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Parsley the herb needs 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, such as parsnips. Where once for long only one seedsman that we know of carried it, suddenly one is seeing it everywhere (well, fairly commonly--when Ferry Morse has it, it's hit the big time).
Globally, there are numerous cultivars of parsley root, which occupies a much more important position in European cuisine (especially middle European) than in American eating; we found references to types Arat, Atika, Bartowich Long, Berliner, Dobra, Eagle, Fakir, Halblange, Halblange Fakir, Halblange Perfekta, Halflange Omega, Hamburg, Hanácká, Jadran, Lange, Lange-glatte KP, Lange-glatte RZ, Olomoucká dlouhá, and Orbis. Of those, though, only a few are available in North America by cultivar name, and even of those some are of uncertain status owing to the seedsmen's atrocious habit of being vague about variety names.
Named types that are definitely available in the U.S. include Arat, Berliner, Eagle, and Fakir; there are several more offerings under the generic "Hamburg", which is not a cultivar but only a designation signifying "rooted".
In Europe, "half-long" types, which are sort of stubby in shape, are preferred as being easier to use in cooking; logic suggests that they would also grow better in heavy soils, where longer, thinner types might have problems or fork. Of the available types, Eagle and Berliner are definitely half-longs; about the others we don't know, but we believe that Arat is also a half-long.
The only hard data on parsley-root cultivars that we could find was one Czech study, which found the type Fakir more productive than Bartowich Long (which was the least productive of all), and the Halflange Omega a little better yet. On the other hand, that was one study.
(There is a huge mass of material on line about parsley root--and parsley proper--that, to a gardener, is immaterial: apparently the plant is something of a fad amongst herbal-medicine fans, especially for the oil that can be derived from it. In large quantities that oil can be toxic, but that is of zero significance for eating the vegetable in "table quantities".)
Beware: parsley-root seeds are notoriously 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.
Also, as with herb parsley seed, root parsley seed is rather fussy about germination. (Well, fussy to the grower: the plant "thinks" it's very simple.) It requires "stratification", which is a fancy term for treatment that makes the seed believe it has gone through a winter and that spring is now here. In this fine article, That Devilish Parsley, there is a good scientific discussion of germinating the seed. You really should read the entire article (which covers a deal more about parsley), but the highlight of the germination discussion is this:
Parsley contains chemicals called furamocoumarins in the seed coat. Because furanocoumarins prevent weed seeds from germinating, the home gardener won't have to weed parsley quite as often as other plants. But there is a complication--the same furanocoumarins also may interfere with the germination of the parsley itself.
Soaking the seeds overnight will reduce to some extent the [otherwise] month-long germination period.
That faking it" for the seeds is all rather tedious, and germinatioins is still slow and often very spotty. Bhy lie when it's easier to tell the truth? Direct-seed in late fall and let the seeds overwinter in the ground then come up when they're jolly good and ready the next spring. The only drawback to this method is tying up the bed space pretty much all year round. But it's not as if that's a lot of bed space (and what would you do with it else anyway?).
Timing depends on whether you're willing to devote a permanent chunk of bed space, as described above, to these roots, or if you want to try to seed and harvest in one season. Considering what a pain in the elbow (and unreliable) a process forced stratification is, we see no reason for anything but late-autumn seeding. We suggest waiting till after you've had a couple of frosts in the autumn, since the seeds are not supposed to become active till spring, and we don't want them getting confusing signals. Also, if we're growing them every season, we want them--as we do with virtually all root crops--to see some frost before we harvest them (converts starches to sugars), so we harvest what's there after a moderate frost or two, then immediately plant the next crop's seeds. Gee, kinda like Mother nature does it. If you want more specificity, let's say mid-October--but mind what the temperatures are; if it's a mild autumn, you might wait another week or two.
Parsley roots can tolerate any sort of soil, 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, dig your bed so as to loosen the soil as deeply as you can possibly manage, and remove all rocks and as many pebbles as possible, working in organic matter or even straight sand to make it good and loose. They like the more or less standard garden-soil pH of 6.5 to 6.8, or even a little lower, maybe 6.3. Rooted parsley can benefit from a little extra phosphate in the soil.
