Petroselinum crispum, popularly known as parsley is a biennial herb. Its feather-like leaves can be used in a wide range of recipes.
It has a mild scent and an earthy taste that blends well in soups, salads, and sauces. Growing parsley indoors and outdoors is easy.
There are two main types of parsley: flat-leaf parsley and curly parsley. The flat-leaf parsley is also known as Italian parsley and is used for cooking. While the curly leaf parsley variety is primarily used for garnishing.
Harvesting parsley is simple. You can harvest leaves and seeds from parsley plants. All you need is a sharp pair of scissors or shears to get the job done.
The idea is to do it in such a way that you get an adequate supply for use in your recipes without killing the plant or causing it to seed prematurely.
This article discusses all you need to know about harvesting parsley including when to harvest, how to harvest leaves vs seeds, and a few tips for using and storing the harvested parsley.
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When To Harvest Parsley
As a biennial plant, parsley grows throughout the year as long as the conditions are favorable like in a temperate climate or indoors.
If the climatic conditions fluctuate throughout the year, it undergoes a growing season and a dormant season.
In the growing season, it produces ample foliage while in the dormant seasons the leaves may yellow, blackened, or dry. In this scenario, only harvest during the growing season. Typically, the growing season starts in spring and lasts throughout fall.
Newly planted parsley plants take 70 to 90 days to mature and be ready for harvesting.
Allow the plant ample time to develop enough foliage such that you can harvest without it dying.
How To Harvest Parsley Leaves
What You Need
- Gardening shears or scissors
- Rubbing alcohol
- Cotton wool
- Prepare your harvesting tools
Take a clean sharp pair of gardening shears or scissors and wipe the blade with rubbing alcohol. The rubbing alcohol sterilizes the blade and ensures it does not transmit any pathogens to the parsley plant. Ensure the blade is super sharp, for smooth cuts limiting trauma to the plant.
- Identify plants that are ready for harvesting
While you may have planted your parsley plants at the same time, they have different growth rates. Therefore, it is likely that some plants may not be ready for harvesting at a given time. A good sign that a parsley plant is ready for harvesting is that it has several stems and the stems have three or more leaf clusters. If not, allow them some time to grow.
- Harvest the leaves
Although you can harvest individual leaves, the best method of harvesting parsley plants is cutting the entire stem at the base, at the point where it branches off from the main stem. Cutting at the base of the stem encourages the plant to keep growing and to get bushier.
Cut the outermost stems and leave the middle and innermost ones intact. Do not cut a stem halfway as it causes the leaves below the cutting point to die.
Since the rest of the stalk is still attached to the plant, there is no room for new stems to sprout. Only harvest 1/3 of the plant at any one time to prevent it from dying.
The best time to harvest parsley is in the morning when the leaves are perky and fresh. At this time, they have the highest levels of essential oil which provides a potent flavor.
How Often Should You Harvest Parsley Leaves?
It is best to harvest and prune regularly to encourage the plant to produce new foliage.
However, you need to find a balance between over-harvesting and under-harvesting, as harvesting too soon will kill the plant. The parsley plant takes one to three weeks to grow back after harvesting.
Toward the end of a growing season, harvest all the foliage for plants that grow outside in an uncontrolled environment.
However, if growing indoors, you can continue to harvest as needed, even in winter, as long as you provide adequate light using grow lights.
How To Harvest Parsley Seeds
Parsley seeds are edible and can be used in different recipes.
Traditionally, they were used for medicinal purposes for treating flatulence, colic pain, and improving kidney function.
Ayurveda experts and naturopathic doctors recommend the consumption of parsley seeds for their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, and detoxifying effects.
They can also be used to extract parsley oil or to grow new parsley plants.
If you are keen on harvesting parsley seeds, you have to be patient. As a biennial plant, parsley does not seed in the first year.
They flower and seed towards the end of their lifecycle in the second year. The plant begins to lose its vigor, the leaves begin to yellow, and a seed head forms.
Typically, this happens towards the end of summer in the height of the summer heat or early fall. To ensure a bountiful parsley seed harvest, remove weak and sickly parsley plants at the end of the first year.
Parsley seeds are ready for harvesting when the seed head darkens.
Steps For Harvesting Parsley Seeds
To harvest them, cut off the stem below the seed head. You can use scissors or simply snip off the stalk with your fingers.
When cutting, keep your hands and the plant steady to prevent the seed head from shaking too much scattering the seeds.
Parsley seeds are so small that if they scatter it is almost impossible to collect them while others easily get lost in the surrounding environment.
If there are any healthy, green leaves remaining on the plant, you can harvest them for use in your recipes.
Once you have harvested the heads, place them in a paper bag to dry. After they dry, shake the paper bag to detach the seeds from the seed heads. The seeds will drop to the bottom of the bag and you can easily separate them from the seed heads.
However, some young seeds may remain stuck in the seed heads. Leave the seed heads for 2-3 more days to allow the young seeds to ripen under direct sunlight.
If you are laying the seed heads in the sun in the open, keep an eye on small animals and birds.
Can I Harvest Parsley Leaves After The Plant Flowers?
It is advisable not to harvest parsley leaves after the plant starts flowering, as they lose their flavor and become bitter. They also become yellow and lose the green luster which makes them an excellent option for garnishing.
Parsley is easy to harvest. If growing it in a controlled environment, you can harvest the leaves throughout the year.
However, if growing outside, harvest during the growing season.
Harvest at the stem rather than plucking the leaves to prevent the plant from dying. Also, harvest the outer stems first and do not harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at once.
Harvest seeds toward the end of the lifecycle in the second year.
Both parsley seeds and leaves offer numerous health benefits and can be used in recipes or to make essential oil. The parsley seed can be grown into a parsley seedling and planted as a new plant.
If you have a surplus of seeds or leaves, store them appropriately to extend their shelf life for future use.