Parsley: The Versatile Medicinal Herb

Parsley is traditionally used as a medicinal plant in many countries. The herb is rich in secondary plant substances and has much more to offer than just being a decoration on the edge of the plate. It is therefore extremely worthwhile to eat parsley more often from now on.

Parsley was a popular medicinal herb in ancient times

Parsley not only refines sauces, salads, soups, and stews, but is also rich in vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Parsley originally comes from the Mediterranean region and thrived in North African countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia before spreading further north.

In ancient Greece, parsley was even considered sacred and given as a wreath to the winners of competitions. Even then, the plant was a valued medicinal herb and was considered, among other things, an aphrodisiac, diuretic, and digestive.

Parsley is now cultivated worldwide, but not so much as a medicinal plant, but mainly as a spice plant.

The flat and the curly parsley

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) belongs to the Umbelliferae family. But parsley is not just parsley. What you probably know from the supermarket or the garden is the leaf parsley, which comes in two varieties: smooth and curly leaves.

The flavor of flat-leaf parsley is very intense and slightly stronger than the flavor of curly parsley. Flat-leaf parsley is also easier to wash, as insects and soil often get caught in the curly leaves. Depending on the breed, the ruffles vary in strength.

In addition to leaf parsley, there is another subspecies: root parsley or parsley root. This looks similar to the parsnip and tastes rather sweet. The peeled root is often used in soups, but the leaves are also edible.

Japanese parsley, also known as mitsuba, looks similar to flat-leaf parsley but is otherwise not closely related to parsley. It just belongs to the same family (Umbelliferae). The taste is more reminiscent of celery.

Beware of confusion with other plants

Basically, parsley does not just grow wild in nature. So if you spot a plant in a meadow or by the side of a path that reminds you of parsley, there is a high probability that it is not parsley. Yes, it could even be a poisonous plant.

From a purely visual point of view, the leaves of flat-leaf parsley resemble those of dog parsley (Aethusa cynapium) and also the leaves of hemlock (Conium maculatum). Both are poisonous. If you accidentally eat them, after about an hour – depending on the amount eaten – symptoms of poisoning can occur (from burning in the mouth to blurred vision to diarrhea, clouding of consciousness, and finally respiratory paralysis).

However, you should be able to tell from the smell at the latest (rub the leaves between your fingers and smell them) that it is not parsley, since both “doubles” do not smell or taste even remotely like parsley. On the contrary, the hemlock, which also has a clearly spotted stalk – smells like mouse pee.

Incidentally, it was a hemlock juice that the great Greek philosopher of antiquity – Socrates – used in 399 BC. was executed.

The nutritional values ​​of parsley

Like all herbs, parsley is low in calories (53 kcal per 100 g) and contains a lot of water and little fat.

The vitamins, minerals, and trace elements in parsley

In parsley, you will find almost the entire range of vitamins. Since you will seldom eat more than 10 g in one meal, you naturally only consume 10 percent of the amounts of vital substances given below per portion.

Parsley as a medicinal plant

In the traditional medicine of various countries, parsley has long been considered a medicinal plant. For example, the leaves and seeds are used in the form of extracts or decoctions for diabetes, heart and kidney diseases, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal complaints.

Numerous studies have already dealt with the healing effects of parsley. For example, a group of scientists from the Tehran University of Medical Science published a review of all parsley studies from 1966 to 2013.

The resulting list of medicinal effects of parsley is long. Among other things, it is stated that parsley can lower blood sugar levels, relieve cramps, purge and have an antibacterial effect. In addition, parsley is considered a top-class antioxidant, fighting free radicals and oxidative stress – one of the main causes of many chronic diseases.

In a small study, seven participants ate 20 g of parsley leaves each day for a week. There was a significant increase in antioxidant enzymes, which was not the case in the control group that did not eat parsley.

Parsley detoxifies the body

Parsley, like many other green vegetables, is high in chlorophyll — the pigment that gives plants their green color and allows them to photosynthesize. In the human body, chlorophyll is said to contribute to detoxification, and z. B. Heavy metals, such as mercury help drain.

The green dye consists of i.a. It consists of a so-called porphyrin ring with a magnesium ion in the middle. This magnesium can now be exchanged for a heavy metal ion. This new complex is then excreted through the intestines.

