Why growing chervil or 'gourmet parsley' offers many tasty benefits

Why growing chervil or 'gourmet parsley' offers many tasty benefits

Fiann Ó Nualláin on why growing chervil or ‘gourmet parsley’ offers you the recipe for success.

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a hardy biennial herb generally treated as annual. It is in the Apiaceae family and is often referred to as “gourmet parsley” but has a hit of anise to its aroma and a subtle myrrh-like sweetness to its flavour. There are some old herbal references to chervil as myrrh and to it having similar healing — if not spiritual — attributes to myrrh.

By “spiritual”, I refer to the association with the Epiphany and those wise men, one of whom brought myrrh as a gift on his visit to Bethlehem. Apologies for bring up connotations of Christmas in August — and me shouting at the back-to-school ads on the radio only this morning. Chervil and myrrh do have some common attributes, mainly relating to skincare and treating wounds.

Popular pick

Today chervil’s popularity is more in culinary terms — it is one of the five culinary herbs that make up the French “fines herbes”. There are two popular culinary types: Flat/plain and curly. Both are grown and utilised in the same manner, so it’s just down to aesthetics — although both look as good in a border as in a herb bed.

My chervil has been on the go since Easter and flowering since May. Most of it is gone or going to seed but some of it is still in flower now, delighting my eye and visiting pollinators. Although the plant is generally treated as an annual, and sown March to June, you can go right up to September andtreat the later season batches be a biennial crop. It’s a hardy one and will survive the average Irish winter — but if a harsher one arrives, then use a cloche or fleece.

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Natural habitat

I first grew my chervil in large herb pots, it does have a decent taproot and often suffers upon transplanting — so sow where you want it. It has since self-seeded about the garden into shadier nooks beneath some of my trees; a return as such to its natural habitat or favoured conditions. It looks great there and I can leave it to its own devices.

It is not one I harvest often as it is a herb for fish, fowl and other things I don’t partake of but you can harvest it any time of the year. I use it occasionally in soups and vegetarian casseroles. It is great in a herbal vinegar. The flavour is better when the plant is not in bloom. On my local allotment a few gardeners grow it with their radishes; the lore is that this strengthens the flavour of both. I must say, though, that it overcrowds quickly. It can also be grown as a sacrifice plant — to lure all the aphids and slugs. You don’t have to sacrifice it totally — a whack of garlic spay regularly will hit all those recently lured.

There are often plugs in the local garden centre and always seed.

If you want to sow this month or early next year, it is best sown in shallow drills where you want it to grow. Keep it moist or daily sprinkled until germination which can take a week to two

Sowing or planting a plug, its foliage can crisp up or get bitterness from heat stress, so a position with a little shelter is best for it. Pinch out as you go to produce robust and bushier plants. It will do well in terracotta pots too — just don’t let it fall into prolonged dry spells.

Health benefits

When it comes to its health benefits, most of the early uses have long lapsed. It was once applied as a poultice to aching muscles and joints, and as a cooled tisane to wash inflamed eyes. But much of that has been replaced by over-the-counter items and even kitchen options (chili oil for the rheumatism, and fennel for the eyes). It is a good source of fibre and antioxidants and so is good for the purifying the system.

Chervil as herbal tea has a history of use as a blood circulation tonic and to treat cellulitis, boils, haemorrhoids and varicose veins. It does have some phytochemicals that are blood-thinning and it thus has been availed off as an anti-hypertensive herb — caution if it clashes with the action of prescription meds.

Traditional uses

One of its oldest uses, which still applies contemporarily, is as a blood purifier particularly to remedy suppurative and inflammatory skin — both as a poultice and as a remedial culinary herb. It does contain a good quantity of iron and zinc which is helpful to the blood and immune system.

It was utilised as an anaemia tea and to relieve fluid retention symptom during menstruations. It reportedly had a role in menopause as a tonic support, due in part to its calcium and magnesium content, and is said to soothe aches and pains, relieve night-time restlessness and help slow or ward off osteoporosis — depending on the rest of your diet. Chervil is a source of vitamins C and A, which are said to support skin and vision.

Chervil is in the culinary canon not just for its flavour but because it helps stimulate digestion and metabolism. Chervil soup is a great appetiser and a potherb in its own right with other veg. Sowing or planting out this weekend will give you a first harvest by end of September.

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