It is also wise to not use much manure in roots beds--and absolutely never any that is not thoroughly composted--or you'll have forked roots galore. Parsley roots need good sun exposure. Like almost all roots, they are not frost-sensitive.
(It is wise to prepare one whole bed that way, for all your root crops--carrots, scorzonera, root parsley, and the like; in fact, you can do two beds that way, and alternate your root crops with anything else-- for us, bush beans--that ought not to go in the same ground two years running.)
Even going with Mother Nature's way, we think it 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. Parsley roots can be spaced at 4 inches, especially in a deep-dug or raised bed; some sources say 3 inches, but if you want good-sized roots, it's best not to push the spacing too tight.
(Some gardeners like to treat parsley-root seeds as carrot seeds are often treated: mix in a radish seed or two at every sowing spot, so the earlier, more aggressive radish seedling can break the surface for the carrot--or parsley--seedling, then pull the radish stem when the later root-crop seedling emerges; but we don't like putting radishes, a crucifer, in any place that is not a part of that season's crucifer beds in a rotation scheme.)
Parsley root, like parsley as such, requires moist soil. Because the chief part of the plant's root system--the wanted root itself--lies relatively close to the surface, and the plant is a slow grower both above and below ground, its bed must be kept scrupulously clear of weeds, which would out-compete it for resources. But it is also needful to be correspondingly careful to cultivate shallowly and carefully, to not damage the crop's own root system.
In summer's heat, parsley root (and parsley) will want a little shade and a deal of water. 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. By starting them as late as we do, and considering their slow germination, we should be mostly past the peak-heat days of summer before the matter is an issue--but keep it in mind.
The leaves of the growing plant can occasionally be lightly picked over and used like herb parsley, but are not as good-tasting as those of parsleys developed especially for culinary leaf use--parsley-root leaves go best as condiments in stews or hearty soups.
Leave the roots in the ground as late as possible--their flavor, as is typical of true root crops, is improved by their experiencing a frost. But do pull them after the first real frost, and don't try to store them in the ground over winter.
Besides any links presented above on this page, the following ought to be especially helpful.
Parsley is another of the highly useful crops in the Umbelliferae family, along with carrots, celery, celeriac, and a host of herbs--angelica, dill, chervil, herb parsley, caraway, coriander, and others more obscure.
The ancestral wild parsley is thought to have arisen on the island of Sardinia. The Greeks and the Romans used parsley leaf much as we still do today. In mythology, parsley was believed to have sprung from a Greek hero, Archemorous, the forerunner of death; the Greeks crowned the winners at the Isthmian games with parsley, and warriors fed parsley leaves to their horses. Because parsley was considered as dedicated to Persephone (goddess of the underworld and afterlife) and thus to funeral rites, when Christianity supplanted the old beliefs parsley was consecrated to St. Peter, as the "successor" to Charon.
Parsley, long in common use all around the Mediterranean, was brought to England and apparently first cultivated there in 1548. Bentham considered it a native of the Eastern Mediterranean regions; De Candolle, of Turkey, Algeria, and the Lebanon. Since its introduction into the British islands in the sixteenth century, it has become naturalized there.
The ancients called two plants--celery and parsley (which are related)--by the general name selinon, but distinguished the two, calling celery heleioselinon, "marsh selinon", and parsley oreoselinon ("mountain selinon") or petroselinum, "rock selinon". That last became, in the Middle Ages, corrupted to petrocilium, and was also variously anglicized as petersylinge, persele, persely, and parsley.
In the sixteenth century, Parsley was known as A. hortense, but herbalists retained the official name petroselinum. In 1764. Linnaeus classified it A. petroselinum.
No mention appears to have been made, either by the ancients or in the Middle Ages, of rooted parsley; but in 1771, Miller, in his Gardeners' Dictionary, referred to "largerooted Parsley", saying: "This is now pretty commonly sold in the London markets, the roots being six times as large as the common Parsley. This sort was many years cultivated in Holland before the English gardeners could be prevailed upon to sow it. I brought the seeds of it from thence in 1727; but they refused to accept it, so that I cultivated it several years before it was known in the markets."
There are, it seems, an inordinate number of Superstitions About Parsley.
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