Parsley is likely the most common of herbs, and certainly there is no herb whose medicinal
qualities are so often overlooked. As a child, I was taught to eat everything on my plate, so I naturally ate any parsley that was served as a garnish when we ate at restaurants. I developed a taste for parsley at an early age, even though people
kept telling me the parsley was just a garnish and that I wasn’t supposed to eat it. My instincts proved to be correct, as the tradition of serving parsley with a meal is an ancient remedy to aid digestion and freshen the breath. Over the years, my respect for parsley as a culinary herb grew, as I found that parsley enhances the flavors of foods and other herbs. When my grandmother was nearing the end of her life and had very little appetite, I found that she would readily eat my cooking if included chopped fresh, or dried parsley in the dishes. Her taste buds and sense of smell had become dull, and parsley was the simple, subtle ingredient that made meats, gravies and vegetables more palatable. Even a little parsley served on cheese will make the cheese taste remarkably more complex and flavorful.
Parsley was well known in ancient Greek medicine. It is traditionally believed to be one of the herbs that Homer described in the Odyssey… and interestingly, Homer seems to not only have been a poet but an army doctor. It is also said that Parsley was a favorite herb of Hippocrates, being a veritable cure-all, but I cannot source the quote. However, his student, Theophrastus mentioned Parsley in his Inquiry into plants:
‘Mountain-celery’ (parsley) exhibits even greater differences; its leaf is like that of hemlock,3 the root is slender, and the fruit4 like that of dill, but smaller; it is given in dry wine for diseases of women.
Dioscorides wrote of several plants in the Parsley family, but the one he called OREOSELINON seems to be the closet to the common garden
Parsley we know today:
Oreoselinon has a single stalk twenty centimetres high from a slender root. Around it are little branches with little heads (similar to hemlock yet a great deal more slender) on which is the seed — somewhat long, sharp, thin, with a sweet smell, similar to cumin. It grows in rocky mountainous places. Taken as a drink in wine both the seed and root are urinary, and they also expel the menstrual flow. It is mixed with antidotes, diuretics, and heating medicines. We must not be deceived thinking oreoselinon is that which grows on rocks, for petroselinum is different. It is also called petroselinum sylvestre; the Romans call it apium montanum, and the Egyptians, anonim.
Pliny the Eder wrote extensively of parsley in His Natural History:
Parsley is held in universal esteem; for we find sprigs of it swimming in the draughts of milk given us to drink in country-places; and we know that as a seasoning for sauces, it is looked upon with peculiar favor. Applied to the eyes with honey, which must also be fomented from time to time with a warm decoction of it, it has a most marvelous efficacy in cases of defluxion of those organs or of other parts of the body; as also when beaten up and applied by itself, or in combination with bread or with polenta. Fish, too, when found to be in an ailing state in the preserves, are greatly refreshed by giving them green parsley. As to the opinions entertained upon it among the learned, there is not a single production dug out of the earth in reference to which a greater diversity exists. Parsley is distinguished as male and female according to
Chrysippus, the female plant has a hard leaf and more curled than the other, a thick stem, and an acrid, hot taste. Dionysius says, that the female is darker than the other kind, has a shorter root, and engenders small worms.“ Both of these writers, however, agree in saying that neither kind of parsley should be admitted into the number of our aliments; indeed, they look upon it as nothing less than sacrilege to do so, seeing that parsley is consecrated to the funereal feasts in honour of the dead. They say, too, that it is injurious to the eye-sight, that the stalk of the female plant engenders small worms, for which reason it is that those who eat of it become barren—
males as well as females; and that children suckled by females who live on a parsley diet, are sure to be epileptic. They agree, however, in stating that the male plant is not so injurious in its effects as the female, and that it is for this reason that it is not absolutely condemned and classed among the forbidden plants. The leaves of it, employed as a cataplasm, are used for dispersing hard tumours in the mammillae; and when boiled in water, it makes it more agreeable to drink. The juice of the root more particularly, mixed with wine, allays the pains of lumbago, and, injected into the ears, it diminishes hardness of hearing. The seed of it acts as a diuretic, promotes the menstrual discharge, and brings away the afterbirth. Bruises and livid spots, if fomented with a decoction of parsley seeed, will resume their natural colour. Applied topically, with the white of egg, or boiled in water, and then drunk, it is remedial for affections of the kidneys; and beaten up in cold water it is a cure for ulcers of the mouth. The seed, mixed with wine, or the root, taken with old wine, has the effect of breaking calculi in the bladder. The seed, too, is given in white wine, to persons afflicted with the jaundice.
Culpepper tells us that Galen found Parsley quite useful, as well:
It is under the dominion of Mercury; is very comfortable to the stomach; helps to provoke urine and women's courses, to break wind both in the stomach and bowels, and doth a little open the body, but the root much more. It opens obstructions both of liver and spleen, and is therefore accounted one of the five opening roots. Galen commended it against the falling sickness, and to provoke urine mightily; especially if the roots be boiled, and eaten like Parsnips. The seed is effectual to provoke urine and women's courses, to expel wind, to break the stone, and ease the pains and torments thereof; it is also effectual against the venom of any poisonous creature, and the danger that comes to them that have the lethargy, and is as good against the cough. The distilled water of Parsley is a familiar medicine with nurses to give their children when they are troubled with wind in the stomach or belly which they call the frets; and is also much available to them that are of great years. The leaves of Parsley laid to the eyes that are inflamed with heat, or swollen, doth much help them, if it be used with bread or meal; and being fried with butter, and applied to women's breasts that are hard through the curdling of their milk, it abates the hardness quickly; and also takes away black and blue marks coming of bruises or falls. The juice thereof dropped into the ears with a little wine, eases the pains. Tragus sets down an excellent medicine to help the jaundice and falling sickness, the dropsy, and stone in the kidneys, in this manner: Take of the seed of Parsley, Fennel, Annise and Carraways, of each an ounce; of the roots of Parsley, Burnet, Saxifrage, and Carraways, of each an ounce and an half; let the seeds be bruised, and the roots washed and cut small; let them lie all night to steep in a bottle of white wine, and in the morning be boiled in a close earthen vessel until a third part or more be wasted; which being strained and cleared, take four ounces thereof morning and evening first and last, abstaining from drink after it for three hours. This opens obstructions of the liver and spleen, and expels the dropsy and jaundice by urine.
Parsley was one of the herbs that the Holy Roman Emperor Charlamagne decreed to be planted both in home gardens and in the Physic gardens used by the Benedictine Order in Monastic Medicine - the free, charitable hospitals they operated throughout the middle ages.
Chapter 70 of the Capitulare details the plants that were required to be grown, with fines and penalties if they were not. Some are still considered beneficial today, some are not. The list reads: “It is our wish that they shall have in their gardens all kinds of plants: lily, roses, fenugreek, costmary, sage, rue, southernwood, cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, kidney-bean, cumin, rosemary, caraway, chick-pea, squill, gladiolus, tarragon, anise, colocynth, chicory, ammi, sesili, lettuces, spider’s foot, rocket salad, garden cress, burdock, penny-royal, hemlock, parsley, celery, lovage, juniper, dill, sweet fennel, endive, dittany, white mustard, summer savory, water mint, garden mint, wild mint, tansy, catnip, centaury, garden poppy, beets, hazelwort, marshmallows, mallows, carrots, parsnip, orach, spinach, kohlrabi, cabbages, onions, chives, leeks, radishes, shallots, cibols, garlic, madder, teazles, broad beans, peas, coriander, chervil, capers, clary. And the gardener shall have house-leeks growing on his house.”
