Parsley Root - Forgotten, Rare, and Less-Known Vegetables - A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes - Wolf D. Storl

A Curious History of Vegetables: Aphrodisiacal and Healing Properties, Folk Tales, Garden Tips, and Recipes - Wolf D. Storl (2016)

Forgotten, Rare, and Less-Known Vegetables

Parsley Root (Petroselinum crispum covar. radicosum)

Family: Apiaceae or Umbelliferae: umbellifer or carrot family

Other Names: common parsley, Dutch parsley, garden parsley, Hamburg parsley, rock parsley

Healing Properties: arouses male desire (aphrodisiac), stimulates menstruation (emmenagogue), promotes urination (diuretic), dissolves uroliths

Symbolic Meaning: prostitution, manly strength, St. Peter, Archemorus

Planetary Affiliation: Mercury

While most everyone knows parsley—with its dark green, aromatic, feathered or crinkled leaves—parsley root is hardly known at all. Romans used the delicious leaves as seasoning but also, like we do nowadays, as attractive garnish. And, since it was believed the plant both neutralizes the smell of wine and counters drunkenness, the Romans also munched on the curly leaves. (There must be something to that: during my boyhood days growing up in Germany, we’d pick parsley to eat after we’d made off with a few bottles of beer from the local brewery—which would have guaranteed us a whipping at home—and no one ever suspected.) In Germany the plant is often called “Hamburg parsley” or “Dutch parsley,” names given back in the sixteenth century in Northern Germany. The plant also became quite popular in eighteenth-century England, where it was believed to help with bladder ailments and digestive problems.

Parsley cultivation can be traced back five thousand years to the eastern Mediterranean area. Given this long history, it’s not surprising that parsley, like with most old cultigens, has earned countless tales and superstitions. Rock parsley (Gr. petros = rock, selinon = celery) in particular, as with celery, is associated with death and resurrection—or the victory of overcoming death—as well as with masculine virility. According to Greek legend, the parsley plant sprang up from the blood drops of baby Archemorus. As the story goes, seven wandering warriors asked the child’s mother for directions; she left her infant in the grass for a few minutes to show them the way, returning to discover a monstrous snake had devoured the baby. This image—a huge snake eating an innocent—symbolizes the wild power of nature, the power of the chthonic black goddess. This is the power of chaos that rips people out of their normal, everyday lives; it is the power of sexuality and the power of death. According to Greek lore, the true hero (hérōs) is the one with the strength and courage to defy both the horrible serpent and the black goddess of death. As such, parsley is not only a symbol of death, and thus appropriate decoration for graves, but it is also a symbol of the victory of life overcoming chaos. It is fitting for a hero like Hercules to wear a crown of parsley foliage. And in Nemea—where Heracles killed a monster lion that was impervious to the weapons of mortals—competitive games were held every two years in honor of the infant Archemorus. Parsley foliage was woven into the horses’ manes so they would run faster, and, like Hercules, the winners were decorated with plant’s aromatic leaves.

Parsley helps a man mount his horse, but it helps a woman end up under the ground.

This adage refers to the plant as an aphrodisiac for men, but, interestingly, for women—in strong dosage—it is an abortive. As such we once again encounter, as we did with both the carrot and celery, a gland-activating umbellifer.

When ancient Romans wished to imply that a man was impotent, they’d say, “He needs some parsley,” believing parsley could resurrect the “little hero.” Throughout the Middle Ages the streets where prostitutes plied their trade were called “parsley lanes.” But women during the witch trials in Europe strove to avoid the “parsley spirit,” the Maître persil or Peterling, as he was a horny devil, not to be trusted.

Similarly, traditional lore warned young girls to beware of the irresistible amorous drive of the parsley. A young lady should not give away any parsley, for such “would give away her luck in love”—though the luck lost from accidentally-given parsley could be regained by stealing a sprig from someone else’s garden. According to old German folklore, when a young damsel has difficulty finding a dance partner she is deemed to be “picking parsley”; when a young man finally asks her for a dance, she has “gotten rid of her parsley.”

A chant on the fulfillment of love, still widely known in Germany, also involves the aromatic herb. It goes something like this:

Parsley green for the soup,

grows in my garden,

[Girl’s name] is the bride and

she shan’t wait much longer.

Behind the elderberry bush

she gave her sweetheart a kiss.

white wine, red wine,

the wedding tomorrow will be very fine.

