Italian flat leaf parsley

Italian Flat Leaf Parsley: What Does Italian Parsley Look Like And How To Grow It

Italian flat leaf parsley (Petroselinum neapolitanum) may look unassuming but add it to soups and stew, stocks and salads, and you add a fresh flavor and color that makes the dish. Growing Italian parsley in the garden or in a window box will allow the home cook to harness the lively flavor of this plant. Try growing Italian parsley indoors as it does better than curly leaved parsley. You can also learn how to grow Italian parsley outside in the kitchen garden.

What Does Italian Parsley Look Like?

Even the foodie with moderate herbal knowledge may wonder, what does Italian parsley look like? This 6- to 12-inch tall plant has sturdy, slender stems topped with flat, deeply divided leaves. The leaves are soft and pliable and useful whole or chopped. In fact, the entire stem is good cut up and used in chicken salad or other places where celery or some crunchy vegetable would be appropriate. You can even use Italian flat

leaf parsley roots in salads or sautés.

Types of Italian Parsley Herbs

There are several cultivars of Italian flat leaf parsley:

  • Gigante Catalogno is a large leaved variety.
  • Italian Dark Green has deep green leaves with a strong flavor and Italian plain leaf, which is the fastest growing type.
  • Giant of Naples is another larger variety.

Whichever variety you choose, know the proper conditions for growing Italian parsley and you’ll have a biennial herb that is useful for years.

How to Grow Italian Parsley

Italian parsley herbs require temperate conditions. They don’t perform well in extremely hot areas and are prone to freezing back in cold climates. Choose a sunny site in well-draining soil with plenty of organic amendment.

If you’re planting several plants together, allow at least 18 inches between them to prevent mildew from forming on the leaves.

Potted plants thrive in a window with indirect light, no drafts and comfortable household temperatures.

Growing Italian Parsley from Seed

Italian parsley is started outdoors after all danger of frost has passed, or inside six to eight weeks before the last expected frost. Use a fine mixture of potting soil, peat moss and sand. Cover with 1/8 fine dusting of soil and keep the seeds misted and lightly moist. Thin seedlings to 10 to 12 inches apart.

Care of Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

Allow the soil to dry out partially between watering. Water deeply approximately once per week and allow excess moisture to drain out.

Fertilize plants in the ground in early spring with a balanced fertilizer. Potted plants may be fertilized monthly with a half dilution of liquid plant food.

Trim what you need, taking the stems back to the core of the plant. If your plant is skinny and spindly, try moving it to a brighter area. Cut off any blooms as they occur, as this will cause the plant to seed and leaf production to diminish.

How to Grow and Care for Italian Parsley in Containers

Intro: Italian parsley is and easy-to-grow herb that will do well in small plant containers. It can even be grown in very small containers in a kitchen windowsill herb garden. Although there are many varieties of parsley, Italian parsley is grown for use as a culinary herb. Curly-leaved parsley is often used as a garnish. Parsley is easy to grow, easy to harvest, and it tastes great!

Scientific Name: Petroselinum crispum

Plant Type: Biennial herb

Light: Partial shade to full sun

Water: When it comes to watering the parsley plant, keep its potting soil moist, and do not let it dry out. Make sure to not overwater and leave the potting soil soggy.

Zone: Hardy from Zones 5 to 9

Temperature: Parsley does best between 40 and 80 degrees.

Fertilizer: Parsley does best with compost mixed in with its potting soil. If you don’t have compost, fertilize monthly.

Pests and Diseases: Green peach aphid, leafhoppers, beetles and especially carrot weevils are insect pests that may attack your parsley plant. Leaf spot and blights can also affect parsley plants, but parsley is generally very hardy and not susceptible to disease.

Propagation: Grow your parsley plants from seed. To collect seeds, you will need to grow the parsley plant for two years to allow it to mature. The container plant will grow tall and produce flower bunches with many small flowers. Cut off the parsley’s flower heads after they have produced tiny and hard brown seeds. Hang them upside-down to dry. Once they are dry, put the flower heads in a paper bag and shake them around. This allows the parsley seeds to break free of the flowers. If they don’t break free, it means that they are not ripe yet. Save the parsley seeds in a cool, dry place for the next gardening season. To germinate the seeds, soak them in warm water overnight before planting. Plant in spring once the air has warmed (or start seeds indoors).

Misc. Info: To harvest parsley leaves for cooking, find a stalk with young leaves that haven’t become course (as the plant ages, its leaves lose flavor). Cut the parsley stalk about a half an inch above ground level. The leaves will begin to grow back in a few weeks. If you want to grow parsley just for the leaves and not for seeds, grow a new plant every season. Parsley leaves are not as tasty in the second season when the container plant is mature – parsley uses its second season to flower and produce seeds, not tasty leaves!

