Parsley is easily one of the most commonly used herbs available, and it’s a member of the carrot family. You commonly see parsley used as a garnish on a plate or to lend a mild flavor in a huge range of dishes from salads to soups. So, parsley is a must-have for virtually any herb garden. But, how do you go about harvesting parsley without damaging the plant, and what do you do with it once you pick it? We’ll outline all of this for you below.
Parsley is a bright but subtle herb that flavores a huge range of dishes and is a very popular garnish.
When to Pick Parsley
Parsley is a biennial, but most people tend to grow it as an annual and it’s native to the Mediterranean region of the world. Like the majority of herbs, it does best when you put it in a spot that gets six to eight hours of sunlight each day. It can tolerate light shade without any issues. Even though most people tend to use parsley as a garnish, it has many more potential uses attached to it. ALso, it’s packed with vitamins A and C, and it has a high iron content.
Parsley is very easy to grow starting from seed or nursery starts, but the seeds will take a while to germinate, so you should soak them overnight to speed the process up before you plant them. Once you soak them, sow them roughly a quarter of an inch deep in the soil and roughly four to six inches apart in rows that are 12 to 18 inches apart. You want to keep your seeds and baby plants moist, and be ready to give them around an inch of water a week, depending on the weather.
Now that you have your parsley plants growing, how do you know when they’re ready to pick and how do you go about harvesting parsley? It takes roughly 70 to 90 days before you’re ready to start harvesting parsley. When you do, your plants should have an ample amount of foliage. In some regions, you can plant the seeds in the fall months to get an early spring harvest and a second harvest late in the summer. In some regions, parsley will overwinter nicely to allow you to harvest parsley during the second year.
Harvesting Parsley – Leaves and Seeds
People started harvesting parsley for the plant’s seeds and leaves. It’s a good idea to harvest the younger plants for the leaves and harvest the older plants in the second year of growth to get the seeds. IF you wait to harvest the leaves at this stage, they’ll have a bitter taste.
Harvesting Parsley for Leaves
The first step to harvesting parsley leaves is to pick out the right plants. To harvest the leaves, you’ll want to pick them from younger plants as they bring the strongest flavor profile with them. Check the plant to make sure each stem has three or more segments. If you find three or more leaf clusters on the plant’s stem, it’s ready to go through harvesting parsley without any damage. If you can’t find three or more leaf clusters, let it grow a few more days before you start the harvesting process.
You can either take whole stems or individual leaves when you’re harvesting parsley in this manner. You can snip or pinch the leaves off the plant. When you harvest the stems, cut at the base of the stem instead of choosing to snip it at the top. Cutting your parsley stems by the base of the plant encourages new growth, and this will give you bushier plants overall. Make sure you have a sharp pair of serialized garden scissors to neatly cut the stems.
You always want to avoid harvesting parsley from the middle of the growth, especially when you’re only taking a few small sprigs for daily use. A better thing to do is to cut the stems from the outer portion of each plant to ensure you get the oldest growth first each time you cut it. Harvesting the older growth will also encourage your plant to produce more growth. As a result, you’ll end up with herbs that grow healthier and thrive over time. You’ll harvest continually throughout the season, taking the outer stems or leaves, until the bright green coloring starts to fade. At this point, your parsley will decline.
If you keep your plants unprotected and outside, it’s best to practice harvesting parsley by finishing out the season taking the plants out completely. However, if you grow them inside in favorable and warm conditions, you can keep the plant thriving through the winter as long as they get a lot of sun. For any plants you grow indoors, you can harvest them on an “as needed” basis.
Harvesting parsley leaves can be done in the first year, but you have to be patient for the seeds as they don’t show up until the second year.
Harvesting Parsley for Seeds
Now that you know about harvesting parsley for the plant’s leaves, let’s go over how you practice harvesting parsley for the seeds. The first thing to note with this process is that your plants won’t produce any seeds during the first year you grow it. So, for seed development, you have to be patient. Monitor your mature plants very closely once they go into the second year of growth. Generally speaking, parsley will flower and procure seeds at the very end of their lifecycle.
To make the most of each plant and get a large harvest, it’s a good idea to thin out any imperfect or weak parsley plants at the end of the first season. Doing this will allow your second-year growth to be healthier and stronger to produce high-quality seeds.
Once your seeds get darker and are ready, you can start harvesting parsley. To do so, cut the stem right below the seed head. You can do this by simply pinching the plant between your index finger and thumb or by using a sharp pair of scissors. The goal is to avoid moving the seed heads as much as you can during this process.
If you shake the seed heads too much while you remove them, this will cause your seeds to scatter. Since the seeds of the parsley plant are tiny, scattered seeds will be gone. Put your harvested seed heads in a paper bag and allow them to dry out. Once they’re 100% dry, you want to gently shake the bag to cause the seeds to separate from the heads and fall into your bag to make collecting them easy.
