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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.

parsley-roll-done
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. 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.

    1. 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!

    1. 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:

    Hi,

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

    Simone

  7. irina says:

    loved your post. thank you!!!! made great frozen parsley balls. Yam!

    do you have any suggestions how to use already “bolted” parsley? I was out of town for a while, parsley took over the whole 6 by 5 raised garden bed. serious overproduction. the stocks are 2-3 feet high, all gone to seed.
    is it all going to compost? :(
    irina

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Irina. UNless it’s all dried up I’d use it in broth/stock or another soup base, for example. I suspect it still has good flavor for that.

  8. ADVICE FROM A COP says:

    Forgive me if this has already been addressed, but is one year the maximum length of time herbs can be kept frozen? I freeze left-over herbs, but unfortunately, mine are not home-grown. Thank you!

    1. margaret says:

      So many things affect the freezer life of foods, including herbs. The more times we open the freezer, e.g., the more moisture gets in (because of temperature fluctuations) and so on. It’s easy to tell just by tasting them when they are no longer flavorful. I’d say they are best in the first 6 months and I stash my parsley, for instance, in September to use through the next July, when I will have fresh again — so like 9 months.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Joan. I do not, no, but typically I am adding it to a frittata or soup or other cooked dish, or even a salad, all of which have moisture anyhow. I don’t even drfrost it — just chop off a bit and put right into whatever I am needing it for.

  9. Peg Denton says:

    I’m off to gather my parsley, marjoram, sage and whatever else I find growing in my garden. With your help, these will be great this winter!

  10. connie g says:

    I just found your site while looking for a way to preserve the most gorgeous batch of flat leaf parsley I’ve ever had in my garden.
    It’s December in PA and the rest of my garden is torn out, but the parsley seems to just get better. And I use it in almost everything. If I think there’s a chance of frost, I’m out there covering it up with bath towels (LOL).
    Every winter I miss it and buy fresh from the super market, but it’s just now where near as good as mine.
    So, THANK YOU! I will be harvesting and freezing a winter’s worth tonight using your ideas.

    1. margaret says:

      So glad to recommend this “trick,” Connie, because you will love it. Yes, the parsley here outside is still OK, too…but suddenly too much cumulative cold will have wrecked it and then none till spring. Unless I have my frozen “logs.” : )

  11. Bay_girl says:

    Has anyone tried this with Kale? The bunches are just too big to get through before they go yellow. I have par-boiled, flash chilled, then frozen in ice cube trays, but its a lot of work! Love to hear some answers on that topic.

    1. James Dylan Rivis says:

      Blanch Kale leaves only in salted boiling water for a few minutes until wilted. Drain and/or remove with sieve or slotted spoon. Plunge into icewater or running cold water. Drain and portion into small freexer bags. Seal and freeze. I place 4 or 5 flattened pint bags in one quart bag. In all cases squeeze out what air you can before sealing and freezing.

  12. James Dylan Rivis says:

    I also make parsley butter rolls. When removed from the freezer and unwrapped you can then slice dics of a thickness of your choice and serve on topnof steaks or vegetables !!!

    Simply finely chop the parsley. Leave your salted butter at room temp until it becomes pliable. place it then in a good sized bowl and toss in the chopped herb. Stir vigorously to blend. Chill for 30 minutes in the fridge (not freezer). . Cut a piece of wax paper c 12″ x 12″. Lay it out flat and place your still pliable mix across it as you would when making Sushi. With a wooden spoon form as best a log as you can after which gently roll it in the wax paper until roughly circular. Then roll the log neatly in the wax paper, tucking the ends in. Place three elastic bands around the rolled up log, one at each end and one in the middle.Wrap in clear plastic wrap being careful to keep the air out. I then put 3 or 4 logs in one quart freezer bag and seal.Freeze until needed. You can do this with chives, oregano, cilantro…anything you wish. This flavored butter is also good goe sauteeing meats or fish.

  13. Joy says:

    Wow! I’ve been doing this with cilantro for years ands never knew anyone else did this! I’ve got so much parsley and basil, I don’t know what to do so I’m SO happy to find this! Thank you!

  14. Kerry Bee says:

    Thanks for tips on curly parsley, seldom use it but lately soup/casserole recipes have called for it. Large bunch only 99 cents.

    As we speak I’m letting the washed bunch drain a bit, and will use the freeze-in-water technique, storing in small tupper type containers, discarding the long stems.

    I’ve successfully frozen fresh Basil this way, and use the water it was frozen in, as the flavor has wonderfully permeated the water. Use Basil and it’s water in Italian style sauces.

  15. Cremilda Dias says:

    Have a bumper crop of parsley this year do will try this, thanks! I also use curly parsley in the front yard, it’s so pretty but stick to Italian for cooking.
    Love your site and tell everyone about it.

  16. Paul Beach says:

    Great ideas. When trying to remove air from freezer bags, I poke a drinking straw into the bag, holding it almost closed, and then suck the air out and seal. Works for me.

  17. Karen says:

    I grew parsley and chives for the first time. I never use any type of pesticides on my plants just a wire fence around them and they’ve done great. I’ve read alot of ways to freeze and yours look the best. For awhile now I’ve been wondering how I could freeze small amounts now I just read your way to cut the ends off the roll it’s just what I was looking for! Gona start freezing today. Thank you so much!

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