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Chervil Root
(Chaerophyllum bulbosum)


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Cultivars

Chervil root. Chervil-root plant.

Chervil the herb should need no introduction; what may is the version of it that is grown not for its leaves but for its root, which is used in a culinary sense much like any other root. This is now a little-known vegetable--though once, long ago, it was popular; for a while, one could find it in one or two seedsmen's listings, but it apparently didn't move enough and now it has vanished from everywhere we can find save one private overseas supplier selling it through an online gardening forum (and that's probably a year-to-year thing). Its flavor is said (we haven't tried it yet) to be a sort of cross between carrots and chestnuts--"floury and sweet, with a peculiar aromatic flavor" says the old Vilmorin vegetable guide (most other sources--though possibly just copying one another--also mention chestnuts and a "floury" composition, whatever that is). The shape of the root is stubby and bulbous, rather than the parsnippy elongated look common to most root vegetables.

The first named cultivar seems to have been "Altan" (1986); there are now, at the least, a couple more: "Véga" and the charmingly named "M4.10". This too-little-known vegetable is thus rarely if ever sold except by the generic name Turnip-Rooted Chervil (or something of the sort). Research continues to go forth, especially in France (see the links below), aimed at developing newer types, but so far as we know few if any are available to the home gardener.

(This is not the only herb with a distinct form bred for its root--there is also, for example, rooted parsley.)

If you want to try some of this charming root, have a care with it. Its cousin, herb chervil (related, but not closely) can easily become highly invasive; whether that is also true of this plant is uncertain, but, as we say, have a care with it. (Note that the invasive species spreads by both seed and underground runner, and so is almost impossible to eradicate once established.)


Planting

Beware: chervil-root seeds are very short-lived! If you aren't saving you own seed annually, don't try to be cheap and use last season's leftovers--get fresh seed every year. In fact, their seeds lose their vitality in a dry seed packet so rapidly that if you can't plant them or begin stratifying them as soon as you get them, at least store them covered in cool slightly damp sand.

Growing them may seem tricky, but it really isn't--in fact, the plant is now becoming a serious weed problem in the northeast, so readily does it grow in a northern climate. The "trick", if there is such a thing, is to dedicate a moderate-sized lightweight container solely to them (we use a cheap hardware-store "laundry basket"). Fill it with friable soil--mix some sand in if necessary.


Timing

Rooted chervil requires two things to succeed: a "stratification" period of at least two months, and properly timed planting. "Stratification" means exposure to cold and damp--exposing the seed to near-freezing temperatures in a humid environment for a period of 8 to 10 weeks; one source referred to a temperature range of 0° C to 6° C (32° F to 43° F), while another just mentioned a temperature of 4° C (39° F). You can stratify seed (as with parsley) indoors in a refrigerator; but, since the idea is to emulate the seed's spending winter in the ground, the easier way is to, duh, let the seed sit in the ground through the winter. Now the root, in the following year, will finish growing sometime in, probably, July or so--but (like almost all root crops) it benefits much from some frost, which converts starches to sugars. So we plant the tubers in middle to late autumn, after the first light frosts but before the ground gets frozen. If we want to be more exact, let's say mid-October. We then just water and perhaps cultivate, but largely leave the things alone till the next year at the same time, when we harvest and then immediately replant.

(An easy way to harvest roots grown in such a container is to spread out a piece of plastic tarp and sinmply tip over and dump out the container. That way, the roots--often a bit fragile, as with scorzonera--don't get broken during attempts to dig or pull them out. The spilled soil can afterwards easily be dumped back into the container.)

The "Bed"

Chervil roots can tolerate any sort of soil save really bad clay, but--as we noted above--they, and all "roots", do vastly better on soil that is very loose and friable, else they get stunted, show forked roots, and generally sit in their corners sucking lemons and sulking. For best results, loosen the soil as deeply as you can possibly manage; if you use a container, as we recommend, the annual dumping for harvest automatically assures looseness in the soil. If needful, work in some organic matter or even straight sand to make that soil good and loose. The roots like the more or less standard garden-soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8, or even a little lower, maybe 6.3. Rooted chervil can benefit from a little extra phosphate in the soil.

It is also wise to not use manure in any "roots" bed--and absolutely never any that is not thoroughly composted--or you'll have forked roots galore. Chervil roots need good sun exposure. Like almost all roots, they are not frost-sensitive.


Planting Out

Chervil-root seeds can have a low germination rate even under optimum conditions; it is wise to plant 2 or 3 seeds at each point where a plant is wanted, then see what emerges and thin--if necessary--to the most vigorous seedling when they look like they're starting to compete. Chervil roots can probably be spaced at 2 to 3 inches, especially in a deep-dug or raised bed, or a container.

Plant the seeds very shallow--indeed, you might just place them on the surface and sift a tiny bit of soil or sand over them to keep them from blowing away. And be sure to keep their soil moist, especially till emergence.


Growing

Chervil root, like chervil as such, requires moist soil. When the seedlings are young and small, cultivate well but carefully and not too deep.

In summer's heat, chervil root (and chervil) might want a little shade. A small, light framework with latticing to provide sun/shade strips that will move as the sun moves across the sky is a good idea and not much trouble to make. Or, if you are growing them in a tub or tubs, put the container on the east or west side of the house, to reduce their sun hours.

Again: the root is considered edible only after it has been exposed to at least one strong freeze, and preferably a couple. So leave the roots in the ground as late as possible, till the ground is ready to freeze solid. Oh, and when preparing them, don't peel them: the skin adds to the flavor.


More

Relevant Links

Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful:


Odds and Ends

Biology

Chervil is another of the highly useful crops in the Umbelliferae family, along with parsley root, carrots, celery, celeriac, and a host of herbs--angelica, dill, herb chervil, caraway, coriander, and others more obscure.


History

Turnip-rooted chervil was enjoyed by the early Greeks and Romans, and in England during the 14th to 17th centuries. It was introduced into France in 1846, and over the last 20 years, much work on developing the plant for better modern use has taken place there.


Envoi

This is a vegetable that not a few think is due and long overdue for a renaissance.


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