You might see some of the young seeds stay stuck inside of the seed heads. Let these seeds mature a bit longer by setting them in a full sun location to dry for a few days. Generally speaking, it takes between two and three days for young seeds to ripen under direct sun. During this time, keep the seeds as dry as you can. You may also have to protect them from birds as they lay out to dry.
How To Store Fresh Parsley
You can store fresh parsley at room temperature or inside of the refrigerator. How long it lasts depends entirely on how you choose to store it. A few ways you can keep your fresh parsley usable longer include:
To store your parsley in a way that is more long-term, consider freezing it. There are a few different ways you can accomplish this. You can freeze whole sprigs to take out and use later, or you can chop up your parsley and freeze it in an ice cube tray with a little water to bind the leaves together. It’s important to note that frozen parsley will keep the original flavor, but it will lose the crisp texture. You want to use it within six months if you can help it.
In the Refrigerator
To get your parsley to last longer without freezing it, start by washing the stems very thoroughly to remove any dust or dirt. Use a couple of paper towels to gently dab the sprigs until they’re dry. However, instead of tossing out the paper towels, you use them to loosely cover your sprigs of parsley and store them in a sealable bag. Pop the bag into the refrigerator to finish the process. If you were harvesting fresh parsley and immediately washed it and put it in the refrigerator, it’ll last between three and five days without wilting or turning brown.
It’s possible to keep your parsley at room temperature as a form of short-term storage as long as it’s in water. The trick is to bundle your sprigs together and snip the ends. Now, put the ends in a vase of water with one to two inches of water in the bottom. Cover the leaves using a plastic bag and set the vase on the counter. Your parsley will stay fresh and free of wilt for two to three days. Wash it before you use it.
How to Dry Parsley
One of the best ways to store your parsley to keep it on-hand for a long time is to dry it. To do so, hang your washed sprigs upside down in a dark, warm, and well-ventilated area. You might want to tie a paper bag around it to lock dust out. It will take the stems 7 to 15 days to dry 100% of the way. Once it dries out, you can easily crumble the leaves and store them in an airtight bag or container. Don’t forget to cure your parsley to avoid mildew or mold issues.
It’s also possible to use your food dehydrator to dry your harvest easily and quickly. High heat can impact the final flavor of your parsley, so you may want to use an air only dehydrating method. Once you dry it, it’s good for two to three years.
Drying parsley should be a low-heat process as exposure to high-heat will impact the more delicate flavor profile.
How to Harvest Parsley to Keep it Growing
Harvesting parsley while keeping the plant healthy is easy, and all you have to do is cut springs of parsley from the outer area of the plant. Also, make sure you cut the stalks from the base of the stem right by the soil. New parsley growth comes from the center of the plant and moves outward, so by harvesting the outer growth of the plant, you’re making room for new growth.
Cutting parsley in this way helps stimulate new growth on your plant, and it can help to make a leggy plant look much bushier. To harvest it without causing any damage to the existing plant, you want to get a pair of clean, sharp scissors to make a clean cut. This will help prevent diseases or damage. After you’re done harvesting parsley, keep the soil moist and give the plant time to recover.
How to Cook With Parsley
Usually, fresh parsley comes in bunches. We’ve outlined how to store your herb once you finish harvesting parsley, but how do you cook with it? For starters, you want to avoid bunches that have shriveled, dry, browned, damp, or dry leaves. These won’t give you a great flavor.
How To Prepare Parsley to Cook With
Before you use it, you should rinse your parsley under water and pat it dry. The leaves usually get stripped from the stem and used torn, whole, or chopped. LIke any other herbs you work with, you can puree parsley into pesto or sauces or dips. Parsley is commonly added to other dishes like sauces, pastas, meat dishes, salads, and vegetables to bring in a very subtle flavor. It’s also commonly sprinkled on top of dishes to improve how it looks and give it an extra punch of flavor.
If you’re cooking with parsley, it’s best to add the fresh leaves in toward the end of the cooking process. This will help to keep the flavor intense and bright. If you want to use dried parsley, add it into the dish early in the cooking process so the herbs have time to blend in.
How to Chop Parsley
Chopping up parsley is a very easy process. All you have to do is pull the leaves from the stems and pile them onto your cutting board. Use a sharp, large knife to chop the herb, making sure you curl your fingers to protect them from your knife blade when you start the chopping process. Once you finish with a rough chop, you can use them as-is because you’ll get more pronounced flavor bursts. You can also chop them to get a mince or finer chop to add them to your dish.
