Parsley: The Flavonoid Feast

by  Dr Rupy Aujla14 Apr 2023

Parsley often goes unnoticed, forgotten or reduced to a pretty garnish. But it’s a leafy green with much more to offer. To me, fresh herbs embody the essence of Spring. They are said to reinvigorate the body after the long winter. Parsley’s fresh taste is integral to many dishes – it can form the backbone of salads and build the aromatic foundation of soups and stews. Yet, it’s still awaiting to be used to its full potential. And if you don’t like parsley, scroll down for some tips and recipes. Let’s start taking herb-eating seriously!

In a Nutshell

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History Snippets

Ancient Roots: The plant is native to the Mediterranean region. It has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years, first used in medicine and rituals.

Rock Celery! Parsley got its generic name Petroselinum from Dioscorides, a Greek Physician of the early Roman Empire. It comes from the Greek words, “petra”, meaning rock and “selinin” meaning celery.

Symbolism: The ancient Greeks held parsley to be sacred. They used it to adorn victors of athletic contests and for decorating the tombs of the dead.

Charlemagne’s Favourite: Parsley took Europe by storm during the Middle Ages. It was commonly grown in monasteries and royal gardens. Some historians credit Charlemagne with its popularisation as he made sure it was planted in all his estates. (Sarwar et al. 2019)

Traditional Uses: In folk medicine, parsley was used to treat haemorrhoids and urethral inflammation. The root was used to pass kidney stones and improve brain function. (Tang et al. 2015)

What about today?

Research Digest

Parsley and other culinary herbs are more than garnish or flavour enhancers. They are an integral part of the Mediterranean-style diet, which is linked to a wide range of health benefits. Human studies are sparse but suggest its health-supporting potential.

Cancer prevention: Eating flavones, which are abundant in parsley, was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, especially in post-menopausal women. (Hui et al. 2013)

Gut microbiota composition: Smaller studies found that regular use of aromatic herbs, including parsley, was associated with changes in gut bacterial composition. (Vita et al. 2022)

How much? Try adding parsley and a variety of herbs to your dishes at least three times a week.

So…what’s in parsley that could explain these benefits?

Quick Food Science: The Flavonoid Fiesta

When you eat parsley, you get a plethora of different compounds.

Nutrients: Vitamins A, C and B and minerals, especially iron.

Flavonoids: Parsley is a major contributor of apigenin to the diet – a flavone with health-supporting properties. It also contains a range of other flavonoids, including luteolin, quercetin, isorhamnetin and chrysoeriol.

And many other bioactive compounds, especially apiol and myristicin, terpenes, furanocoumarins and carotenoids.

Furano-what now? These compounds show various biological activities in laboratory models, such as:

Our take: Culinary herbs like parsley are not to be forgotten! They can be valuable components of a healthy diet and may provide health benefits that complement the other foods we eat. Try a parsley-fueled salad or chop it into your soups and stews.

Earth to Plate: Green Thumbs Up

Types: Though several cultivated varieties exist, the two main varieties are curled-leaf parsley and flat-leafed (Italian) parsley.

Season: Parsley season is nice and long – typically from late spring to early fall.

Growing Parsley at Home: Check out this guide to get you started.

Buying Parsley: Choose small-scale and local sources whenever possible. Find your nearest Community Supported Agriculture farm.

Tasty Tips: The Sauce King!

Parsley around the world

  • France: Persillade and bouquet garni.
  • Middle East: Tabbouleh and falafel.
  • Italy: Gremolata, used as a topping for hearty meat dishes.
  • Argentina & Uruguay: Chimichurri, a parsley sauce used to baste meats.
  • Senegal: Rof, a bright assertive paste with parsley, garlic, scallions and scotch bonnets. It’s sprinkled over almost anything or used as a stuffing for fish.

If you don’t like parsley (but want to)

  • Try a different variety
  • Cook it up! Try chopping it finely and cooking it into a dish along with other spices. Cooking parsley can change its flavour profile.
  • Don’t force it: There are plenty of other herbs and greens that you can enjoy. We’ll be featuring more soon.

My favourite non-recipe ways to enjoy parsley

  • Chimichurri: Chop a bunch of parsley and oregano finely. Add garlic, olive oil, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, chilli flakes and salt. Serve with roasted vegetables or fish.
  • Pesto: Blend parsley, garlic, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor.
  • Smoothie: Add parsley to your morning smoothie for a fresh kick.
  • Parsley-fueled salad: Mix with rocket, finely sliced radishes, carrots, walnuts and a lemon dressing.
  • Flavour cubes: Fill an ice cube tray with chopped parsley and garlic. Cover with olive oil and freeze.
  • Herbal tea: Steep a handful of fresh parsley in hot water for 5-10 minutes.

Get Cooking!

Dive Deeper

History, compounds & biological activities: University of California – ELH Tang et al. 2015.Farzaei et al. J Tradit Chin Med. 2013Tang et al. J Sci Food Agric. 2015Sarwar et al. Int. J. Chem. Biochem. Sci. 2019

Human studies: Hui et al. PLoS One. 2013Vita et al. 2022Petersen et al. 2022

by Dr Rupy Aujla


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