What is Petroselinum?

Robyn Clark

Petroselinum is the genus name of the plants commonly known as parsley, an herb commonly used for cooking and in medicinal folk remedies. Parsley is a member of the Apiaceae family of plants, which includes carrots and celery, and its name is derived from a Greek word for rock celery. The two main types of Petroselinum are distinguished by the shape of their leaves. Petroselinum crispum is curly leafed parsley, typically used as a garnish for food. Petroselinum neapolitanum, flat leafed or Italian parsley, has more delicate leaves and a stronger flavor than the curly variety.

Parsley is a common ingredient in cooking, often used in sauces and garnishes.
Parsley is a common ingredient in cooking, often used in sauces and garnishes.

Often unfairly stereotyped as an unnecessary and inedible garnish, parsley has many culinary uses beyond being decorative. The herb is one of the traditional ingredients in a bouquet garni, a bundle of tied herbs used to flavor a soup or a stew. It is an ingredient in fines herbs, a blend of dried herbs frequently used in French cuisine.

Chimichurri sauce typically contains petroselinum.
Chimichurri sauce typically contains petroselinum.

Parsley is also widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Its flavor is typically described as strong and bright, and it is a key ingredient in many traditional sauces such as chimichurri and persillade, and in garnishes and marinades such as gremolata and chermoula. Chefs who search for parsley recipes will find these traditional recipes as well as other unique options, like substituting parsley for basil in a pesto recipe.

The herb is frequently featured on lists of the healthiest foods because it is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Nutritional analyses indicate that, when comparing equal amounts by weight, raw parsley has two to three times more vitamin C than oranges, and over twice the iron content of raw spinach. Parsley is also rich in folic acid, vitamin A, vitamin K, potassium, and calcium. As a folk remedy, parsley has a long history of being in remedies for a number of ailments, including bad breath, dry skin, improving digestion, and for supporting liver and kidney functions. Although the medicinal use of parsley is generally recognized as safe, a licensed health care professional should be consulted prior to treating a medical condition with any herbal remedy.

Petroselinum is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region, and can be grown in many parts of the world. It is frequently grown as a companion plant to roses and asparagus, to keep pests away and improve their growth and vigor. Parsley is propagated from seed, and prefers well-drained, moist soil, and sun to partial shade. While it is grown as an annual in most herb gardens, parsley is a biennial and will produce seeds in the second year of its lifespan. In mild climates, parsley can overwinter successfully, particularly if the area around the roots is mulched.

Many cooks prefer to grow small amounts of parsley in a pot indoors, to have a ready supply for cooking. Parsley leaves can be used fresh or dried for later use. Fresh leaves are best stored in the refrigerator, either wrapped in a damp paper towel or with the stems in a glass of water. There is a third, and less common, type of parsley, Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum, that is also used for cooking. This type is commonly known as Hamburg parsley, and it has a thick white root that is typically prepared and served in ways similar to a parsnip.

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