Start Your Parsley Plants Indoors

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Whether you prefer curly or flat varieties, parsley is more than just a garnish or natural breath freshener, and, given the right conditions, you can easily grow this versatile herb indoors or out
  • Fresh, organic parsley can be incorporated into vegetable juice, blended into smoothies, used to season a variety of foods or transformed into a cleansing tea
  • Rich in vitamins A and C, as well as minerals like calcium and iron, a 1-cup serving of parsley contains 1,230 percent of your recommended dietary allowance of vitamin K
  • Parsley is packed with flavonoids and volatile oils known to provide numerous health benefits, including its ability to act as a diuretic, aid diabetes management, build strong bones, fight cancer, reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune system

By Dr. Mercola

Whether you prefer curly or flat varieties, parsley is more than a garnish or natural breath freshener. Rich in vitamins K, A and C, as well as minerals like calcium and iron, parsley can be easily grown outdoors when ground temperatures are above 50 degrees F, or indoors year-round. Despite being a slow germinator, parsley does well when maintained in moist, well-drained soil with decent sun exposure.

Parsley is packed with flavonoids and volatile oils known to provide numerous health benefits. This nutrient-rich herb has been shown to act as a diuretic, aid diabetes management, build strong bones, fight cancer, reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune system. Parsley can be incorporated into fresh vegetable juice, blended into smoothies, used to season a variety of foods and transformed into a cleansing tea. Whatever your pleasure, give parsley a try.

Parsley: An Ancient Herb

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) has a long, rich history, dating back 2,000 years.1,2 It originated in the central Mediterranean region. Later, it became naturalized to other areas of Europe. Today, parsley is grown widely and available worldwide as a fresh herb or dried spice. As a member of the Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae) family, parsley makes its home among other aromatic herbs such as anise, coriander, cumin, dill and fennel, as well as vegetables like carrots, celery and parsnips.

Parsley was highly prized by ancient Greeks, who incorporated it into crowns and wreaths. They also used parsley in burial rituals and hung it on tombs. The Romans initially used parsley as a medicinal plant and later consumed it as a food. The use of parsley as a seasoning is believed to have caught on during the Middle Ages. The curly variety was more popular initially because the flat-leaf type could easily be confused for "fool's parsley," a poisonous weed.

Today, parsley is used as an herb, green leafy vegetable and spice. Parsley leaf and root are not only popular in European and Mediterranean cuisines, but also have found their way into a variety of international cuisines. Beyond being an attractive garnish, parsley adorns salads, enlivens stocks and gives zip to sandwiches. While the leaf versions have been around for millennia, parsley root is a relatively new addition, first having been cultivated in Hamburg, Germany, about 300 years ago.

How to Grow Parsley

As a biennial plant grown as an annual, parsley is best suited to U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 5 through 9. Flat-leaf parsley typically has a stronger flavor than its curly cousin, which is the type most recognizable as a plate garnish. Given the right conditions, you can easily grow parsley indoors year-round. Be sure to use organic seeds. Below are some of the factors to consider when growing parsley:3,4

Germination: Seeds germinate slowly, perhaps taking as long as six weeks! You can speed up germination by soaking parsley seeds in water overnight prior to planting them.

Soil: Choose rich, moist, well-drained organic soil.

Sowing indoors: Use starter pots with drainage holes, and sow several seeds per pot. Always use a soilless potting mix because garden soil drains poorly and is too heavy to use in pots. Sow seeds 1 to 2 inches apart and about one-quarter inch deep. 

Sowing outdoors: When the soil temperature is around 50 degrees F, plant your seeds 1 to 2 inches apart and about one-quarter inch deep. 

Spacing and size: Once seedlings appear, thin them to 8 to 10 inches apart. Depending on the variety, parsley plants can grow to be 1 to 2 feet tall.

Sun: Set plants in full sun to partial shade. In warmer climates, your plants will do better if they receive afternoon shade protection from the sun.

