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.

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

  1. Margaret Smith says:

    I saw your idea several years ago for making the parsley “cigars” for freezing. I tried it, and it worked perfectly! Just for trying something new, I started freezing everything I could in a cigar like fashion (fruit, veggies, etc). I would put whatever I was freezing in a ziploc bag, use your method to push to bottom and roll, and then put 2 or 3 rubber bands around it to hold in a rolled shape. Two things seemed to happen with this idea – 1. It seemed to take less space in the freezer. 2. It also seemed to keep frost crystals from being a problem. When you start to roll, you can also add tape (I use blue tape) with description, dates, etc, that will be covered and protected by the baggie, but still visible. Thanks for your idea!

    PS: If I freeze ground meats or sausage, I make into patties and freeze, load them after freezing in ziploc baggies, then roll (not exactly like a cigar) the baggie, and add the rubber bands.

        1. margaret says:

          They’re there but perhaps you are on an old browser (like an outdated version of a Windows?). What browser and version are you using?

  2. Carol K. says:

    I’m a more recent subscriber to A Way to Garden so had not seen this post till now so hope I still might add a comment. I freeze parsley – and other herbs as well – in the manner described above but I felt I was wasting a lot of potential flavor by tossing the stems into the compost bucket after removing the leaves. So now I gather a handful of plucked stems into a good-sized bunch and coarsely chop them. Next I add them to my blender along with just enough water to make things grind up nicely and then freeze the resulting slurry in ice cube trays. (If I feel there is too much water, I strain off a bit.) Once frozen, just as with pesto cubes or any others, I pop them out and into zipper freezer bags. Then, whenever a soup, stew, or whatever needs some parsley, I just use however many parsley cubes I want.

  3. Hi Margaret. Re: Parsley
    My huge flat leaf parsley plant has just gone through its second winter!
    About 30″ wide and about the same high. It has a great robust flavor
    and I chop it into everything! I have cut off the seed shoots but saved
    a few to dry…but I really don’t need another plant. Hope you are well
    and surviving this scary health crisis. It has been hard on we artists.
    Galleries closed and no one wants to come to the studio. My web site
    is out there with a million others! Sometimes I miss Douglaston!
    Bset from Anne Allbeury-Hock

  4. Doris Knudsen says:

    Thank you for this most excellent and informative blog. It’s new to me and wonderful.

    I know this is an old post, but I don’t know see anybody using ‘OT’ on current threads. So I’ll try here first.

    Newbie gardener with a parsley question: how do you space the plants? First time ever doing seedlings (and so late!) and the recommendations I’ve seen on the internet are all over the map: from 2-3 inches to 8, 9 and more inches.

    I have Gigante and Krausa, and I know the Gigante will be somewhat larger. Any tips would be much appreciated.

  5. Emma Brown says:

    This is great! My mom has been doing this for a few years and swears by it! What tools do you use? I know she just uses a spatula to smush the herbs to the bottom of the bag, ziplocks and rubber bands. Anything you’ve found that is helpful? How do you store all the baggies in your freezer? (thinking for a Christmas gift for her ;) )

  6. Julie Holmberg says:

    Freezing is great! However I dig my parley up every fall and it continues growing on a sunny window sill all winter. I go and snip fresh parsley as needed, especially for homemade chicken soup!

  7. Barbara Wilde says:

    One thing I’ve learned about growing Italian parsley over the decades is that a late-sown (August-September) batch always overwinters beautifully compared to the plants from a spring sowing. Maybe after growing and being harvested through the long hot summer leaves the plants too worn out to make it through the winter in good form. Parsley has become perhaps my most prized fall-planted crop.

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