In modern culture Parsley is a culinary after thought, and usually relegated to being a mere garnishment. It’s too bad, because parsley is a remarkable herb with a rich history of medicinal use and contains many valuable health benefits.
The origins of Parsley date back to 2000 B.C., when the Greeks mistakenly believed it to symbolize death. Even in these days, parsley was a popular garnish and was used to adorn the winners of athletic contests and was put on the graves of the deceased. Its first recorded uses as a medicinal herb appeared around 79 AD, when Romans began to use it to treat baldness, and ailments relating to the kidney and liver. While the link between baldness and parsley has never been scientifically proven, the diuretic activities of parsley have been well documented and the plant is still used as a natural remedy for renal ailments.
Parsley has always been indigenous to the mediterranean region, where it is still abundant today. Countries in the middle of the region, such as Italy, Algeria, and Tunisia, are large producers of the crop. Parsley is also grown in the western United States.
Parsley, being the green plant that it is, is packed with a variety of health promoting nutrients. It’s a very rich source of vitamin K, folic acid, and vitamin C, among others. The oil found in parsley has a variety of volatile compounds like apiol, myristicin, tetramethoxybenzene, and pinene that have anti-oxidant properties. Because these compounds break down easily, fresh parsley tends to confer greater health benefits than dried parsley. In one study the oil found in parsley seeds inhibited the oxidation of hexane by 95% over a period of 40 days.
The diuretic (urine excreting) effects of parsley are believed to be due to its ability to inhibit the Na+/K+ pump that mediates the rate of osmosis into and out of the lumen. Throughout its history the use of parsley has been used as a remedy for anti-rheumatic conditions, improving kidney function, and increasing blood flow throughout the body.
Parsley has always gotten a bad rap. For whatever reason, the root has always symbolized death. In addition to the greeks, in medieval times parsley was planted around the edges of the garden because it was believed that its death inducing properties would ward off potential scavengers like rabbits and squirrels.
The strong smell of parsley causes it to attract lots of visitors, and so it was also used by farmers as a decoy to keep animals from eating more valuable crops.
Parsley primarily comes in two different varieties: leaf parsley, and root parsley. Leaf parsley is the kind typically seen on the side of dinner plates and usually comes in two forms: curly leaf parsley (P. Crispum) and flat-leaf parsley (P. crispum var.neapolitanum). Curly leaf parsley is more decorative, but flat-leaf parsley is easier to cultivate and has more taste. Root parsley resembles parsnip more than the parsley typically used as a garnish.
In the nutritional kingdom, parsley has always been something of an underdog. Never the main ingredient in recipes like potatoes or carrots, and never the recipient of the health spotlight like spinach or broccoli. But the good leafy plant has stuck around for thousands of years for a reason. In addition to looking pretty, it’s always provided the human race with a great source of vital nutrients and served as a convenient treatment for a variety of common ailments.
Kreydiyyeh, Si, et. al. “The Mechanism Underlying the Laxative Effects of Parsley Extract”, Journal of Phytomedicine, Sept. 2001
Si Kreydiyyeh, Si et al. “The Diuretic Effect and Mechanism of Action in Parsley”, Journal of Ethnopharmocology, March, 2002.
Wei A, et. al. “Antioxidant Activities and Volatile Constituents of Various Essential Oils” Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, March 2007.
Ritchason, Jack. “The Little Herb Encyclopedia”, Parsley. 1991.
Purdue Department of Horticulture. “Parsley” http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/med-aro/factsheets/parsley.html
Harvard Medical School Center for Health and the Global Environment. “Healthy and Sustainable Food”. http://chge.med.harvard.edu/programs/food/herbs.html