Water: To encourage germination, keep your soil moist but not waterlogged. Once your plants reach full size, they will need 1 to 2 inches of rain or supplemental water every week to flourish. Proper watering is vital to keeping parsley happy — with dry soil, the plant withers, while overwatering will cause root rot.

If you have a good crop of parsley going strong in your vegetable garden when the weather is cooling off, some have had success potting a few of the hardiest plants and bringing them indoors.5 If you are successful in keeping your parsley plants alive through the offseason, you may be able to transplant them back outside in the spring. Be sure to remove any flower stems that may appear to prevent the plants from going to seed. As a perennial, parsley plants will naturally flower and go to seed in the second year.

Harvesting Parsley Is a Breeze

Harvesting parsley is a breeze.6,7 Once the plant reaches maturity, as evidenced by vigorous growth, you can snip individual outer stems whenever, as often as you'd like. When you harvest the outside stems (the ones that grew first), the plant will respond with new growth from the center. Always cut stems close to the ground. Avoid snipping the tops and leaving bare stems because doing so will stunt new growth.

While fresh is best, washed parsley that is allowed to air dry can be frozen in plastic bags to prolong its use. Another option is to air dry parsley or use a food dehydrator for a few minutes at a setting of 100 or 110 degrees F, just until all moisture is removed.

If you don't own a food dehydrator, try setting your oven to 400 degrees F, turning it off and then placing a tray of parsley leaves inside to dry overnight.8 Dried parsley will keep well if you crush it by hand and store it in an airtight container. For the best flavor, use frozen or dried parsley within a year.

Nutrition Facts About Parsley

No matter how you consume it, parsley packs a variety of beneficial nutrients and volatile oils. Its volatile oil components include alpha-thujene, eugenol, limonene and myristicin. Eugenol, for example, is used in dentistry as a local anesthetic and an antiseptic to help prevent gum disease. It's also been found to lower your blood sugar levels. Some of the flavonoids found in parsley include apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol and luteolin.

Parsley also contains one of the highest antioxidant counts among plants, with an oxygen radical absorbance capacity of 74,349 per 100 grams of fresh, raw parsley. If you're looking for an excellent source of vitamin K, 1 cup, or 60 grams (g), of chopped parsley contains 984 micrograms (mcg), which is equivalent to 1,230 percent of your recommended dietary allowance of this essential vitamin. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database,9 a 1 cup/60 g serving of chopped parsley contains:

Calories: 22

Protein: 1.78 g

Fat: 0.47 g

Carbohydrate: 3.8 g

Fiber: 2 g

Sugar: 0.51 g

Vitamin A: 5,054 IUs

Vitamin C: 79.8 mcg

Six Health Benefits of Parsley

Beyond its value as an eye-catching garnish and breath freshener, parsley contains nutrients known to provide the following health benefits:10,11

Acts as a diuretic

In addition to its historical use, animal studies have validated the diuretic effect of parsley.12 It is also useful in addressing gallbladder and kidney stones and aids your recovery from urinary tract infections. In addition, parsley — specifically a few teaspoons of fresh parsley juice — can provide quick relief from edema. Some suggest adding parsley root to boiling water and drinking it on a regular basis can be an effective general body cleanser.

Aids diabetes management

An animal study involving diabetic rats, published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, validated the use of parsley for managing blood sugar levels.13 The study authors stated:

"[D]egenerative changes were significantly reduced or absent in the hepatocytes of diabetic rats treated with parsley. Diabetic rats treated with parsley demonstrated significantly lower levels of blood glucose, alanine transaminase and alkaline phosphatase. The present study suggests parsley demonstrates a significant hepatoprotective effect in diabetic rats."

Builds strong bones

Due to the presence of calcium, magnesium and vitamin K, parsley is useful in maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis. Parsley also contains a decent amount of folic acid, which may break down homocysteine. Elevated homocysteine levels have been associated with osteoporosis.

