the body converts homocysteine into benign molecules. Homocysteine is a potentially dangerous molecule that, at high levels, can directly damage blood vessels, and high levels of homocysteine are associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke in people with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. Enjoying foods rich in folic acid, like parsley, is an especially good idea for individuals who either have, or wish to prevent, these diseases. Folic acid is also a critical nutrient for proper cell division and is therefore vitally important for cancer-prevention in two areas of the body that contain rapidly dividing cells-the colon, and in women, the cervix.

Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

While one study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in laboratory animals, another indicates that vitamin C-rich foods, such as parsley, provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis involving two or more joints.

The findings, presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of more than 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free when the study began, and focused on subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and similar subjects who remained arthritis-free during the follow-up period. Subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.


Parsley has been around for over 2,000 years. It was sacred to the ancient Greeks who used it for medicinal purposes, decorating the tombs (I think flowers would have been prettier but they didn't ask me), and to decorate winners of athletic contests. Haha! They even used it as a garnish on people.

Charlemagne gets some credit from historians for possibly being the first to use it as seasoning because he grew it on his estates. Woot! Woot! for Charlemagne!

A newer version of parsley is gaining popularity. Well, it's newer than the 2,000 year old parsley. Turnip-rooted parsley was developed in the past two hundred years.

When choosing parsley, fresh is always better as it's more flavorful. It should look fresh and crisp and have a deep green color. Wilted or yellowed leaves are damaged or over mature. I've had to pick some yellowed leaves out of ours before. They don't look nearly as appetizing as the vibrant green leaves. Whether you choose fresh or dried try to buy organic to avoid any consumption of harmful pesticides or fertilizers. If you buy fresh parsley you need to put in a plastic bag in the veggie drawer of your refrigerator. You can spritz it with water if it starts looking dry. Since we had such an over abundance I chose to dry most of it. I hung most of it up but laid the extra on paper towels on the counter until they dried. I pulled the leaves off the stems once they were dry, then rubbed them between my hands to break them up and stored them in glass bottles. One of these days I'll get Kris and Melissa's bottles to them! We had so much I was trying to find people to give it to.

Like I mentioned above, I throw in whatever I have when I cook. I've used dried parsley on baked chicken, in French Onion soup, spaghetti sauce, on pork, and in meatloaf. I've used the fresh leaves in salads as well as spaghetti sauce.

Minor con of parsley-

Parsley is among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating parsley. Laboratory studies have shown that oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. Yet, in every peer-reviewed research study we've seen, the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption is relatively small and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium to the meal plan. If your digestive tract is healthy, and you do a good job of chewing and relaxing while you enjoy your meals, you will get significant benefits - including absorption of calcium - from calcium-rich foods plant foods that also contain oxalic acid. Ordinarily, a healthcare practitioner would not discourage a person focused on ensuring that they are meeting their calcium requirements from eating these nutrient-rich foods because of their oxalate content.

The information in purple came from:


Our garden is out in the Florida sun most of the day. Hubby sectioned off a part of the yard with wood Parsley grows well in a wide variety of soils and sun exposures. Plant the seeds in the spring after the last frost by first soaking them overnight in water to increase the germination rate. Sow the seeds about 1/4 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart, and in rows about 12 to 18 inches apart in the garden.
So the next time you see pretty parsley on your plate, you'll know that it's not just there to make the plate look pretty. Chop it up and add it to your meal. Or you can eat it to clease your palate and make your breath smell better!

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