How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Chervil

People who love French cuisine will love growing and using chervil at home. Ann McCarron shows you how to get the freshest herb harvests with this growing guide!

Growing chervil

Contents

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is parsley’s more refined, sophisticated cousin. It has a mild, sweet peppery flavor with hints of both parsley and aniseed. Its delicate, perishable leaves make it a difficult herb to get hold of, so growing chervil at home makes perfect sense.

Herb chervil is a key ingredient in French cooking and the herb bouquet known as Fines Herbes, combining fresh chervil, chives, parsley, and tarragon.

It is best used in dishes that are cooked quickly or added towards the end to ensure its flavor is retained. It is particularly delicious in sauces such as beurre blanc and used as a seasoning in chicken, fish, and egg dishes. Or, use as a garnish and mix in with other salad greens for extra zing.  

This is a great herb to grow in cooler climates or as an over-winter crop in hotter locations. It will even provide a delicate dash of interest in shady garden spots where little else will grow. If you want to recreate your own fabulous French cooking using chervil as the star ingredient, keep reading to learn how to grow it!

Plant Overview

  • Plant Type Herb
  • Family Apiaceae
  • Genus Anthriscus
  • Species Anthriscus cerefolium
  • Native Area Europe, Russia, Asia
  • Exposure Partial shade
  • Height 12-24”
  • Watering Requirements High
  • Pests & Diseases Aphids, slugs, snails, powdery mildew
  • Maintenance Low
  • Soil Type Rich loam
  • Hardiness Zone 3-7

What is Chervil?

Chervil is a member of the Apiaceae (carrot) family like parsley, cilantro, fennel, and anise. Other common names are French parsley, common chervil, and garden chervil. It’s often confused with sweet cicely and wild chervil (cow parsley) which are completely different species.  

Native Area

Chervil originates in Russia, central Asia, and southern Europe, growing wild in many places due to its self-seeding nature. It’s not to be confused with wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris), which self-seeds prolifically and has an aggressive growth habit that competes with surrounding plants. Self-seeded chervil is less aggressive and easy to weed out. 

Characteristics

Chervil is an upright, bushy plant growing to around 24 inches tall and 24 inches across when mature. Stalks, stems, and leaves are bright to mid-green. Leaves are opposite, tri-pinnate with finely toothed leaflets, one to two inches long, sometimes curly, and with slightly hairy undersides.

In summer, tiny white flowers are borne in umbels on flowering stalks rising above the foliage. Seeds are brown, a quarter of an inch in length, and ribbed, similar to other seeds within the carrot family. Chervil also has a long taproot that does not transplant well.

In its native habitat, chervil grows as a biennial, producing foliage in its first year and flowering and going to seed in its second. Cultivated chervil is grown as a hardy annual herb. 

Once a plant flowers, its foliage loses its signature sweet, peppery, mildly aniseed taste. To keep a continuous supply of chervil for the kitchen, sow chervil seeds successionally from spring until summer and then again in fall. Harvest leaves eight weeks after sowing. 

Chervil is grown for its leaves, which need to be eaten fresh as they do not dry well or retain flavor from prolonged cooking. Flowers can be added as a garnish. Although roots are edible, they should not be confused with root chervil or turnip-rooted chervil which is a different species and grown specifically for root production.

Cultivars

Chervil is easy to grow from seed. The heirloom variety is available in seed form online. Here are a few other chervil varieties to look out for:

  • ‘Brussels Winter’: Ready in 40 days. Withstands colder temperatures than common chervil.
  • ‘Crispum’: Also called curled chervil. It has dark curly leaves and a milder flavor than the common variety. Ready in 40-50 days.
  • ‘Vertissimo’: Dense clump-forming plant with dark leaves. A vigorous grower that is slow to bolt and ready in 60 days

Planting

As a cool-season plant, chervil can be started at different times depending on the local climate. In cool climates, sow chervil seeds successionally every three to four weeks from early spring to mid-summer and then again in the fall. In hotter climates, sow when daytime temperatures fall below 65ºF. Otherwise, plants will bolt soon after starting.

Chervil will also grow well in containers or on a windowsill indoors. Sow groups of two to three seeds six inches apart, thinning to the strongest seedling.  

Chervil does not transplant well, so it is best sown directly into soil amended with rich organic matter. Sow seeds thinly into shallow pre-watered drills. Firm seeds gently into the soil, but do not cover as chervil seed requires light to germinate. Thin seedlings to six inches apart once they are around four inches tall and keep well-watered. 

If sowing indoors, start seeds four to six weeks before the last frost into deep root trainers, or long biodegradable coir pots that will reduce transplant shock. Seeds can take between 14-28 days to germinate. Harden off seedlings for a few days before planting chervil outdoors six inches between plants and rows twelve inches apart.  

How to Grow

Growing chervil at home is easy with the right location, soil, and watering regime. Here are a few tips to follow when caring for chervil.

Light

As a cool-season plant, chervil is happiest growing in partial shade with at least four hours of direct sunlight daily. In USDA zones 3-7, grow chervil from spring onwards. In hardiness zones 8-10, grow chervil in late fall and overwinter in full sun to light shade. 

Water

Keep soil moist but never soaking wet and do not let the soil dry out completely. Water plants in the morning where possible using timed soaker hoses or water by hand directly at the soil level. Avoid watering the delicate foliage as it may become weighed down and cause damage.

Container-grown chervil requires more frequent watering as pots dry out quickly. Water less frequently in cooler climates and during the winter months.

Soil

Chervil grows well in humus-rich, moisture-retentive, free-draining loam soil with an ideal pH range of 6.5 – 7.0. A good organic mulch will keep the soil moist and the roots cool during the growing season while adding nutrients.

Temperature

Chervil prefers cool, moist, shaded growing conditions and is prone to bolting in hot, dry weather. 

In temperatures of 65ºF and above, chervil may wilt or bolt, making leaves lose their flavor. When temperatures are high and the sun is at its strongest, protect plants by shading them if needed.

Although herb chervil is frost-tolerant, in very cold areas, plants may benefit from protection under a cloche or containers moved indoors.

Fertilizing

A soil rich in organic matter should provide adequate nutrients throughout the season.  Container-grown chervil will require more watering and therefore may benefit from a nitrogen-rich liquid feed every four weeks.

Maintenance

Pruning out any flower buds as soon as they appear and regular harvesting will encourage the production of new leaves and keep the plant in shape. Use sharp and cleaned pruning shears when harvesting to encourage quick regrowth.

Propagation

Chervil will self-seed and is easily propagated from seed. Collect the seeds at the end of the second year to sow again the following season following the instructions above.

Harvesting & Storage

Chervil is ready for harvest six to eight weeks after sowing. 

Harvest chervil leaves in the morning when they are at their optimal hydration, helping them stay fresh for longer. You can use scissors, pruning shears, or simply break leaves off by hand, being careful not to pull the whole plant.

Herb chervil will store for a few days in the refrigerator if wrapped in damp kitchen paper or with stems in a glass of water. For longer-term storage and to retain flavor, chop leaves finely and freeze in ice cube trays topped with a little water. The frozen chervil cubes can be added directly to soups and sauces, releasing that wonderful chervil taste! 

Common Problems

Chervil is an easy plant to grow with few pests and diseases. These are the few potential problems to look out for.

Bolting

The most common problem when growing chervil is bolting. This occurs when growing conditions become too hot or dry, stimulating plants to reproduce by flowering and going to seed. 

Avoid this by growing chervil at the correct time of year for the climate you live in. If your chervil plants show signs of bolting, provide shade and water and remove the flowering stem.

Pests

Aphids (Aphidoidea) are small, sticky insects that feed on the sap of new growth. To treat biologically, grow companion plants like coriander which attract beneficial insects that feed on aphids, such as ladybug larvae, lacewings, and hoverflies.

Alternatively, spray with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil. Squishing aphids with fingers or a quick blast of water can also help reduce numbers. 

Slugs and snails attack young chervil seedlings, devouring them entirely and leaving holes in stems and a glistening slime trail as evidence. The shady, moist environment preferred by chervil is also the perfect habitat for slugs and snails to feed all day long. Reduce populations by removing their daytime hideaways and breeding grounds like damp wet wood and weed matting.

Remove by hand on sight (best results at night) or leave beer or oatmeal traps which can be collected and discarded in the morning. As a last resort, use organic slug/snail pellets. Read the label carefully to ensure they will not harm other wildlife or pets.

Diseases

Chervil enjoys a shaded location, but if this is combined with high humidity, plants can develop powdery mildew. This thick white fungal growth on leaves inhibits photosynthesis and hinders growth. Foliage eventually turns yellow and dies.

Maintain good garden hygiene, removing infected foliage to prevent the disease from spreading. Provide adequate sunlight and good air circulation. Treat affected plants with an organic fungicide such as liquid copper, sulfur, or potassium bicarbonate, prior to or on first sight of disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is chervil an annual or a perennial?

A:  Chervil is mainly grown as a hardy annual herb because of its tendency to bolt when the weather heats up. In its natural environment, it grows as a biennial. 

Q: Is chervil easy to grow?

A:  Chervil is a cool-season plant that grows well in shade with regular watering. If you can provide this growing environment, chervil is pretty easy to grow.

Final Thoughts

If you are short on growing space, you are in luck, as chervil is the perfect container-grown herb. Choose a pot at least twelve inches deep to accommodate the taproot, and keep it close to your kitchen door. That way, you will enjoy chervil at its freshest every time!

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