The World's Healthiest Foods
Parsley

The delicious and vibrant taste and wonderful healing properties of parsley are often ignored in its popular role as a table garnish. Highly nutritious, parsley can be found year round in your local supermarket.

Parsley is the world’s most popular herb. It derives its name from the Greek word meaning “rock celery” (parsley is a relative to celery). It is a biennial plant that will return to the garden year after year once it is established.

 


Health Benefits

A sprig of parsley can provide much more than a decoration on your plate. Parsley contains two types of unusual components that provide unique health benefits. The first type is volatile oil components – including myristicin, limonene, eugenol, and alpha-thujene. The second type is flavonoids – including apiin, apigenin, crisoeriol, and luteolin.

Multi-Faceted Cancer Prevention

Parsley’s volatile oils – particularly myristicin – have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, and 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 qualify 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, charcoal grill smoke, and the smoke produced by trash incinerators).

Potent Anti-Oxidant Capacity

The flavonoids in parsley – especially luteolin – have been shown to function as anti-oxidants 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 anti-oxidant capacity of the blood.

A Rich Source of Anti-Oxidant and Cardio-Protective Nutrients

In addition to its volatile oils and flavonoids, parsley is an excellent source of three vital nutrients that are also important for the prevention of many diseases: vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid.

Vitamin C has many different functions. It is the body's primary water-soluble antioxidant, rendering harmless otherwise dangerous free radicals in all water-soluble areas of the body. High levels of free radicals contribute to the development and progression of a wide variety of diseases, including atherosclerosis, colon cancer, diabetes, and asthma. This may explain why people who consume healthy amounts of vitamin C-containing foods have reduced risks for all these conditions. Vitamin C is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, which explains its usefulness in conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. And since vitamin C is needed for the healthy function of the immune system, it can also be helpful for preventing recurrent ear infections or colds.

Beta-carotene, another important anti-oxidant, works in the fat-soluble areas of the body. Diets with beta-carotene-rich foods are also associated with a reduced risk for the development and progression of conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetes, and colon cancer. Like vitamin C, beta-carotene may also be helpful in reducing the severity of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. And beta-carotene is converted by the body to vitamin A, a nutrient so important to a strong immune system that its nickname is the "anti-infective vitamin." Folic acid, one of the most important B vitamins, plays numerous roles in the body, but one of its most critical roles in relation to cardiovascular health is its necessary participation in the process through which the body converts homocysteine into benign molecules. Homocysteine is a potentially dangerous molecule that, at high levels, can directly damage blood vessels, and high levels of homocysteine are associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke in people with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. Enjoying foods rich in folic acid, like parsley, is an especially good idea for individuals who either have, or wish to prevent, these diseases. Folic acid is also a critical nutrient for proper cell division and is therefore vitally important for cancer-prevention in two areas of the body that contain rapidly dividing cells--the colon, and in women, the cervix.

Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis

While one July 2004 study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in guinea pigs, another indicates that vitamin C-rich foods, such as parsley, provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis involving two or more joints.

The findings, presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of more than 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free when the study began, and focused on 73 subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and 146 similar subjects who remained arthritis-free during follow-up between 1993 and 2001. Subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.(August 1, 2004)

So, next time parsley appears on your plate as a garnish, recognize its true worth and partake of its abilities to improve your health. As an added bonus, you'll also enjoy parsley's legendary ability to cleanse your palate and your breath at the end of your meal.

Description

While parsley is a wonderfully nutritious and healing food, it is often under-appreciated. Most people do not realize that this vegetable has more uses than just being a decorative garnish that accompanies restaurant meals. They do not know that parsley is actually a storehouse of nutrients and that it features a delicious green and vibrant taste.

The two most popular types of parsley are curly parsley and Italian flat leaf parsley. The Italian variety has a more fragrant and less bitter taste than the curly variety. There is also another type of parsley known as turnip-rooted (or Hamburg) that is cultivated for its roots, which resemble salsify and burdock. Parsley belongs to the Umbelliferae family of plants, and its Latin name is Petroselinum crispum.

History

Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe. While it has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years, parsley was used medicinally prior to being consumed as a food. The ancient Greeks held parsley to be sacred, using it to not only adorn victors of athletic contests, but also for decorating the tombs of the deceased. The practice of using parsley as a garnish actually has a long history that can be traced back to the civilization of the ancient Romans.