Parsley seeds are toxic, but its leaves have many health benefits.


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Do you think of parsley as a decoration? For Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst, parsley is so much more than the sum of its sprigs. Parsley plays an important part in Passover celebrations and often appears on Easter tables at well. Kathy joins hosts Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson to talk parsley and share these six recipes:

  • Chimichurri
  • Fried Parsley Leaves
  • John’s Parsley Salad with Walnuts and Raisins
  • Spring Parsley-Watercress Soup
  • Parsley Pesto
  • Avocado Tabbouleh in Little Gems

See more recipes and cooking segments with Kathy Gunst


(Print/view a PDF of all four recipes)

Kathy Gunst’s chimichurri can be served with grilled vegetables or fish, or used as a marinade. (Kathy Gunst)

A traditional Argentinian sauce that is served with grilled foods—seafood, chicken, or beef or flank steak.

Kathy’s Note: A mixture of parsley, mint, capers, scallions, lemon juice and olive oil, this is a cross between a tart green sauce (salsa verde) and a classic Argentinean chimichurri sauce. Serve with a grilled vegetable platter or grilled chicken, pork, fish, or beef. This sauce can also be used as a marinade for meat or fish, and it’s great spooned into soups and salads.

Makes about 1 cup.

1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
2 scallions, chopped (white and green parts)
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup drained capers
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 1/4 teaspoon red chile flakes

Put the parsley and mint in the container of a food processor and pulse once or twice until coarsely chopped. Add the scallions and pulse again. Add the oil, capers, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste, and blend until coarsely chopped. Place in a serving bowl and gently mix in the chile flakes to taste. The sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to a day before serving.

Fried Parsley Leaves

You can use this technique – frying whole herbs in hot oil— with any type of fresh herb, but sage and parsley work particularly well. The herbs must be cleaned of any dirt and thoroughly patted dry before frying.

To make the fried herb leaves you’ll need 2 to 3 cups of olive or safflower oil, or a combination of both, a bunch of very fresh herbs, and some good sea salt. Carefully snip off and separate small bundles of the sage (about 3 to 4 leaves attached to a small piece of the stem) and set aside. Heat the oil in a medium-sized heavy skillet over high heat until the oil just begins to smoke and very carefully lower the sage into the hot oil. (The oil is hot enough when the sage leaves immediately being to sizzle.) Fry for about 30 seconds. Remove the sage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels or a clean, brown grocery bag. Don’t make the sage more than 15 minutes ahead of time or it will wilt. Sprinkle the fried leaves with salt (sea salt is particularly good).

Parsley leaves make a particularly good topping for soup or can be served with cocktails and a cheese platter.

John’s Parsley Salad with Walnuts and Raisins

John’s Parsley Salad with Walnuts and Raisins can be served for lunch or dinner (Kathy Gunst)

Kathy’s Note: You can add chopped apple or pear to this simple salad. Serve for lunch or dinner, on its own or with roasted chicken or grilled seafood.

Serves 4.

1 1/2 cups flat leaf Italian parsley, washed, dried and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup chopped walnut halves
1/8 cup raisins
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium bowl mix the parsley with the walnuts and raisins. Add the vinegar and oil, salt and pepper and toss well. Serve within an hour.

Spring Parsley-Watercress Soup

Kathy’s Note: This is a soup to celebrate a new season. It has the purest spring green color and a fresh taste that makes you feel instantly invigorated and energized. Top with Fried Parsley Sprigs (recipe below) or chopped spring chives, or both. This soup literally takes about half an hour from start to finish and is surprisingly sophisticated. You can double it to serve a crowd, but it’s really the kind of soup you have just a small bowl of, rather a huge main course size.

Parsley is key to chicken soup. (Kathy Gunst)

Serves 8 small portions.

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 scallions, 3 oz, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
2 bunches flat-leafed (Italian) parsley, washed, dried and chopped with stems
2 bunches watercress, 4 oz, washed, dried and chopped with stems
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
Garnish: Fried parsley sprigs, and/or 1/4 cup minced fresh chives

In a medium-size pot heat the oil over low heat. Add the scallions, chives, salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and watercress and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook 10 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Using a blender (I found that a food processor and immersion blender don’t puree all the parsley stems properly), puree the soup. Return to the pot and season to taste. There are two ways to serve this soup: the first is as is, which is thick and a touch fibrous. The second is to strain the soup through a food mill of fine-mashed strainer and you will have something closer to a gorgeous thin parsley broth. Both are delicious but if you think the fibrous nature of the soup will bother you, by all means strain it.

Serve hot with fried parsley sprigs or chopped chives as a garnish, if desired.

