Flowers & Herbs / Garden of Eatin'

That Devilish Parsley

Parsley seedlings

Oh, parsley. Why must you come with so much baggage? This seemingly innocuous herb is the subject of many a folklore warning of its dark and evil ways.

The ancient Greeks associated parsley with death, as the herb was spread over graves and used to make funeral wreaths. This gave rise to the phrase “He has need now of nothing but a little parsley,” referring to a person that had just died or was about to die. After death, their corpses were then garnished with parsley to help deodorize the stench. In Greek mythology, it was believed that the first parsley grew from the blood of Archemorus, son of Death, when he was devoured by serpents. Grieving over their loss, the Greeks founded the Nemean Games in his honor and presented the victors with crowns woven from parsley.

The Brits were no more optimistic. In the United Kingdom, it was considered bad luck to transplant parsley because it would offend the mythical guardian of the plants. And don’t even think about giving away a root of the herb, because that, too, will bring bad luck (I wonder if you could circumvent this by selling it instead?). If you dared to cut parsley, you would seal your fate in being crossed in love… but since only witches can germinate the seeds, perhaps love is fruitless anyway.

From what I can gather, these are the age-old tricks to growing parsley:

First, parsley grows best in a household where the woman wears the pants. (But if she’s a virgin, sowing parsley seeds would doom her to carrying the seeds of Satan’s child.)

Second, parsley grows best when seeds are sown on the only day that the immortal soul of the gardener is not put at risk — Good Friday — the day the devil has no jurisdiction over the soil.

And finally, parsley has to travel to hell and back seven times before it will sprout. Some sources actually say nine times, so to be safe, you should sow nine times as many seeds as you need, since the devil keeps the rest for himself.

This is all sounding like a lot more work than I want to do.

Parsley is notorious for germinating verrrrry slooooowly, or sometimes not germinating at all. And I can attest to that.

I started with Parsley Giant of Italy seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. With 400 seeds in the packet, I figured it was worth a try… even if I only got one plant out of it. I soaked a handful of seeds in warm water overnight. Supposedly this helps remove the protective coating on the seed that inhibits germination.

I filled a large terra cotta pot with organic potting mix, sowed a few seeds, then put the pot in a sunny spot outdoors. A few days passed… a week… then a few weeks… until I realized my parsley had permanently bunked up with the devil and there was no chance of germination after week five.

I debated cheating and buying a ready-to-wear parsley plant at the nursery.

I remembered that I still have 380 seeds left.

I decided to give it another go.

Parsley Giant of Italy seedling

With new motivation, I started the seeds indoors on a south-facing windowsill, where I could better control the moisture and temperature. I scattered a few pre-soaked seeds into a six-pack, sprayed the soil with water to get them all nice and settled in, and waited. I even went out of town for a week, leaving them in the care of a friend who was instructed to simply spritz some water on the soil every other day.

After 10 days, I came back to a tray full of perky, healthy seedlings! Almost every seed had germinated and while I don’t quite understand it, I’m not questioning it. I’m just happy to have parsley without all the baggage.

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

5 Comments

  • Marge Fiore
    February 5, 2018 at 9:29 pm

    I, too, have had my share of parsley germination problems. But last year, I sowed them right into the garden, COVERED THEM WITH A LAYER OF REMAY, watered them right through that Remay each morning and night, and got fabulous germination. It kept them moist while I was off at work, and they germinated wonderfully!

    Reply
  • Jeavonna Chapman
    December 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    I bought two parsely plants and put them in with my Fragrant Cloud rose.  I didn’t have any pest problems on that rose bush.  Happy me.  The next year parsely was growing everywhere.  Everywhere.  I don’t even eat parsely anymore. . And – never had a pest problem on my roses.  True story

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      December 8, 2011 at 7:14 pm

      I have at least 20 parsley plants that started growing wild too. I can’t make enough chimichurri to keep up.

      Reply
  • Tom M
    December 8, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    It’s funny how much effort we put in to trying to get our seeds and seedlings to grow – yet, right now, I can go out to last year’s window box and count hundreds of little baby parsleys that reseeded themselves, and through months of 100% neglect, (the box was set aside, but never cleaned out) will be giving us plenty to feed the black Swallowtails next Spring and Summer. I might even steal a few plants for us to use 🙂

    Sometimes, I find myself over analyzing what to do or not do, then I see how nature takes care of things and just live the ‘WOW! That’s cool’ experience. Right now, I’ve got lots of cool baby parsleys. We’re fortunate here in NC, that we can grow it outside all winter long, even with temps that can drop into the teens and sometimes single digits.

    Thanks for sharing some of the history and folklore behind the Parsley… just don’t let my wife know about the “wearing the pants” part, OK? 🙂 ~Tom Mann

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      December 8, 2011 at 7:12 pm

      That whole saying of “a watched pot never boils”… well, I feel that applies to seeds too! I always get plenty of volunteer seedlings every season growing like crazy, but when it comes to the ones I’ve carefully sowed and watered, some like to take their sweet time.

      Reply

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