Saint Hildegard von Bingen wrote of Parsley:
Parsley is of a robust nature and has in it more heat than cold. It grows from wind and humidity. It is better and more useful for a person when it is raw, rather than cooked in food. When it is eaten it attenuates the fevers which lightly touch a person when they strike him. Nevertheless, it generates seriousness in a person's mind. But one who ails in his heart, spleen, or sides should cook parsley in wine with a little vinegar and honey. If he strains this through a cloth and often drinks it, it makes him well. But one whose stomach is ill should take parsley and twice as much fennel and as much soapwort as parsley and make a relish from them. To this he should add butter or beef fat and roasted salt, and it it often, cooked. But one who has pain from eating garlic should soon eat parsley, and he will have less pain.
One who is in pain from a stone should take parsley and add a third part saxifrage. He should cook this in wine and strain it through a cloth, and drink it in a sauna. Also, he should cook parsley and a third part saxifrage in water, and pour it, with the waters over hot stones in the same sauna bath. If he does this often, he will be better.
Also, one who is tortured by paralysis should take equal weights of parsley and fennel, with a little less sage. He should grind these herbs together in moderate amounts in a mortar, and add rose-tinged olive oil to it. He should place it over the place where he is suffering and tie it with a cloth.
And one who has both soft flesh and a limb troubled by gout, from excessive drinking, should take parsley and four times as much rue, and fry this in a small dish with olive oil; or, if he has no olive oil, he should fry them with goat tallow. He should tie these warm herbs on the place where it hurts, and it will be better.
Gerard tells us some 400 years later:
Garden Parsley is hot and dry, but the seed is more hot and dry, which is hot in the second degree, and dry almost in the third: the root is also of a moderate heat.
A. The leaves are pleasant in sauces and broth, in which besides that they give a pleasant taste, they be also singular good to take away stoppings, and to provoke urine: which thing the roots likewise do notably perform if they be boiled in broth: they be also delightful to the taste, and agreeable to the stomach.
B. The seeds are more profitable for medicine; they make thin, open, provoke urine, dissolve the stone, break and waste away wind, are good for such as have the dropsy, draw down menses, bring away the birth, and after-birth: they be commended also against the cough, if they be mixed or boiled with medicines made for that purpose: lastly they resist poisons, and therefore are mixed with treacles.
C. The roots or the seeds of any of them boiled in ale and drunken, cast forth strong venom or poison, but the seed is the strongest part of the herb.
D. They are also good to be put into clysters against the stone or torments of the guts.
Summing up the British herbal tradition, and giving a good bit of interesting lore, Mrs. Grieves wrote in A Modern Herbal:
There is an old superstition against transplanting parsley plants. The herb is said to have been dedicated to Persephone and to funeral rites by the Greeks. It was afterwards consecrated to St. Peter in his character of successor to Charon.
In the sixteenth century, Parsley was known as A. hortense, but herbalists retained the official name petroselinum. Linnaeus in 1764 named it A. petroselinum, but it is now assigned to the genus Carum.
The Greeks held Parsley in high esteem, crowning the victors with chaplets of Parsley at the Isthmian games, and making with it wreaths for adorning the tombs of their dead. The herb was never brought to table of old, being held sacred to oblivion and to the dead. It was reputed to have sprung from the blood of a Greek hero, Archemorus, the forerunner of death, and Homer relates that chariot horses were fed by warriors with the leaves. Greek gardens were often bordered with Parsley and Rue.
... Though the medicinal virtues of Parsley are still fully recognized, in former times it was considered a remedy for more disorders than it is now used for. Its imagined quality of destroying poison, to which Gerard refers, was probably attributed to the plant from its remarkable power of overcoming strong scents, even the odour of garlic being rendered almost imperceptible when mingled with that of Parsley.
Medicinal Action and Uses---The uses of Parsley are many and are by no means restricted to the culinary sphere. The most familiar employment of the leaves in their fresh state is, of course, finely-chopped, as a flavouring to sauces, soups, stuffings, rissoles, minces, etc., and also sprinkled over vegetables or salads. The leaves are extensively cultivated, not only for sending to market fresh, but also for the purpose of being dried and powdered as a culinary flavouring in winter, when only a limited supply of fresh Parsley is obtainable.