Parsley Pesto

Kathy’s Note: A vibrant green pesto, made with parsley instead of basil, and ideal for winter when fresh herbs are scarce. This pesto may be made several hours ahead of time. Serve with a roasted vegetable soup, or a minestrone, or any soup where you might add a pesto. You can also add it to pasta, salads or serve with grilled seafood. The pesto will keep, covered and refrigerated for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen for several months.

Curly versus flat or Italian parsley. (Kathy Gunst)

Makes about 3/4 cup.

1 packed cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 clove garlic, peeled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor or blender, whirl the parsley and garlic with some salt and pepper until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add the oil making sure not to over-process the pesto; it should still be a little chunky. Remove to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Season to taste.

Favorite Variations:
Add 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pine nuts with the parsley.
Add 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves.
Add 1 teaspoon of any of the following ground dried spices: cumin, curry, coriander or cardamom.

Avocado Tabbouleh in Little Gems

Maureen Abood’s Avocado Tabbouleh in Little Gems. (Jason Varney)

By Maureen Abood

This recipe has been reprinted with permission from Rose Water & Orange Blossoms © 2015 by Maureen Abood, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.

Maureen’s Note: There is perhaps no more identifiable Lebanese dish than our tabbouleh. It is a beloved salad with good reason: tabbouleh is an effort, and things that take an effort often have a high value and pay-off. The chopping load is big. If you’re my sister, who considers any opportunity to chop a really fun time, that effort is a pleasure, and a gift to your eaters. If you’re someone else (me), you really wish your sister were around all of the time to take care of the chop job. Tabbouleh was always a special-occasion salad at our house as a labor of love, and we always appreciated it for that (it is tempting to use the food processor to chop the parsley, but that method turns the parsley to mush quickly). Tabbouleh is all about its fresh parsley and mint flavor, with a supporting cast of tomatoes, onion, and a very little bit of bulgur (too often, misunderstood tabboulehs are more bulgur than herb). Traditionally tabbouleh is eaten with long leaves of romaine. I like to nestle my tabbouleh in tender Little Gem cups and to stud the salad with avocado, which loves all of the lemon in the dressing. Pick up the Little Gem boats filled with tabbouleh with your hands and eat them that way, casual and fun. You can prep the ingredients a day or two in advance and combine everything when you’re ready to serve, making tabbouleh a much swifter affair.

Makes 8 Servings.

1⁄3 cup / 65 g bulgur, #1 fine grade
3 bunches curly parsley
1 pint cherry tomatoes, diced into 1⁄4-inch / 0.5 cm pieces
1 ripe avocado, diced into 1⁄4-inch / 0.5 cm pieces
5 scallions, sliced thinly crosswise
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
1⁄4 cup / 60 mL extra-virgin olive oil
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 heads Little Gem romaine, rinsed and dried

Rinse the bulgur twice in a small bowl, letting the bulgur settle for a few seconds before pouring off the water. Add enough fresh water just to cover the bulgur. Soak it for 30 minutes, or until it is softened. Pour off and squeeze out any excess water. While the bulgur softens, prepare the parsley. Wash the parsley by dunking and shaking it in a sink full of cool water two or three times, changing the water between rinses.

Wrap the parsley in clean kitchen towels and gently squeeze, soaking up as much water as possible, and then change out the towels for dry ones and squeeze again. Or, dry the parsley in a salad spinner, and then squeeze it in towels to soak up any remaining water. The drier the parsley, the easier it will be to chop and the nicer the tabbouleh will be.

If you are prepping the parsley in advance, which is ideal for dryness, let it sit out on the towels for a few hours after it has been patted dry, and then bundle the parsley up in paper towels and refrigerate it until you are ready. Pinch off the curls of parsley from their stems. Chop the curls in two or three batches with a large chef’s knife, gathering the parsley up as you chop to form a more compact mound, until it is finely chopped.

In a medium bowl, combine the parsley, tomato, avocado, scallions, mint, and bulgur. Stir in the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more lemon and salt if needed. Let the tabbouleh rest for about 15 minutes so the bulgur will soak up, and be flavored by, the juices. Pull the Little Gem leaves from their stems and arrange the nicest, cup-like leaves on a platter. Fill each cup with a big spoonful of the tabbouleh, and serve immediately.


  • Kathy Gunst, resident chef for Here & Now and author of “Notes from a Maine Kitchen” and the video series “Simple Soups from Scratch.” She tweets @mainecook.

Learning to cook entails becoming familiar with several types of herbs. You probably cook with basil, oregano, parsley, cilantro, and other leafy herbs on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean that you know what they look like in the wild, however. I’m perfectly happy to admit that I’m very much in this category. If a basil plant sprung up in my backyard I would never recognize it.

This isn’t usually a problem. Herbs are packaged with labels, often in jars. Even if you buy some fresh herbs at the store, they’re usually in plastic containers or pots. As long as the herbs are appropriately packaged and labeled, you don’t need to know what they look like.