While it is uncertain when parsley began to be consumed as a seasoning, it seems to be sometime in the Middle Ages in Europe. Some historians credit Charlemagne with its popularization since he had it grown on his estates.

In some countries, the curly leaf variety is more popular. This may have its roots in the ancient preference for this type since people were oftentimes reticent to consume the flat leaf variety because it resembled fool’s parsley, a poisonous weed.

Turnip-rooted (or Hamburg) parsley, a relatively new species, having only been developed within the past two hundred years, has only recently begun gaining popularity.

How to Select and Store

Whenever possible, choose fresh parsley over the dried form of the herb since it is superior in flavor. Choose fresh parsley that is deep green in color and looks fresh and crisp. Avoid bunches that have leaves that are wilted or yellow as this indicates that they are either overmature or damaged. Just like with other dried herbs, if you choose to purchase dried parsley flakes, try to select organically grown parsley since this will give you more assurance that the herbs have not been irradiated.

Fresh parsley should be kept in the refrigerator in a perforated plastic bag. If the parsley is slightly wilted, either sprinkle it lightly with some water or wash it without completely drying it before storing in the refrigerator.

If you have excess flat-leaved parsley, you can easily dry it by laying it out in a single layer on a clean kitchen cloth. Once dried, it should be kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place. Curly leaved parsley is best preserved by freezing, as opposed to drying. Although it will retain most of its flavor, it has a tendency to lose its crispness, so it is best used in recipes without first thawing.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Parsley:

Fresh parsley should be washed right before using since it is highly fragile. The best way to clean it is just like you would spinach. Place it in a bowl of cold water and swish it around with your hands. This will allow any sand or dirt to dislodge. Remove the leaves from the water, empty the bowl, refill it with clean water and repeat this process until no dirt remains in the water.

Since it has a stronger flavor than the curly variety, Italian flat leaf parsley holds up better to cooking and therefore is usually the type preferred for hot dishes. It should be added towards the end of the cooking process so that it can best retain its taste, color and nutritional value.

If you are making a light colored sauce, use the stems from this variety as opposed to the leaves, so the sauce will take on the flavor of parsley but will not be imparted with its green color.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Combine chopped parsley with bulgur wheat, chopped garlic, mint leaves, lemon juice and olive oil to make the Middle Eastern classic dish, tabbouleh.

Add parsley to pesto sauce to add more texture to its green color.

Combine chopped parsley, garlic and lemon zest, and use it as a rub for chicken, lamb and beef.

Use parsley in soups and tomato sauces.

Serve a colorful salad of fennel, orange, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds and parsley leaves.

Chopped parsley can be sprinkled on a host of different recipes, including salads, vegetable sautés and grilled fish.

Safety

Parsley is not a commonly allergenic food, is not included in the list of 20 foods that most frequently contain pesticide residues, and is also not known to contain goitrogens, oxalates, or purines.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Parsley, Fresh
1.00 oz-wt
10.21 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 37.71 mg 62.9 110.8 excellent
vitamin A 1474.20 IU 29.5 52.0 excellent
folate 43.09 mcg 10.8 19.0 excellent
iron 1.76 mg 9.8 17.2 very good
potassium 157.06 mg 4.5 7.9 good
calcium 39.12 mg 3.9 6.9 good
dietary fiber 0.94 g 3.8 6.6 good
magnesium 14.18 mg 3.5 6.2 good
tryptophan 0.01 g 3.1 5.5 good
vitamin E 0.51 mg 2.5 4.5 good
manganese 0.05 mg 2.5 4.4 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications, New York.
  • Hirano R, Sasamoto W, Matsumoto A et al. Antioxidant ability of various flavonoids against DPPH radicals and LDL oxidation. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2001 Oct;47(5):357-62.
  • Pattison DJ, Silman AJ, Goodson NJ, Lunt M, Bunn D, Luben R, Welch A, Bingham S, Khaw KT, Day N, Symmons DP. Vitamin C and the risk of developing inflammatory polyarthritis: prospective nested case-control study. Ann Rheum Dis. 2004 Jul;63(7):843-7.
  • Sasaki N, Toda T, Kaneko T et al. Protective effects of flavonoids on the cytotoxicity of linoleic acid hydroperoxide toward rat pheochromocytoma PC12 cells. Chem Biol Interact. 2003 Mar 6;145(1):101-16.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 18:16:40
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation