One of the most widely used herbs, parsley is a bright green biennial plant with feather-like leaves. Native to the Mediterranean region, it prefers temperate climates but thrives in a range of climatic conditions. There are two primary varieties of parsley: flat-leaf parsley and curly parsley.
While curly leaf parsley is the more popular of the two, both varieties are used for culinary purposes. The curly leaf variety is generally used as a garnish. On the other hand, flat-leaf parsley, also known as Italian parsley, is typically used in cooking.
Thanks to its refreshing earthy taste and light scent, it can be used in a wide variety of recipes, particularly in vegetable dishes, salads, soups, and sauces. While it is popular worldwide, parsley herb is predominantly used in Middle-Eastern and Greek cuisines. It was first cultivated about 2,000 years ago and named after a Greek word meaning “rock celery.”
The best thing about parsley is its subtle taste that can make all the difference between an ordinary recipe and a gourmet delicacy. The second best thing about parsley is that it is extremely easy to grow and harvest, which means that you can plant it in your herb garden and always have fresh parsley at hand!
Furthermore, if you are a parsley fan like us, you’ll be glad to know that parsley stores extremely well. Once harvested, you can preserve it in different ways to ensure an uninterrupted supply of your favorite herb year-round. Read on to learn everything about harvesting and storing parsley.
When Should I Harvest Parsley?
Parsley is a biennial and grows back when cut. However, it’s most often grown as an annual plant. It usually takes 70 to 90 days of growth before your parsley plant is ready for harvesting. It is advisable to let the plant develop ample foliage before you start harvesting parsley leaves.
In temperate climates, you can harvest parsley year-round. In other regions, the growing season starts in spring and lasts through fall. The best time to harvest parsley is in the morning before it gets too hot in the day. The leaves have the most potent flavor during this time due to the high content of essential oil.
The general rule of harvesting parsley is to regularly pick a few leaves instead of an occasional large harvest. Doing so will keep the plants busy producing foliage. Otherwise, parsley goes to seed early in the season.
Keep in mind that it takes a parsley plant two to three weeks to grow back after a harvest. Plan harvesting sessions accordingly, giving your herbs enough time to grow back before you harvest again!
How To Harvest Parsley
Parsley is harvested for its flavorful leaves as well as seeds. It is advisable to harvest younger plants for leaves, while older plants and those in the second year of growth are more suitable to be harvested for their seeds.
Harvesting Parsley for Leaves
The first step of harvesting parsley is to choose the right plants. For harvesting leaves, you want to pick younger stems as they have the strongest flavors.
Check the plant to make sure that stems have three segments or more. If you find three or more leaf clusters on the stem, it is ready for harvesting. Otherwise, it’s best to let it grow for a few more days before you start harvesting.
You can either harvest individual leaves or take entire stems. Leaves can simply be pinched or snipped off. When harvesting stems, cut at the base of the stem instead of snipping the top. Cutting parsley stems near the base of the plant encourages growth, allowing your plants to grow bushier. Make sure you use a sharp pair of sterilized scissors or garden shears to cut the stems neatly.
Always avoid cutting the plant from the middle of the growth, especially when you need a few small sprigs for daily use. A better approach is to cut stems from the outer portion of the plant. It will ensure that you harvest the oldest growth first.
Harvesting older growth will also allow the plant to focus on producing new foliage. As a result, your herbs will thrive and generally grow healthier over time. Harvest continually throughout the growing season, taking outer leaves or stems, until the bright green color of the leaves starts fading. At this point, the flavor starts to decline.
If your plants are kept outside and unprotected, it is best to harvest the plants completely at the end of the season. However, plants grown indoors in warm and favorable conditions can continue to grow through winter as long as they receive plenty of sunlight. For plants grown indoors, you can continue to harvest on an “as-needed” basis.
Harvesting Parsley for Seeds
Now that you know the best way to harvest a parsley plant for leaves, let’s discuss how to harvest the plants for parsley seeds. The first thing you need to know is that parsley plants do not produce seeds during the first year of growth.
For seed development, you will have to be a little patient. Monitor mature plants closely once they enter the second year of growth. Typically, parsley herbs flower and produce seeds at the end of their lifecycle.
To make the most of your plants and get a bountiful harvest, it is advisable to remove any weak or imperfect parsley plant at the end of the first season. Doing so will allow the second-year growth to be stronger and healthier and produce high-quality seeds.
Once the seed heads have darkened and are ready, you can remove them from the plant by cutting the stem right below the seed head. You can use scissors to do that or simply pinch the plant between your thumb and index finger to remove seed heads.
Avoid moving the seed heads too much in the process. Shaking the seed heads too much while clipping off can cause the seeds to scatter. Since parsley seeds are very small, scattered seeds will likely get lost. Place your harvested seed heads in a paper bag to dry. Once fully dry, shake the bag to cause the seeds to separate from their heads and drop into the bag.
You may notice some young seeds still stuck inside the seed heads. Allow these seeds to mature a bit longer by setting them out in the sun for a few days. It generally takes around 2 to 3 days for young seeds to ripen under direct sunlight. During this time, keep the seeds as dry as possible. You may also have to protect them from birds and other small animals as they ripen.
How To Store Fresh Parsley
Fresh parsley can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. How long it lasts depends on how you store it. Here are some ways you can keep parsley fresh and make it last longer.
Storing Parsley at Room Temperature
You can keep your harvest fresh for the short-term by storing it at room temperature in water. The trick is to bundle the stems together and snip the ends. Now, place the stems in a glass or vase filled with about 1 to 2 inches of water. Cover the leaves using a plastic bag and leave them out on the counter. Your harvest will remain fresh and wilt-free for 2 to 3 days. Wash parsley before using.
Storing Parsley in the Refrigerator
Want to store parsley for longer? Start by washing the stems thoroughly to remove any dirt or dust. Use a couple of paper towels to dab the sprigs dry. However, instead of throwing the paper towels away, use them to cover the sprigs loosely and store them in a sealable bag. Place the bag in the refrigerator, and that’s it! Fresh parsley stored in this manner will last for 3 to 5 days.
Another easy way to store your parsley long-term is to freeze it. There are different ways to go about it. For example, you can freeze whole sprigs for later use or freeze cut parsley in an ice cube dish with a little bit of water to bind the leaves together. It is essential to mention that while frozen parsley will retain its flavor, it will lose its crisp texture. It is best to use frozen parsley within 6 months.
How To Dry Parsley
One of the best ways to store parsley for a long time is to dry it. Hang washed sprigs upside down in a warm, dark, and well-ventilated area. You may want to tie a paper bag around the leaves to keep dust away.
It will take the stems around 7 to 15 days to dry completely. Once dried, you can crumble the leaves and store them in an airtight container or bag. Don’t forget to cure parsley to avoid mold or mildew.
You can also use a food dehydrator to dry your harvest quickly and easily. As high heat can impact the flavor of the herbs, you may want to use an air-only dehydrating method. It is best to use dry parsley within 2 to 3 years.
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