Cilantro and parsley are different. They’re often placed next to each other in the produce section with little or no labeling. Worse, they look very, very similar. Without actually taking the time to learn the differences, you’d never be able to tell them apart by sight alone.

What Does Parsley Look Like?

Flat-leaf parsley is an herb with long, think stalks and green leaves. The leaves are slightly pointed, flat, and grown in sections. They’re not entirely unlike small maple leaves.

To visually identify parsley, look for pointed leaves. Cilantro (and other herbs) have more rounded leaves.

What Does Cilantro Look Like?

Cilantro is also an herb with long, thin green stalks and flat green leaves. The leaves are much more round, however, resembling shamrocks with slightly jagged edges.

Again, cilantro is best distinguished visually by the curved edges of its leaves. Many people use the mnemonic “Parsley has Pointed leaves, Cilantro has Curved.” The matching letters make it fairly easy to remember.

Flat Leaf Parsley vs Cilantro in Cooking

While parsley and cilantro look similar, they taste very different. They smell different, too, meaning that the best way to tell them apart at the supermarket is to simply stick your nose in the herbs. Cilantro has a strong, unique flavor, while parsley is much more mild in both scent and flavor. Parsley is often subtle enough that you can leave it out of a dish and hardly notice its absence.

Cilantro is much, much more noticeable.

I tend to use cilantro in Mexican and Indian-style dishes. It goes great with tomatoes, meat, and a bit of acid (usually lemon or lime juice). Parsley is most prominently featured in chimichurri. It also adds a bit of color and flavor to a wide variety of other dishes, including soups, salads, and sandwiches.

There are a bunch of dishes that make use of both herbs, of course. Once you start cutting into the herbs, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between cilantro and parsley based on smell alone. You’ll have no problems using the right amount of each.

Cilantro vs Coriander

Technically, cilantro and coriander are the same plant. By themselves, the words refer to different spices: cilantro usually refers to the leaves of these plants, while coriander often refers to the seeds instead. Still, if a recipe calls for coriander leaves, do you need to actually find a coriander plant, or can you use cilantro instead?

The answer is simple. No, you don’t need to find coriander leaves. Just use cilantro. Conversely, if you’re looking for cilantro and find coriander leaves, use those instead. The terms mean the same thing.

Cilantro VS Parsley: How To Tell Herbs Apart

When you’re in the produce section of the grocery store, you can use three techniques to quickly tell which herb is parsley and which herb is cilantro.

1. Look at the leaves. Parsley (which starts with a P) has pointed leaves. Cilantro (which starts with a C) has curved leaves. As long as the plants are side-by-side, it should be easy to tell the difference using this method.

2. Smell the herbs. Parsley and cilantro smell very different. Cilantro has a strong smell that’s somewhat reminiscent of lime, while parsley is slightly bitter and much more delicate. This method is fairly foolproof as long as you’ve cooked with both herbs before.

3. Look for a sign or ask an employee. The people who work at the grocery store won’t mind if you politely ask for some help finding the herbs on your shopping list. Most of the time, they’ll love the excuse to get away from whatever they’re working on and actually help someone directly. If the two methods above aren’t doing the trick for you, you’ll definitely want to try this technique.

Storing Cilantro and Parsley

One important part of shopping for fresh herbs is keeping them fresh. Both cilantro and parsley will go “bad” fairly quickly. In order to extend the shelf life of your herbs for up to two weeks, I recommend storing them in a water-filled glass in the fridge.

Here’s a quick rundown of how to prepare your parsley and cilantro for storage:

1. Gather your herbs and trim off the bottom of the stems. This helps ensure that they’ll soak water up from the glass.

2. Fill a glass partway with water. Place the parsley or cilantro in the glass, with the leaves coming out of the top and the stems in the water.

3. Place this glass in the fridge. Some people like to put a plastic bag around their herbs to reduce airflow, but it’s not necessary if that’s not your thing.

4. If you’re storing your herbs for a full two weeks, change the water occasionally.

Cilantro vs Parsley: The Final Verdict

Cilantro and parsley can look pretty similar, but they’re very different herbs. Cilantro is a powerful herb with curved leaves, while parsley has a more delicate flavor and pointed leaves. You can use the leaves, the smell of both herbs, or a helpful store employee to ensure that you get the right herb for your recipe.

But what If you’re not sure which herb is right? Generally, parsley is used to add a bit of delicate flavor or color to a dish, while cilantro has a unique flavor that shines through other ingredients. If you’re cooking Mexican or Indian-inspired dishes, you’re probably looking for cilantro. If you’re making something that doesn’t have a lot of bold flavors, however, you’re probably after parsley.

If there’s a lot of doubt, just get both! Cilantro and parsley tend to be very inexpensive, meaning you can take both herbs home and experiment to your heart’s content.

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