Contains anticancer compounds

Two of the anticancer compounds identified in parsley are apigenin and myristicin. According to research published in the Journal of Cancer Prevention:14

"Several studies have demonstrated the anticarcinogenic properties of apigenin occur through regulation of cellular response to oxidative stress and DNA damage, suppression of inflammation and angiogenesis, retardation of cell proliferation, and induction of autophagy and apoptosis."

A 2015 study15 validated apigenin's potential role in the prevention and/or management of breast cancer. Regarding myristicin, an animal study published in the South Asian Journal of Cancer suggests:16

"[M]yricetin increased the antioxidant levels in plasma, erythrocyte lysate and breast tissue, and was effective in preventing the oxidative damage induced by the carcinogen 7,12-dimethyl benzanthracene (DMBA)." (DMBA is a procarcinogen with selectivity for breast cancer in the experimental female Wistar rats used in the research.)

Possesses anti-inflammatory properties

Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, parsley has been used in the Mediterranean region as an antidote for bruises, insect bites, rough skin and toothaches. Given its rich stores of vitamin C and beta-carotene and its ability to speed up the process of uric acid removal, parsley has been used successfully to soothe the pain and swelling of arthritis. Studies on myristicin also have affirmed its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

Strengthens your immune system

Parsley is rich in vitamins A, C, K, folate and niacin, all of which boost your immunity. Vitamin A acts directly on your white blood cells, thereby increasing their effectiveness. Parsley's high chlorophyll content helps to alkalize your body, purify your blood and support the formation of new red blood cells.

In addition, the chlorophyll and flavonoids in parsley assist with the formation of glutathione, which is considered to be your body's master antioxidant and one that helps your body deal with oxidative stress.

How to Make Parsley Tea

While you can purchase parsley tea from your local health food store or online, it's even easier to make your own at home.17,18 You'll achieve the best results when using fresh, organic parsley leaves but, in a pinch, you can also use dried leaves or a few drops of parsley oil. For best results when using leaves (fresh or dried), use a French press or tea infuser.

Drink this cleansing tea one to three times daily, ideally before meals, or as directed by your physician. If you are consuming parsley tea as a remedy for a particular medical issue, it is best to consult with your doctor to ensure this tea is right for you.

Ingredients for Parsley Tea

  • 2 to 4 tablespoons fresh, organic parsley leaves, washed and coarsely chopped (or 2 to 4 teaspoons of dried leaves)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • Optional: natural sweetener such as honey or stevia, as well as lemon or mint to offset the strong, concentrated parsley taste

Directions:

  1. Pour boiling water over the chopped parsley
  2. Cover and allow to steep for five to 10 minutes
  3. Strain leaves and discard
  4. Pour parsley tea into a mug
  5. Add your favorite natural sweetener and/or lemon or mint to taste

Caution: When Not to Use Parsley

While parsley is a healthy choice for most people, you may want to check with your doctor before consuming large amounts of it on a regular basis. Avoid parsley tea (and consuming large amounts of raw parsley) if any of the following conditions apply to you:19

  • Blood thinners: Due to the blood-clotting effects associated with its high vitamin K content, do not consume parsley if you are taking a blood thinner such as warfarin
  • Kidney stones: Since parsley contains a high quantity of oxalates, it may be problematic for you if you suffer from kidney stones
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding: Because consuming large quantities of parsley may possibly induce uterine contractions, it's best to avoid this herb in large amounts during pregnancy; parsley, in large amounts, also has been deemed unsafe for women who are breastfeeding

If parsley consumption is safe for you, I think you will find this nutrient-rich herb to your liking. It is readily available year-round in raw or dried form, as well as a tea and oil. To avoid toxic exposure to herbicides and pesticides, I encourage you to always buy organic parsley. Because you'll want to use it fresh whenever possible, and to ensure you get the best-quality parsley, you may want to consider growing your own.