Parsley is a member of the carrot family, native to the Mediterranean region of southern Europe and Asia. Its fresh, astringent taste, known to freshen the breath and stimulate digestion, led to its commonplace use as a plate garnish.
The name parsley comes from Greek words meaning rock celery because the plant thrives on rocks and walls. The ancient Greeks feared parsley as a symbol of death, thanks to its use as an aromatic to cover the smell of disease and decay. The Romans are credited with the first culinary use of parsley to aid in digestion; parsley was also used at orgies to mask the smell of alcohol on the breath. Some credit Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Great for spreading the use of parsley around the Western world by growing it all over his palace grounds, while others give credit to Catherine de Medici for bringing it from Italy and incorporating it into French cooking.
Parsley is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as compounds that clear toxins, reduce inflammation, and inhibit histamines and free radicals from the body. Since ancient times, parsley has been used as an antidote to poison, as well as a general tonic for digestion, urinary tract health, and dry hair and skin.
Snip off ends of parsley stems, place in a jar with 1 to 2 inches of water, and store at room temperature for up to 3 weeks. Alternatively, wrap parsley sprigs in a damp paper towel, seal in a plastic bag or jar, and keep in the refrigerator crisper for up to 2 weeks.
Parsley is a key herb in French cooking and is included with tarragon, chives, and chervil under the term fines herbs. Parsley adding fresh flavor to spring and summer vegetables such as peas, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and summer squash, as well as seafood, poultry, and egg dishes. It is the flagship ingredient in French persillade and Italian gremolata, both sauces that combine parsley with garlic and other ingredients to flavor roasted or broiled meat and poultry. It is also a popular ingredient in green juices, thanks to its cleansing effect and use as a digestive stimulant.
If not using a whole sprig of parsley, separate leaves from the stem and chop finely to use. 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley substitutes for 1 teaspoon dried.