growing and storing a year of parsley

parsley-harvestF LAT-LEAF, OR ITALIAN, PARSLEY IS MACHO COMPARED TO CURLY-LEAF, particularly the selection called (grrrr!) ‘Gigante.’ I like my parsley big and strong, and I get just that by growing my own, and stashing it away for year-round use with two easy freezer tactics. No $1.99-a-bunch stuff for me except in recipes when only fresh will do, and no dried parsley for me, ever: insipid!

Curly-leaf parsley is great for edging borders, and for planting as a “ruff” around the feet of bigger plants in pots, where it will be beautiful all season, even after substantial frost. But if you want to cook, go ‘Gigante,’ or ‘Giant of Italy.’ Flat-leaf parsley has more parsley flavor, to my taste.

All parsley is extremely high in nutrients, particularly Vitamin C, folates and Potassium, as well as beta carotene. In fact, a quarter-cup of raw chopped parsley has about as much C as a quarter-cup of orange juice and double the folates (more that one and a half times those, even, of raw spinach). I include raw leaflets in salads, greatly boosting the nutritional value of every bowlful, and you could put some in these rice-paper rolls from a blog I love, White on Rice Couple.

Parsley, a biennial, is easy to grow from seed, despite being ultra-slow and taking two weeks to a month to germinate. Don’t give up on it. I start a 6-pack in the house in early spring, tucking the just-moist cellpack into a slightly ajar plastic bag in a warm spot, then moving to the sunniest windowsill once I see signs of life.

The baby plants, which will look like not so much, quickly put down tap roots and settle in outdoors, shaping up by summer into bushy things.  Unlike many vegetable- and herb-garden residents, parsley will manage in part shade, so the north side of your tomatoes (which basil might resent) is fine, for instance, and it does well even spilling out of beds, planted near the edge.

Parsley will technically survive most winters here, but what a mess it will be. To continue to harvest fresh leaves as long as possible into the cold months, tuck one plant in extra-snuggly at frost, perhaps with an upside-down bushel basket over it, and with dry oak leaves or another insulating material stuffed inside that. The plant will usually send up its flower stalk to set seed the next spring; dig it out and compost it, and start the process over. In a stressful summer (hot and dry), the plant may get the urge to “bolt” by midsummer, not even making it into the coming year.

It’s hard to get to my vegetable garden in the worst winters, so I freeze my year’s supply: some as “pesto” cubes, others in “logs” of leaflets pressure-rolled tightly inside freezer bags (above). The log technique (so easy, and probably the only cooking Good Thing I contributed to “Martha Stewart Living,” though my record with gardening ideas was better!) is illustrated below in the slideshow below; many herbs freeze well this way, such as chives, and when you need some, you just slice a disc from one end of the log.

parsley pesto cubes 2
Parsley pesto (shown frozen as cubes, above), great as an ingredient in soup or stew or defrosted and spooned on top of a bowl of minestrone with a drizzle of olive oil and some cheese, is the same theory as with my basil pesto. When I say “recipe,” I mean “guidelines,” not “roadmap.”

Your pesto style may simply be a thick slurry of parsley blended (or food-processor-ed) in a tiny bit of water, or prepared similarly in olive oil, or you can go all the way and add raw garlic or nuts (pine or walnuts, perhaps?) or parmesan-type cheese, before freezing as cubes that are then knocked out into double freezer bags, with the air expressed. (A very different pesto, involving peanuts, is one of the other entries into today’s Fest–and a recipe I plan to try.)

A similar process, with water or oil or more, can also be used to store many herbs like sage, chives or garlic scapes, or rosemary, I recalled, reading this entry at the Gluten-Free Girl blog; use your imagination, and stash what’s in your garden for later. If made with the extras like cheese and garlic, herb pesto cubes are a real treat on crackers on a frigid day, or tossed into pasta: a mouthful of summer, just when you’re most in need.

how to make parsley ‘logs’

CLICK THE FIRST thumbnail to begin the slideshow, then use the arrows on each photo (or your keyboard arrows) to toggle from frame to frame. I know, it looks like some Cheech and Chong stash of weed, but what would I know about that?

more, more, more

July 28, 2009


  1. Elvina says

    Thank you so much for sharing how to preserve parsley. The photos really help to visualize the steps. I will try both methods you recommended.

  2. Jo says

    This is brilliant and I can’t wait to do this. I am looking forward to spending time on your site, I found it via the Kitchn. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Vicki Stiltner says

    You mentioned this could be done with other herbs. Will this work with basil or chives? Do you have a way to best preserve rosemary, thyme or lavender? Thanks! I’m so glad I found you and as you stated – the picture spoke well of your method for ‘rolling’ the herbs.

    • margaret says

      Try this story, Vicki, for more detail on other herbs. Basil is best as a pesto (it blackens from freezing otherwise); chives can be chopped and put in small freezer jars, and the rest I think explain in that post, too.

  4. Linda B says

    Love the Parsley log technique! I have only dried parsley, and was not thrilled with the weak flavor. This will be a vast improvement.

  5. Carla says

    This really was a great contribution to Living Magazine. I have been using the plastic bag & rubber band method ever since I saw it. I had to laugh, though, when I read your weed reference because I didn’t know anything about that until I proudly opened my freezer door to show my daughter all my hard work, and she gasped and wondered what in the world her mother had gotten into!

    • margaret says

      See how they taste, Patty, and hurry! : ) The leaves normally get very small and not as plentiful, so that will also be a hindrance, but if they taste good and are vivid green, why not?

  6. Simone says


    Thank you for all your tips:) I was wondering if you wash and dry fresh parsley before it goes in a bag?
    Thank you


    • margaret says

      You can, yes, but be sure to spin it (like salad) till really dry because wet leaves will not freeze nicely.

leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *