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Growing Chervil, One Of France’s Fines Herbes

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 very 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. Alternatively, add chervil as a garnish or 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. It is very easy to grow and works well in containers and even indoors on a windowsill. If you want to recreate your own fabulous French cooking using chervil as the star ingredient, then keep reading to learn how to grow it!

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Quick Care Guide

Growing chervil
Growing chervil is a rewarding and enjoyable task. Source: Edsel L
Common Name(s)French parsley, common chervil, garden chervil
Scientific NameAnthriscus cerefolium
Days to Harvest40-60 days
LightPart shade if grown in spring/summer, full sun if grown over winter
Water:Regular watering, keep the soil moist
SoilRich loam
FertilizerOrganic mulches or nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer
PestsAphids, slugs, and snails
DiseasesPowdery mildew

All About Chervil

Chervil flowers
Chervil flowers are small, white, and pretty. Source: Gerald Davison

The botanical name for chervil is Anthriscus cerefolium. It’s a member of the Apiaceae (carrot) family like parsley, coriander, fennel, and anise. Other common names are French parsley, common chervil, and garden chervil, but it’s often confused with sweet cicely and wild chervil (cow parsley) which are completely different species.  If in doubt search for Anthriscus cerefolium to ensure you get the correct plantChervil originates in Russia, central Asia, and southern Europe, growing wild in many places due to its self-seeding nature, but 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. 

Chervil is an upright, bushy plant growing to around 24 inches tall (60cms) and 24 inches across (60cms) when mature.  Stalks, stems, and leaves are bright to mid-green.  Leaves are opposite, tri-pinnate with finely toothed leaflets, 1.25 to 2 inches (3-5cms) 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.  Chervil prefers cool, moist, shaded growing conditions and is prone to bolting in hot dry weather.  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 and harvest leaves 8 weeks from sowing. 

Chervil is grown for its leaves which need to be eaten fresh as they do not dry well or retain flavor with prolonged cooking.  Flowers can be added as a garnish and 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.

If you are short of growing space then you are in luck as chervil is the perfect container-grown herb.  Choose a pot at least 12 inches deep (30cms) to accommodate the taproot.  Also, keep it close to your kitchen door! That way you will enjoy chervil at its freshest every time!

Here are a few chervil varieties to look out for:

  • Brussels Winter – ready in 40days.  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. 

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 3-4 weeks from early spring to mid-summer and then again in fall.  In hotter climates, sow when daytime temperatures fall below 65ºF (18ºC) otherwise plants will bolt (go to seed) soon after starting.

Grow chervil partial shade in moisture retentive rich loamy soils.  Chervil will also grow well in containers or on a windowsill indoors.

Chervil does not transplant well so is best sown directly into ground amended with rich organic matter.  If sowing indoors, start seeds 4-6 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 6 inches (15cm) between plants and rows 12 inches apart (30cms).  

Caring For Chervil

Chervil in pot
Chervil grows well in containers. Source: The Croft

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.

Sun and Temperature

Chervil needs 4hrs of direct light per day.  As a cool-season plant, chervil is happiest growing in partial shade and temperatures less than 65ºF (18ºC). In temperatures 65ºF (18ºC) 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 with shading. In USDA zones 3-7 grow chervil from spring onwards.  In zones 8-10 grow chervil in late fall and overwinter in full sun to light shade.  Although herb chervil is frost tolerant, in very cold areas plants may benefit from protection under a cloche or containers moved indoors.

Water and Humidity

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 soil level.  Avoid watering the delicate foliage as it may weigh 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 whilst adding nutrients.

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 4 weeks.

Pruning

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. 

Propagation

For best results, chervil seeds should be sown directly into their final growing positions outdoors or in containers.  Grow chervil in soil amended with organic matter and 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 6 inches apart (15cms) once they are around 4 inches tall and keep well-watered.   

If growing in containers, sow groups of 2-3 seeds 6 inches apart (15cms), thinning to the strongest seedling.  

Seeds can also be sown indoors in large root trainers, tall pots, or coir pots to minimize root disturbance when transplanting.  Plant out after the last frost. 

Harvesting and Storing

Chervil herbs
The herb chervil is commonly part of the French combination called fines herbes. Source: Edsel L

Chervil is ready for harvest 6 to 8 weeks after sowing.  Read on for tips to ensure you enjoy your homegrown chervil at its best.

Harvesting

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

Storing

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! 

Troubleshooting

Chervil in winter
Your chervil will tolerate some wintry chill. Source: Alexandre Dulaunoy

Chervil is an easy plant to grow with few pests and diseases. Just in case, here are a few potential problems to look out for.

Growing Problems

The most common problem when growing chervil is bolting.  Bolting is caused 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.  For example, in USDA zone 9, chervil should be grown over winter.  If your chervil plants show signs of bolting, provide shade, water and remove the flowering stem.

Pests

Aphids (Aphidoidea), are small, sticky, yellow, green, and black 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 then plants can develop powdery mildew, a thick white fungal growth on leaves that inhibits photosynthesis and hinders growth.  Foliage eventually turns yellow and dies.  Maintain good garden hygiene, removing infected foliage to prevent the disease from spreading and reinfection.  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

Chervil field
For a large harvest, grow multiple chervil plants. Source: jonny.hunter

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 biannual. 

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 then chervil is pretty easy to grow.


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