One of the most popular spices available, thanks to its ability to improve a huge range of dishes, Parsley has recently been getting a bad rap as an underwhelming spice. With many folk now favoring the stronger flavors, many have put the sole use of parsley as nothing more than a garnish. But did you know that parsley also has further benefits, that many aren’t even aware of? Below, we discuss the best parsley uses that can help with everything from flavor to medicinal uses. Keep reading to discover everything there is to know about this amazing little herb.
Often available in tight bunches and with a distinct, bright green color, parsley is a biennial (a plant that blooms just once every two years) that comes in three varieties: the flat leaf (Italian), curly leaf, and parsnip rooted (Hamburg).
The curly leaf variety is arguably the most popular. With a crisp texture and fresh look, you’ll find this particular variety looks great as a garnish but also adds to the texture and color of your food, too. This type works brilliantly when finely chopped and cooked alongside your food or added during the final stages to add delicate flavor to salads and sauces.
Flat leaf parsley, also known as Italian parsley, is – not surprisingly – flatter, and has a sawtooth style of leaf which is easily distinguishable. It is the most delicate variety and does not hold it’s shape well but can be chopped or blending into food to add a subtle hint of flavor.
The Hamburg parsley, or parsnip rooted option, is the most flavorful. However, this spice can be a little strong for those who prefer their flavors to be gentle. The pungent flavor hits more toward the celery mark than parsley and this option works brilliantly when cooked into food or added as a garnish – providing the audience appreciate a stronger scent and flavor.
Parsley Nutritional Information
Parsley is absolutely packed with nutrients, and yet has a very low caloric density. Indeed, half a cup (or 30 grams) of fresh, chopped parsley provides:
- Calories: 11 calories
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: less than 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Vitamin A: 108% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Vitamin C: 53% of the RDI
- Vitamin K: 547% of the RDI
- Folate: 11% of the RDI
- Potassium: 4% of the RDI
From the above, you can see that this little herb is a great choice for those seeking some of the basic nutritional benefits that come with healthy eating. Vitamin A and C are ideal for building a healthy immune system and act as antioxidants – helping your body to rid itself of toxins.
Meanwhile, Vitamin K helps assist with blood clotting and overall bone health, allowing you to grow stronger over time and keeping your body happy and healthy. Then there’s the folate, which is a handy little vitamin that helps you to metabolize amino acids. The fiber helps to keep your digestion moving along smoothly, while protein assists in building muscle and repairing the smaller tears that occur during exercise.
Finally, potassium helps in a wide variety of ways, since it functions as an electrolyte and is therefore used in everything from maintaining a healthy nervous system, through to reducing blood pressure and protecting against kidney stones.
Suffice to say that parsley is packed with the good stuff. Since many of these can’t be produced by the body (your body will only receive these nutrients through your diet), getting the right food into your system is key. Thus, parsley is a great choice for nutrient-dense food that can help make your current meal much tastier.
The Health Benefits of Parsley
We’ve already touched on how this herb can have huge benefits to your body already but, in this section, we’ll discuss the health benefits of parsley in more detail. As well as what adding this simple spice to your daily meal can mean for you.
- Parsley contains cancer-fighting goodness
An imbalance of antioxidants can be a key factor in the growth of cancer cells – as well as other chronic diseases. With parsley being packed with flavonoid antioxidants, you can lower your risk of certain cancers. For example, a high level of flavonoids can reduce your risk of colon cancer by up to 30% while the myricetin and apigenin available in the herb has shown anti-cancer activities in test tubes, according to recent studies by the Applied Biotechnology Research Center in Tehran.
- Promotes eye health
While we’re on the subject of antioxidants, the Lutein, beta carotene, and zeaxanthin which is available in all plants with high antioxidant properties (and therefore parsley) also has major benefits for your eyes.
The Lutein and zeaxanthin has been shown to reduce the risk of age-related muscular degeneration (AMD) by up to 26% while the beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A. This then helps to protect your cornea and conjunctiva (the thin membrane which acts as a barrier over your eyes).
- Improves heart health
Packed with dietary folate, the B vitamins present in parsley can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 38%. Meanwhile, those whose intake of folates are lower are shown to have an increased risk of heart disease- with studies showing that the low-intake groups are up to 55% more likely to suffer with heart problems.
- Strengthens your bones
The vitamin K present in parsley help to support osteoblasts (the bone-building cells of the body). Not only is this great for younger people, who need these during their usual growth spurts, but it also works brilliantly at increasing overall bone density. This, in turn, lowers the risk of fractures with one study suggesting that increased bone density can lower the risk of fractures by up to 22% – ideal for adults and the elderly.
- Can be used as an antibacterial
A recent collaborative study between The University of the West Indies and Oakland University has suggested that parsley can be used against multiple bacteria. They were able to demonstrate that the extract of parsley had significant effect against mold, yeast and S. Aureus bacteria which is known to cause infections.
Further studies have also shown that parsley can prevent the growth of bacteria in food. In particular, it was shown to slow the bacteria of salmonella and listeria – both of which are known to cause food poisoning.
- Assists with digestive and urinary tract issues
Parsley has been used for thousands of years to help assist with digestive issues. It is thought that the oil present in parsley helps to stimulate circulation to the digestive tract – just be aware that this can also cause an increase in appetite!
Meanwhile, many people claim that the use of parsley can help combat the signs and symptoms of kidney stones and urinary tract infections, although this may simply be anecdotal. That said, since we know that parsley contains some anti-bacterial properties, it may be that the herb gets to work within the digestive system, helping to combat bacterial infections.
- It can help to freshen your breath
The chlorophyll available in parsley (the chemoprotein which gives the herb its bright coloring) has also been known to fight bad breath. This has been disputed regularly, since the initial study in the 1950’s came about, but many people continue to swear that parsley works to fight and absorb odors caused by halitosis, so we’ll leave the final say to you.
How to Use Parsley
Convinced by the power of the parsley? Then you’ll want to be sure that you’re picking the best for your needs. While you can easily grow parsley yourself – simply sow the seeds between August and March indoors or March to July outdoors – this can take considerable time, with many seeds taking at least a month simply to germinate.
Be sure to go for the parsley that is bright and bushy – wilted parsley will be no good to your dishes and can even taste a off when used past their best. There’s also dried parsley, which will last much longer, if you’re looking for a herb to use on occasion, rather than being a regular addition to your food.
The way you prepare your parsley can have an affect on the flavor and texture of your food, too. To start, always be sure to wash your herbs before using them. Then you can either chop the herbs finely for a subtle flavor or give the parsley a rough cut for increased texture in your dishes. The stalks can have considerable impact on the overall taste, since they are denser and therefore have a stronger odor and flavoring, so use these wisely in salads – or add them to stock.
Feeling a little French? Add your parsley to thyme and bay leaves to create a bouquet garni – a selection of herbs used in soups, sauces and stocks to give a hearty, home-cooked, aromatic feel to your food.