Parsley is a herb belonging to the Apiaceae family, with a biological name Petroselinum crispum. It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region and naturalized all over Europe. The first part of its name is derived from the Greek word Petrose meaning rock, due to its inclination to stick to rocky cliffs and old stonewalls. The second part Selenium is an ancient name for celery, hence it can be thought of as “rock celery”. It is believed that Dioscorides, a Greek physician during the early Roman Empire gave the herb its name.
It is a bright green coloured plant that forms as clumps. A biennial, it is roughly one foot tall and almost twice as wide. The leaves may be flat or curled and are held at the end of long stems. The overall shape of the plant is mound-like. During its second year it sends out shoots with umbels of tiny yellow flowers.
The herb comes in three varieties. The crispum variety has curly leaves; the neapolitanum is made up of flat-leafed parsleys with a stronger flavour compared to the curly leaf variety. The last variety is tuberosum which are cultivated for their parsnip-type roots. The roots have a nutty flavor, similar to that of celery and parsley combined; its tops too can be consumed.
History of Parsley
Parsley has been around for a very long time, it was thought to have been used by the Greeks before recorded history. The Greeks even dedicated it to the Goddess of Spring Persephone. According to Greek Mythology parsley developed from Archemorus’ blood, the predecessor of death. To say ‘to be in need of parsley’ was another way of saying someone was not going to survive. It was crafted into wreaths and suspended from ancient tombs, and used to crown Isthmian Games’ winners.
Neither the Romans nor the Greeks consumed parsley much, even though they commonly grew it in their gardens as border plants. Its use was limited to chewing so the smell of alcohol on breath could be disguised and it was considered to be a good chariot horse fodder. It was also sprinkled on corpses to deodorize the bodies. Due to its links with death, parsley was used in burial rituals and later in Christianity. It was associated with the Apostle Peter because of his title as a warden of heaven’s gates.
Parsley was more appreciated for its medicinal value rather than a culinary treat. It was most probably first consumed in Europe during the middle ages. Charlemagne grew the herb for consumption in his gardens prior to the end of the first millennium.
Health Benefits of Parsley
Parsley has been used to freshen breath since the Roman times but it possesses many other abilities with the power to improve health. If parsley juices are extracted, they need to be taken in moderation as it tends to be a rather potent medicine. It can be safely consumed as a tea.
In a study published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases more than 20,000 participants, who were free from arthritis when the study started were asked to maintain dairies. The participants who developed the disease and those who remained arthritis free were focused upon in the follow up studies and it was found that participants with lowest amounts of vitamin C rich foods like parsley had three times more chances of developing arthritis than those consumed greater amounts of the vitamin. Vitamin C serves many different purposes in the body. It is the body’s main water-soluble antioxidant that eliminates free radicals from the body. The excessive amounts of free radicals in the body lead to a number of diseases like colon cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and asthma. It also aids the immune system to perform better.
Parsley is a very good source of one of the most important B vitamins, folic acid. While the vitamin works in a number of different capacities, its most vital role is the one linking it to the heart. It is responsible for converting homocysteine into harmless molecules. If homocysteine is not neutralized it damages blood vessels, linking it to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Folic acid is also vital for proper division of cells making it an essential ingredient for the portions of the body housing fast dividing cells, namely the cervix in women and the colon.
Myristicin, one of parsley’s volatile oils inhibits growth of tumors in lungs. It also activates an enzyme that aids in linking glutathione to oxidized molecules that otherwise harm the body. Parsley’s oils make it a ‘chemoprotective’ food, a food that helps to counterbalance various carcinogens. Especially benzopyrenes which make up part of cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke leading to cancer. Eugenol is another essential oil found in parsley that has therapeutic value in dentistry. It is a local anesthetic and antiseptic compound for gum diseases and teeth. It is also associated with reducing blood sugar levels in diabetics.
The luteolin, a flavonoid in parsley behaves like an antioxidant and combines with very reactive oxygen-containing molecules and aid in cutting down on oxygen connected damage to the cells leading to premature aging. Beta-carotene is another important antioxidant that is associated with lower risks for conditions like colon cancer and other ailment. In the body beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A, a nutrient so vital to the immune system that it is given the nickname “anti-infective vitamin.”
Nutritional Information of Parsley
This very mild looking herb is a potent source of many of the body’s vital nutrients. What a majority of the population employs as a decorative garnish is actually a powerful health providing instrument. It is low in calories, cholesterol and sodium, has no saturated fat and delivers ample amounts of dietary fibre, and protein.
It delivers abundant amounts of a number of important vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, K and folates and calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium. It is the source of eighteen amino acids, essential building blocks of the body. Additionally parsley contains flavonoid antioxidants like apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol, and luteolin as well as some volatile oils like myristicin, limonene, eugenol, and alpha-thujene.
Uses of Parsley
One of the most basic uses of parsley is as a plant in a sunny kitchen window. It not only provides a great source of fresh leaves for six to nine months but also beautiful foliage in the kitchen. It helps to mask the other strong kitchen flavours like garlic and fish. Besides using it fresh, the leaves may be dried or frozen. Fresh parsley only lasts a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, and kept in an air tight container, dried parsley, like frozen, maintains its flavours for roughly one year. The frozen parsley retains flavours better than dried, so if dried parsley is to be stored, it is better to use the Italian varieties as they have stronger flavours to start with.
Parsley is used around the world in a large variety of ways. The Japanese deep fry it in tempura batter, the British make a parsley sauce to go with fish and peas, in the Middle East it is used in tabbouleh (a local salad), the French use it in everything, in the Indian Subcontinent it is used in chutneys and as garnish and the Germans especially like the root parsleys in their salads.
Parsley can easily be stuffed into sandwiches, and chopped into salads. The eye pleasing curly parsley works great as a garnish. A few fresh leaves make a great adornment to any main meal. Additionally it may be added to meats, stews, soups, stir fries and all vegetable dishes. It makes a great supplement to other seasonings or is capable of standing alone. It can be added to dips and used in butter and garlic butter preparations.
Much more than just a decorative complement to great meals, compounds in parsley has been found to halt the proliferation of breast cancer tumour cells. A study published in Cancer Prevention Research, gave rats apigenin, a typical compound found in parsley. As a result the rats developed fewer tumours and tumour formation was slowed, compared to those who were not exposed to the compound.
The oils in parsley contain two components, apiol and myristicin which are active pharmacologically. They might be liable for the diuretic effect of parsley. Rats given doses of parsley seed extract instead of drinking water passed out greater volumes of urine as compared to control rats. A Russian tonic composed of 85% parsley juice has also been used to stimulate uterine contractions for women in labour.
Parsley extracts have shown mild antibacterial and antifungal activity in in vitro tests. Furocoumarins extracted from different varieties of freeze-dried and fresh parsley leaves inhibited Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Erwinia carotovora, and L. Innocua.