Parsley is a biennial herb, native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, that has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years. Ancient Greeks considered it sacred and adorned their graves with parsley wreaths. The practice of using parsley as a flavoring agent and garnish has a long history that can be traced back to the ancient Romans. It comes in both curly-leaf and flat-leaf varieties.
Parsley Promotes Optimal Health
Parsley is more than a pretty decoration. It contains volatile oils, flavonoids, vitamins, and minerals that provide a variety of health benefits.
Parsley’s oils—particularly myristicin—have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, particularly tumor formation in the lungs. Myristicin has also been shown to activate the enzyme glutathione-S-transferase, which helps attach the molecule glutathione to oxidized molecules that would otherwise do damage in the body. The activity of parsley’s volatile oils qualifies it as a “chemoprotective” food, and in particular, a food that can help neutralize particular types of carcinogens (like the benzopyrenes that are part of cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke).
The flavonoids in parsley—especially luteolin—have been shown to function as antioxidants that combine with highly reactive oxygen-containing molecules (called oxygen radicals) and help prevent oxygen-based damage to cells. In addition, extracts from parsley have been used in animal studies to help increase the antioxidant capacity of the blood.
Parsley is a Great Source of Vitamins & Minerals
In addition to its volatile oils and flavonoids, parsley is an excellent source of vitamin K and a good source of vitamins C and A. Vitamin K supports bone and heart health and is important for proper blood clotting. Vitamin C supports heart health and immune system function. Its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions protect your cells from disease-causing free radical damage. Beta-carotene, which is converted in the body to vitamin A, also has antioxidant activity and supports a healthy immune system.
Parsley is also a good source of folic acid, one of the most important B vitamins. While it plays numerous roles in the body, one of its most critical roles in relation to cardiovascular health is its participation in the process through which the body converts homocysteine into benign molecules. Homocysteine at high levels can directly damage blood vessels, resulting in an increased risk of heart attack and stroke in people with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease.
Parsley is also a good source of calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and dietary fiber.
Parsley is Nature’s Breath Freshener
Parsley’s high chlorophyll content and natural aromatic oils help freshen your breath, neutralizing odor-causing sulfur compounds, and killing the bacteria that can lead to bad breath. The next time you’re at a fancy restaurant, try nibbling on your garnish at the end of the meal!
Cooking with Parsley
As mentioned earlier, parsley is more than just a pretty decoration. It is the main ingredient in sauces and marinades such as pesto and chimichurri, and an important ingredient in salads such as tabbouleh or tomato salad. As an herb, add it to seafood and vegetarian dishes for a clean, earthy note.
Try our Healthy Almond Green Goddess Dressing, which uses ½ bunch of parsley with Marcona almonds and lime juice to give your salads a bright earthy finish.
Situations may arise where you may need to substitute for parsley. You may have an immediate or delayed allergy to parsley and need to avoid it completely. Or you may have a recipe that calls for parsley, and you don’t have any on hand. What do you do?
These are a few herbs and greens that can substitute for parsley, when needed:
Chervil leaves are a bit milder in taste than parsley. The flavor from chervil releases slowly, so it’s an excellent substitution in recipes with longer cooking times. It’s often used in French cuisine.
Chives, either fresh or dried, have a mild flavor that lends itself to many different cuisines.
Cilantro can be used as a fresh parsley substitute in Mexican, Thai, or Vietnamese recipes. When compared to parsley, cilantro has a stronger flavor.
Celery Leaves have a milder, subtler flavor than parsley, but could work well as a garnish.
Carrot greens. Carrots are in the same family as parsley. Simply chop up some carrot greens and sprinkle them on as a garnish. Carrot greens also provide some of the bitterness that you would expect from parsley, so they pack a punch for flavor as well.
Basil. For Italian dishes, basil is an ideal replacement for parsley.
Arugula is not an herb, but its peppery and bitter notes make it a flavorful substitute for parsley. Chop it finely and use in small amounts so its bitterness does not detract from the dish.
Endive is another bitter green with peppery notes that can substitute as a garnish or in recipes. As with arugula, chop finely and use in small amounts if using in a dish.
The Bottom Line
Parsley is a wonderful herb with many health benefits. If you are allergic or sensitive to it, or simply run out, there are many alternatives that can be used instead. Chervil and chives are the most versatile, but depending on cuisine and personal preference, there are many delicious options.