Parsley is widely grown. It’s tasty in soups, casseroles, and sandwiches, but if you’re not going to eat much, it’s still a very attractive herb that brings an astonishing pop of lime green to gardens. Want to grow some? Good! First things first. Is parsley a perennial or annual?
Parsley: Perennial or Annual?
Parsley is not a perennial or an annual. It’s a biennial! Most species of parsley are biennial, but because its foliage can turn bitter in the second year, it’s usually treated as an annual.
However, in its native habitat and left to grow naturally, parsley is a biennial plant, not an annual.
What Does Biennial Mean?
Biennial means a plant takes two years to complete its lifecycle.
Biennials like parsley germinate in year one, producing roots, stems, and leaves. Then they pause for winter. In the second year, biennials continue to grow. They grow taller, and wider, produce flowers, set seeds, and die.
Other well-known biennials are wallflowers and sweet Williams.
What About Annuals?
Annual plants do all of the above in one year. Gardeners growing parsley as an annual will have sweeter plants to harvest. Biennial growers will get the whole parsley plant plus seeds to grow the following year.
Perennial plants live longer than two years. They grow and flower each year even if they die back to a root ball over winter.
What Is Parsley?
Garden parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a member of the Apiaceae family (formerly Umbelliferae) alongside fennel, celery, and carrots. It’s a flowering plant native to the Mediterranean region. It’s a popular flavor across the world, especially in European, American, and Middle Eastern diets.
Garden parsley is a vivid bright green with rosette-style foliage. Its flowers grow to around 30 inches tall. They have flat-topped yellow to yellow-green blooms held on a spike above the foliage clump. There are several distinct cultivars of parsley:
- Italian flat leaf parsley (P. crispum var. latifolium) is hardy and stronger tasting.
- French curly leaf parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is decorative and tasty.
- Root parsley (P. crispum var. tuberosum) is very common in eastern European dishes, but rarely used outside this area. It’s not the greenery, but the giant root that’s eaten. It looks very similar to a parsnip.
Are any of parsley cultivars perennial or annual? No—they are are naturally biennial.
History of Humans and Parsley
Throughout history, parsley, which is ancient Greek for rock celery, has been a popular herbal medicine and food.
There’s an ancient Greek legend that says parsley spontaneously grew from the hero Archemorus’s blood as he was eaten by serpents. The ancients Greeks didn’t eat parsley but used it for wreaths and medicine. The Romans however, used fresh, tasty parsley as a hangover cure!
The first written record of parsley in Britain are from 1548, but scholars think it was potentially introduced earlier during the Roman invasion in the 1st century A.D. During Tudor times, it was used to alleviate baldness! Settlers took parsley with them when they colonized the Americas and Australia.
More recently, parsley and other members of the Apiaceae family have been found to have promising anti-cancer properties. This article from Current Pharmacology Reports suggests it’s the flavone apigenin found in parsley, carrots, and fennel that’s so potent.
Are Cilantro And Parsley The Same?
No. Although they look similar and are both in the Apiaceae family, parsley and cilantro (Eryngium foetidum) are different plants. Cilantro is also known as coriander or Chinese parsley and has a deeper, more citrus-like flavor than parsley.
Does Parsley Regrow After Going To Seed?
No. Parsley is a biennial. Once it seeds, it will die. In year one, parsley will grow roots and leaves. In year two, it flowers and sets seed.
You might find that the strong tap root tries to regrow another stalk in the warm months, but it will most likely be stunted and taste bitter.
How Long Do Parsley Plants Last?
Parsley plants last two years, but often gardeners and cooks use them as annual (one year) plants for the best flavor.
Is Parsley Toxic To Pets?
The ASPCA says that Italian parsley (flat-leafed) and root parsley are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Most sources agree that garden parsley is safe in small amounts.
Should You Let Parsley Flower?
Flowering parsley is a popular attraction for wildlife. If your aim is to increase biodiversity, then parsley flowers will boost pollinator numbers. Certain species of Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on parsley and seed-eating birds will polish off the seed heads.
How Do You Pick Parsley So It Keeps Growing?
Parsley needs sun to partial shade and damp well-drained soil. It can take several weeks to germinate, so patience is required.
Pick the top leaves and never harvest more than 1/3 of a parsley plant in one go. Taking too many leaves weakens it, so it becomes more susceptible to pests and disease. After harvesting, water it well and use a mild liquid fertilizer.
Give it time to regenerate before taking any more leaves. It’s best to have several parsley plants so you can harvest them in turn.
Can You Freeze Parsley?
Yes, you can freeze parsley.
After defrosting, it won’t look fresh, so garnish is out the window, but it will keep its flavor.
The best way to freeze parsley is in an ice-cube tray. Chop parsley and add it to the tray, top up with water and freeze it. The whole iced parsley cube can be dropped straight into pasta sauce, gravies, soups, casseroles.
What To Do With Parsley Over Winter
Parsley will grow in US zones 4 through to 9.
If you’re growing biennial parsley, it will survive a cold winter in well-drained soil. Horticultural fleece and a thick layer of mulch around the roots are recommended if frosts and snow are forecast. It’s possible to dig up parsley and bring it indoors if you are careful and don’t damage the long tap root.
Growing parsley in a container is a good way to make it mobile. If you’re in a cold zone, a container of parsley can be put against a house wall, in a greenhouse, or even brought indoors.
In warm zones, parsley will keep growing until it sets seed.
Why Not Grow Biennial Parsley?
So we’ve answered the question is parsley a perennial or annual—and discovered it’s a biennial that’s usually grown like an annual.
One of the very best ways to grow parsley is as a biennial, but only take leaves in year one. In year two, let pollinators, caterpillars, and birds enjoy it. This is an excellent ecosystem booster that brings all kinds of wildlife to the yard.
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- ASPCA, Available here: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/parsley
- Royal Horticultural Society, Available here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/herbs/parsley/grow-your-own
- The Epi Centre, Available here: https://theepicentre.com/spice/parsley/