Chlorophyll is also said to protect against dioxins – at least according to studies on rats, which showed that chlorophyll inhibits the absorption of dioxins in the digestive tract and promotes the excretion of these toxic substances.

Aflatoxins ( mold toxins ), which we ingest unnoticed with food, can also be eliminated from the body with the help of a chlorophyll-rich diet. Also, read our article on detoxifying with chlorophyll-containing plant oils.

Parsley prevents kidney and bladder stones

In herbal medicine, parsley is traditionally used as a so-called aquaretic for the general activation of the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract. An aquaretic is a medicinal plant that is used for flushing therapy because it promotes urinary excretion and in this context can be used for cystitis and, to a certain extent, can usually also prevent kidney and bladder stones.

In animal studies, a parsley extract was even able to inhibit the growth of existing stones. The animals treated with parsley extract and suffering from kidney stones (calcium oxalate stones) had almost no kidney stones after taking the extract for 15 days. However, it was an extract from parsley seeds and not from parsley leaves.

But the parsley leaves can also be helpful against kidney stones – even though the parsley leaves are considered to be rich in oxalic acid and vegetables rich in oxalic acid are usually not recommended for kidney stones. After all, 75 percent of all kidney stones consist of calcium oxalate, so the additional consumption of oxalic acid does not sound very logical.

Parsley helps against kidney stones despite oxalic acid

However, in a 2018 study, researchers at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences explain why parsley leaves can also be helpful against oxalate-containing kidney stones, despite their oxalic acid content.

It is the high chlorophyll and magnesium content of parsley that prevents the formation of calcium oxalate stones. The parsley can also regulate the pH of the urine so that the calcium oxalate crystals remain in the solution and can be excreted with the urine.

So it makes absolutely no sense to flatly advise against eating parsley if you have kidney stones just because it contains oxalic acid. The oxalic acid content of parsley – although it is always counted among the foods rich in oxalic acid – is quite low compared to other foods rich in oxalic acid.

While fresh spinach contains about 970 mg oxalic acid per 100 g and chard 610 mg, parsley only contains 170 mg. Nonetheless, all foods are considered high in oxalic acid if they contain more than 50mg of oxalic acid per 100g.

Parsley in renal failure

Severe kidney dysfunction (renal insufficiency) often requires a low-potassium diet. Parsley contains a comparatively large amount of potassium (1000 mg per 100 g), which is why excessive consumption should be avoided if you suffer from the symptoms mentioned.

A low-potassium diet should consume no more than 39 mg of potassium per kg of body weight per day, which equates to approximately 2,700 mg of potassium for a 70 kg person. So you could easily include 5 g of parsley (50 mg of potassium) in your diet – and thus just as much as anyone else.

With a low-potassium diet, it is more important to keep an eye on the main ingredients and instead of potatoes, use brown rice, pasta, polenta, or couscous and eat less meat. Then you can eat more vegetables again and thus ensure your supply of vital substances.

Parsley for diabetes

If you eat parsley regularly, it can even have a beneficial effect on your blood sugar level – as researchers from the German Institute for Human Nutrition in Potsdam have discovered. Because parsley contains certain plant substances from the group of flavone (luteolin and apigenin), which improve the effectiveness of insulin, which means that more glucose is transported from the blood into the cells, and in this way the blood sugar level drops.

In addition, luteolin and apigenin block enzymes that initiate the production of sugar from glycogen (the storage form of sugar) in the liver, so the blood sugar level is also regulated in this way.

Type 2 diabetes is also often associated with fatty liver. It is not yet known whether it is a cause or a consequence of diabetes. However, luteolin and apigenin prevent the formation of body fat and thus also help to reduce the risk of fatty liver.

If you pay attention to a flavone-rich diet with diabetes, then you kill several birds with one stone. Because foods that are rich in flavones naturally contain many other vital substances that will help you to defeat your diabetes.

And even if the parsley (per 100 g) provides ten times the amount of flavones, this is put into perspective again, since you can eat significantly more from celery than from parsley.

However, you can also combine both, for example in a vegetable curry or when you serve a celery salad with parsley pesto.

Can you overdose on the parsley?

