Harvesting Parsley

Choosing a method for harvesting parsley is always a judgment call. Parsley is the little black dress of the herb patch. It can work with lots and lots of dishes, is a very green, bushy little plant that looks good in the garden and is relatively easy going, as in not fussy. It's also available for snipping all summer long.

It is so ubiquitous, in fact, that around the holidays some grocery stores offer a free bunch of parsley with every Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey. That is the power of parsley in our hearts and minds -- a garnish, a seasoning, a bunch of green goodness that brings a feeling of hearth and home to the table.

Harvesting Parsley Can Be Tricky

Parsley is one herb that's ridiculously easy to find at the market, which is a good thing because growing it in the garden has some disadvantages when harvest time rolls around. Dried parsley lacks flavor. I'm sure you've noticed. It dries a bright green that isn't very attractive in wreaths or swags, which makes it less desirable as a decorative, dried herb too.

It is also a biennial, which means it won't set seed the first year you plant it. Instead, it stores energy to overwinter in the garden and sets seed the following spring or early summer. That second season you won't get much leaf development because most of the plant's energy will be used up making flowers and seeds. The seeds themselves will be quite small and can be a challenge to grow -- more on that in a minute.

On Bringing Parsley Indoors

Parsley has a taproot too, which can be tough to translate to a pot if you plan on bringing your plant indoors for casual harvesting during the winter. Think very deep pot and keep your fingers crossed.

Okay, now for the good news. Even in cold climates you can overwinter parsley in the garden at the end of its first season. Just cut it back and give it a good mulching.

As a recipe ingredient, your extra parsley is also a great candidate for freezing. Just clean it, chop it, place it in clean or distilled water and freeze it into ice cubes. Once the cubes have set, transfer them to a big freezer bag and you'll have minced parsley for soups, stews and all your other parsley rich dishes. Just be sure to harvest the leaves late in the season so there'll still be enough oomph in the root to survive the winter. In most locations, mid-September before the first frost is a good time.

Handling Parsley Seeds

Next season, you'll want to harvest your parsley seeds. This is pretty straightforward, but getting them to germinate later calls for some special attention. The seed casings are TOUGH, so soak them in hot (but not boiling) water, and let the water come to room temperature. Leave the seeds in water overnight and plant them out the next day or the day after.

If you do decide to dry parsley, watch the temperature because it scorches easily and dries in a very few hours in either a warm oven or in a dehydrator. Try using the dried leaves within a month, after that they're colorful but pretty tasteless.

Special tip for harvesting parsley: If you're making flavored vinegars, try setting some fresh parsley aside as a garnish. It makes an attractive addition to a decorative bottle.

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