Notes from Diane's Garden

Or The Curious Lore and Magical Property of Plants
By Diane Fenster

May 1988: Parsley

There was a custom among the ancient Greeks to border their gardens with Rue and Parsley. From this arose a figure of speech, "to be at the parsley and rue," which meant that an undertaking had been talked about, but not yet begun. Since we discussed Rue in the last article, Parsley (Apium petroselinum from the Greek, Petros, meaning rock because the wild plant was said to favor rocky places) now follows.

Because the Parsley seed lies so long in the ground before it germinates, it is said to go nine times to the Devil before it comes up. There is a way of preventing this however, just sow the seeds on Good Friday (between the hours of twelve and three are most efficacious since these are the hours of the crucifixion) when the soil is not under the power of the Devil, and your parsley will grow. If you happen to have missed your chance last month, don't worry, you can also deter Satan and get your Parsley to grow by pouring boiling water over the freshly sown seeds. In some areas it is thought unlucky to grow parsley, even though the plant has such widespread medicinal and culinary uses. Perhaps this is because of its ancient associations with death, the plant rising from the blood of the Greek hero Archemorus. The Greeks decorated their tombs with the plant and it was woven into wreaths to be worn by the winners of funeral games. It was never brought to their tables, being held sacred to oblivion and the dead.

The plant was also strewn on graves, hence the expression "to be in need of parsley" which means to be at death's door. It is also considered extremely unlucky to transplant Parsley; many old gardeners in England have been known to refuse this task for fear of death. It was also considered unlucky to bring Parsley seeds into the house. Parsley lore seems to be associated with sex as well as with death. There is a belief that if boy babies are found under the gooseberry bush, girls are found in the parsley patch. A man's potency is aided by Parsley. Gloucestershire village folk consider parsley wine an aphrodisiac. Also, if a man doesn't want to have all daughters, he must uproot any overlush patches of parsley in the garden. If a woman of child-bearing age engages in sowing parsley, she will be pregnant before the seeds germinate.

The most familiar uses we have for Parsley are of course found in the kitchen but there are medicinal uses for Parsley as well. An oil called Apiol is extracted from the seeds, the best being obtained from a variety called Triple Moss. It is considered to be an emmenagogue.

There is a popular remedy that was used in France to cure scrofulous swellings. Green parsley and snails were pounded together to make an ointment that was applied to the affected part. A poultice of the fresh leaves can be used as a remedy for bites and stings of poisonous insects. Culpepper states that:
"It is very comfortable to the stomach...good for wind and to remove obstructions both of the liver and the spleen..."

There is a reference to the "Toilet of Flora" which is probably an old book on herbal potions that says that one can prevent baldness by powdering your head with powdered parsley seeds for three nights every year and your hair will never fall off. For you gardeners out there, it is important to note that a plain leaf parsley will overwinter far better than a curly leaf variety. (although us California folk generally don't have much to worry about unless you're in an area that receives frost.)

Parsley Soup

1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 medium onion
1 cup Water
2 cups milk

Melt butter, add flour and salt, the liquids and onion. Boil for one hour. Remove the onion and add 1/2 cup of cream mixed with the yolks of two eggs. Cook until thickened. Just before serving add 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley. Stir well and serve at once.
-- from Gardening with Herbs for Flavor and Fragrance by Helen Morgenthau Fox


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