As this plant—which can be abortive for women but a “hero-builder” in men—has more than a bit of an uncanny air about it, one should take care using it. In rural England it is advised to not think of one’s sweetheart when cutting parsley—else one risks betrayal in love. In Devonshire it was suspected that certain uncanny spirits hover around the parsley bed; for that reason it was taboo to transplant parsley, as such could unleash misfortunes upon the transplanter. Hence the saying, “Transplant parsley, transplant sorrow.” And in gardens where parsley flourishes, it is said the missus wears the pants.

When sowing parsley, one should observe the moon’s phase: for normal parsley the waxing moon is best, but for the root it should be waning, as then the energy goes downward into the root. The seeds of parsley and parsley root take a very long time to germinate. For that reason it was said they to go to hell and back six or nine times before they could sprout. In Catholic regions it was said they had to go all the way to Rome to ask the pope for permission to germinate—and that would take at least six weeks. In France it was said that the seeds would germinate sooner if notorious liars sowed them, as the seeds would sprout as fast as the lies caught up with the liar. In some places it was advised that urinating in the row before sowing the seeds would speed up the germination process. Also, one should never mention anyone’s name while sowing without risking that person’s death. Of course, traditional folk superstitions considered that particular magical practice one of the best ways to get rid of a rival in love or a brutal husband. On the other hand, if the parsley that eventually comes up is lush and profuse, it was believed there would soon be a baby in the family.

Illustration 94. St. Peter, patron saint of parsley

In the Slavic countries parsley generally has a better reputation, as it is believed to keep bad spirits and witches at bay. For this reason in Galicia, Poland, a bride carries bread and parsley under her arm on the way to church. In Moravia in the Czech Republic, it is thought parsley sown on St. John’s Day can counter the witchcraft that would harm cows. Parsley and garlic wrapped in a linen cloth can also protect a woman in childbed from witchcraft.

While parsley has been used as a diuretic, too much of it can irritate the kidneys. The leaves, root, and especially the seeds, which are schizocarp fruits, contain an essential oil—“green of parsley oil,” or apiol—which stimulates the uterus as well as the kidneys. For that reason it is used to activate a “belated menstruation”: in other words, it was used as an abortive for unwanted pregnancies. In the Middle Ages the seeds were used as an abortive. As such, pregnant women shouldn’t eat too much parsley. Because parsley seed stimulates the blood circulation in the abdominal organs, causing swelling in erectile tissue, it works for men as a sort of plant Viagra (Van den Toorn 2002, 113).

Parsley has even been suspected of being a psychedelic—in any case hippies used to stretch marijuana with dried parsley leaves. Indeed, the natural organic compound myristicin is toxic to the central nervous system and can cause dizziness. It was used as one of the ingredients for illegal “herbal ecstasy.” As modern-day ethnobotanist Christian Rätsch has noted, some kinds of parsley have more myristicin than others (1998, 431). The essential oils, apiol, and myristicin are mainly present in the seeds (≤6 percent) and hardly in the root (0.5 percent). High doses of apiol (contained in the seeds) cause fatty liver disease and hemorrhage of the mucus membranes.

But anyone using parsley root in the kitchen needn’t worry about these pharmacological issues—no dangerous dosage can be reached with the amount used in a meal. And this is good news, since the white, carrot-like taproot tastes especially good in stews and mixed vegetable dishes. As for cultivating it, parsley root needs old, ripe compost and the kind of care that its cousin, the parsnip, also needs. And as it is frost-hardy, it can be left in the garden over the winter.


Parsley Root with Coriander Sauce ✵ 4 SERVINGS

½ cup (115 milliliters) vegetable broth ✵ 1 cup (225 grams) leeks, finely chopped ✵ 1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds ✵ 1 tablespoon honey ✵ a few drops tamari (or soy sauce) ✵ 1 pound (455 grams) parsley roots ✵ 2 tablespoons olive oil ✵ ½ cup (115 milliliters) cream (18% fat) ✵ 3 tablespoons sesame seeds ✵ sea salt ✵ pepper

Preheat the oven to 380 °F (200 °C). In an oven proof dish, add the vegetable broth, leeks, ground coriander, and honey and mix well. Season with tamari (or soy sauce), salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil. Add the parsley roots and stir. Bake, covered, in the oven at 380 °F (200 °C) for 30 minutes or until roots are cooked but still firm. Stir in the olive oil, cream, and sesame seeds. Bake for another 25 minutes or until well done. Serve hot.