However, the above-mentioned apiol can hardly be consumed in too large a quantity with the parsley itself. This would only be possible with the seeds of parsley. Only therein are concentrations of apiol so high that premature labor could be induced. Essential parsley oils also contain plenty of apiol, so pregnant women should avoid them.

The results of a study also indicate that excessive consumption of parsley extracts can damage the liver. However, excessive consumption here means more than 1 gram of parsley extract per kg of body weight, i.e. far more than you would consume with parsley in everyday seasoning and cooking.

Grow your own parsley

It’s a good thing that parsley is so frugal and uncomplicated that you don’t even have to buy it. It also thrives in pots on the balcony and of course in the garden. Just follow our tips and step-by-step instructions and enjoy your home-grown herb.

  • Here’s how parsley thrives:

Before sowing parsley, there are a few points to consider: The plant thrives best in partial shade on well-drained, humus-rich soil. To avoid waterlogging, you should loosen the soil a little beforehand.

Parsley does not get along with itself, so you should choose a location where no umbellifers (e.g. dill, fennel, celery) have previously been. Bugs can be prevented by planting parsley with marigolds or onions.

Step-by-step instructions for planting parsley

Sowing: With parsley, sowing usually begins in May. Heat is essential for the seeds – the optimal germination temperature is between 18 and 25 °C. For seed in the bed, press a seed approx. 3 cm deep into the soil at a distance of 20 cm. For seed in a pot, first, fill the pot with potting soil and then place up to 10 seeds in the pot. This should definitely have holes so that the water can drain off. Cover the seeds with some soil and moisten the surface. The germination period is 3 to 6 weeks.

Watering: Parsley grows best in moist soil. On hot summer days, you have to make sure that the soil always stays moist. It is best to water in the evening hours. Under no circumstances should waterlogging form. It is best to check with your finger whether the soil under the top layer is still damp. If so, you don’t have to water yet.

Fertilizing: It helps if some compost is mixed into the soil or some vegetable or herb fertilizer is added throughout the year. Only add the fertilizer when the parsley has grown about 20 cm. Parsley is biennial – if you want it to grow the following year, you should always fertilize the soil a little.

Care: If the plant wilts, you can simply cut off the dry leafy green. If the leaves turn yellow, the cause could be a too sunny location, waterlogging, or pests.

Harvest: Potted parsley can be harvested all year round. Outdoors, it is best to harvest between March and September and wait until the stems have at least three pairs of leaves. Always cut the parsley at the bottom of the stalk. This stimulates growth.

Overwintering: Parsley is hardy and requires little maintenance during the winter months. The plant is biennial, so it should only be overwintered once. In the second year, the aroma is slightly weaker.

How to dry parsley

Fresh parsley will keep for just a few days, while dried parsley can last up to a year. There are several ways to dry fresh parsley. With all variants, the parsley should be washed and dried well beforehand.

You can either lay out the parsley on a baking sheet and let it air dry, or tie it in a bunch and hang it upside down. Make sure that the bundle is not tied too tightly so that the parsley still gets enough air. Parsley dries best in rooms with low humidity, e.g. B. in the pantry. The drier and warmer the place, the faster the process. The parsley is dry when it crumbles easily in your fingers.

Drying in the oven has the advantage that the bunch of parsley cannot collect dust. In addition, the process is faster. To do this, separate the parsley leaves from the stems. Now the oven is preheated to 30 degrees and the parsley is laid out on a piece of baking paper. Now slide the baking sheet into the oven on the middle rack. The process can take up to 5 hours, so be sure to check back and open the oven door to allow moisture to escape.

To gently dry parsley in the dehydrator, first, remove the stalks and then place the leaves in your dehydrator at a temperature of 40°C. The process can take 2 to 4 hours depending on the device.

When the parsley leaves are completely dry, you can crumble them and put them in an airtight container. The parsley should be stored in a cool place and used within a month. As the aroma weakens over time, it is advisable to freeze the parsley – this way the aroma will last the longest!

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Written by Dave Parker

I am a food photographer and recipe writer with more than 5 years of experience. As a home cook, I have published three cookbooks and had many collaborations with international and domestic brands. Thanks to my experience in cooking, writing and photographing unique recipes for my blog you will get great recipes for lifestyle magazines, blogs, and cookbooks. I have extensive knowledge of cooking savory and sweet recipes that will tickle your taste buds and will please even the pickiest crowd.

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