A friend gave me a huge bag of curly-leafed parsley the other day.
I love how green and vibrant it is, and I’d forgotten that it has much more flavour than the flat-leafed variety that is more common now. And it was so nice to have something not sealed in a plastic packet, too.
I know nothing about horticultural history, but I’m assuming that in the 16th-century parsley would have been curly rather than flat-leafed. Culpeper’s Complete Herbal isn’t much help. Where there should be a description of parsley, it just says: ‘This is so well known that it needs no description.’
Culpeper has plenty to say about parsley’s ‘government and virtues’ though, and it turns out that parsley is good for a lot more than garnishing a soup. If boiled and eaten like parsnips, parsley ‘mightily provokes urine’. Parsley seed ‘is also effectual to provoke … women’s menses, expel wind, break the stone, and ease the pains and torments therof, or of any other part of the body, occasioned by wind’. Not only that. Parsley seed is handy ‘against the venom of any poisonous creature and the dangerous consequences which arise from the taking of litharge’ (whatever litharge is) and it’s ‘good against a cough’.
Swollen eyes can be eased by parsley leaves mixed with bread or meal, while women’s breasts that are hard due to ‘curdling of the milk’ can be relieved by the leaves fried with butter, which also take away the ‘black and blue marks arising from bruises or falls.’
The juice mixed with a little wine and dropped into ears is good for earache, too. All in all, it’s a very handy little herb. And of course, it was used in cooking too. So much of the food we eat has changed since the 16th century that I like to think of Hawise picking parsley and chopping it just the way I’ve been doing recently.