In addition to the leaves, the stems are also dried and powdered, both as a culinary colouring and for dyeLg purposes. There is a market for the seeds to supply nurserymen, etc., and the roots of the turnip-rooted variety are used as a vegetable and flavouring.
Medicinally, the two-year-old roots are employed, also the leaves, dried, for making Parsley Tea, and the seeds, for the extraction of an oil called Apiol, which is of considerable curative value. The best kind of seed for medicinal purposes is that obtained from the Triple Moss curled variety. The wholesale drug trade generally obtains its seeds from farmers on the East coast, each sample being tested separately before purchases are made. It has been the practice to buy second year seeds which are practically useless for growing purposes: it would probably hardly pay farmers to grow for Apiol producing purposes only, as the demand is not sufficiently great.
Plants for A Future gives us the current herbal use:
Parsley is a commonly grown culinary and medicinal herb that is often used as a domestic medicine. The fresh leaves are highly nutritious and can be considered a natural vitamin and mineral supplement in their own right. The plants prime use is as a diuretic where it is effective in ridding the body of stones and in treating jaundice, dropsy, cystitis etc. It is also a good detoxifier, helping the body to get rid of toxins via the urine and therefore helping in the treatment of a wide range of diseases such as rheumatism. The seed is a safe herb at normal doses, but in excess it can have toxic effects. Parsley should not be used by pregnant women because it is used to stimulate menstrual flow and can therefore provoke a miscarriage. All parts of the plant can be used medicinally, the root is the part most often used though the seeds have a stronger action. Parsley is antidandruff, antispasmodic, aperient, carminative, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, galactofuge, kidney, stomachic and tonic. An infusion of the roots and seeds is taken after childbirth to promote lactation and help contract the uterus. Parsley is also a mild laxative and is useful for treating anaemia and convalescents. Caution is advised on the internal use of this herb, especially in the form of the essential oil. Excessive doses can cause liver and kidney damage, nerve inflammation and gastro-intestinal haemorrhage. It should not be prescribed for pregnant women or people with kidney diseases. A poultice of the leaves has been applied externally to soothe bites and stings, it is also said to be of value in treating tumours of a cancerous nature. It has been used to treat eye infections, whilst a wad of cotton soaked in the juice will relieve toothache or earache. It is also said to prevent hair loss and to make freckles disappear. If the leaves are kept close to the breasts of a nursing mother for a few days, the milk flow will cease.
I hope you have found the history and medicinal use of Parsley as fascinating and have I. I believe that the best way to take Parsley regularly is to grow your own in the garden or in containers and incorporate it into everyday meals. Saint Hildegard said that Parsley is more efficacious taken raw, but I use it both raw and cooked. Very common in my kitchen is an omelet, frittata or soft scrambled eggs topped with Parsley, cheese and chives. I put Parsley and sage in my home made breakfast sausage. Parsley goes in nearly every sauce and gravy that I make and on all meats and fish. A salad can even be made of Parsley as the central green - some onions and garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon juice - but can be added to all salads. Parsley is excellent in meatballs and meatloaf. Parsley works wonderfully with potatoes - an excellent soup may be made of potatoes, chicken
broth, garlic, Parsley and carraway seeds, topped with sour cream and bacon
. Parsley is wonderful in all soups. Parsley pairs well with butter, and a simple compound butter of Parsley chopped and mixed into soften butter has more uses than I could number. It is delicious added to ricotta cheese as a pasta filling, or combined with cheddar in mac and cheese. Parsley is nice in savory cocktails, especially a bloody mary, and can even be used to make a chimichurri, bajan or pesto-like sauce. Eat more Parsley!
- Photo credit: By Jonathunder - Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29637295
Author: Judson Carroll. Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/
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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience
and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.