Creamy Parsley Salad Dressing
This simple creamy parsley dressing is a nice way to use up some of the herb after you finish harvesting parsley. You’ll need to get ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt, ¼ cup or more of fresh parsley, and ¼ cult of extra-virgin olive oil. You’ll need black pepper and salt to taste too. You start by chopping up your parsley to your desired dice and mixing everything into a bowl by hand. You can also use an immersion or regular blender to get a creamier sauce as it’ll break down the parsley. This will also work well as a vegetable or chip dip.
There are dozens of recipes you can make when you finish harvesting parsley to ensure you use everything and nothing goes to waste.
In French, this recipe is called Beurre Maître d’Hôtel. To make it, you’ll get ½ cup of butter, a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, a clove or two of garlic, and ¼ cup of freshly chopped parsley. You want to cream all of your ingredients together, starting with the butter alone. Slowly add in the rest, adjusting to your tastes. It makes a great addition to vegetables, grilled meat dishes, or seafood.
This is an easy way to get rid of some of your herb after you finish harvesting parsley. You can put chopped parsley on everything, but you don’t want to chop it too finely as bigger pieces are prettier and offer more flavor. Toss it on top of roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables, green bean salads, pastas, soups, stews, or cold grain dishes like quinoa, tabbouleh, or couscous.
Tear up any mild lettuce you have on hand and mix it with a host of curly or Italian parsley that is roughly chopped. You can use a cup or two to make this salad, and add your favorite vinaigrette. This is a filling salad that is very quick and easy to throw together.
Put roughly half of a bunch of parsley or a cup, ½ teaspoon of kosher salt, a clove or two of garlic, and ¼ cup of extra-virgin olive oil into a bowl and blend them well. You can add lemon zest and juice too if you like to create a gremolata. If you add parmesan with toasted nuts, you’ll get a pesto. You can also swap out the garlic for a small shallot or add a small amount of anchovy paste to kick up the flavor.
You’ll want an immersion blender for this sauce, but a regular blender or even a food processor will do fine. You can blend and chop by hand if you don’t mind a chunkier texture. This sauce works well paired with a juicy steak, a piece of fish, drizzled on a stew or soup, on vegetables, or inside of a grilled cheese sandwich.
Tomato-Parsley Sumac Salad
This is a very simple but delicious salad recipe that helps use up both parsley and tomatoes, so it’s a win-win. Roughly dice two tomatoes and add in ¼ cup of white onions that you finely diced, ½ cup of rough chopped parsley, and drizzle it with olive oil. To finish it off, add salt, pepper, and sumac to taste.
Frequently Asked Questions About Harvesting Parsley
Even though harvesting parsley is a relatively easy process, it’s very common to have questions about this process. To help clean up some confusion, we’ve picked out the most popular questions below for you.
1. Will parsley come back after you cut it?
Yes, parsley will grow back nicely after you harvest some. In fact, if you want to regularly harvest your leaves and promote new growth, cut them back from the outside in to help keep the plant healthy.
2. How often should you harvest your parsley leaves?
You can easily harvest parsley at several points throughout the growing season as you need it. It is called a cut-and-come-again herb for this very reason.
3. How many times will you be able to harvest parsley from one plant?
The nice thing about this herb is that you can harvest it as many times as you need to without causing damage. If you plan on harvesting parsley in large amounts, you’ll want to allow the plant to rest for a week before you do it again.
4. How do you pick parsley while ensuring it keeps growing?
Picking parsley is an easy process, and it doesn’t require the use of any special tools. You can use a pair of clean scissors or your hands to cut the stems roughly an inch above the soil. While you cut it, make sure you don’t cause any damage to the plant so it continues to grow. Try harvesting parsley from different areas of the plant so you don’t take all of the leaves from a single side. Regularly harvesting your plats will encourage new growth and a bushier habit, so don’t be afraid to do so regularly.
5. Will parsley plants come back every year?
Most people tend to treat parsley as an annual herb, and this means that it only lasts for a single growing season. However, if you live in a planting zone that doesn’t get frost in the winter, parsley is a biennial herb that comes back a second year. During the first year, you get the parsley leaves and the second year brings flowers that give way to seeds, but both are edible.
6. What are a few popular ways to use parsley?
Parsley is a multipurpose herb that you can use in a huge range of dishes. You can use it as a garnish, cook it into stews or soups, add it to salads, blend it into sauces or pesto, or use it to make essential oils. It’s a very popular herb that adds a bright but subtle touch to many dishes.
Now that you know all about harvesting parsley without injuring the plant and how to store and use it, it’s time to get out and grow your own. This herb makes a fantastic addition to your dishes, so it’s worth growing and you can easily harvest it several times throughout the growing season. With a little care, you can have fresh parsley all year-round.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.