Parsley is a beloved culinary plant. However, it has been voted Germany’s poisonous plant of the year 2023. It is important to note that its toxic seeds only develop in the plant’s second year, after it has flowered.
~ The parsley was voted Germany’s Poisonous Plant of the Year 2023 ~
Occurrence and distribution: It thrives in fresh, nutrient-rich, loamy soil and prefers to be grown in a sunny to semi-shady spot. Parsley comes from the Mediterranean area, where it is found growing wildly. People cultivate two varieties of this herb – one with curly leaves and the other with smooth leaves – in gardens as a cooking ingredient. Avoid too much dampness as parsley cannot handle it.
Growth form: This plant is a two-year herb with a root that resembles a turnip, developing short secondary roots underground. The first year sees the growth of numerous leaves from the root, while in the second year, the inflorescences develop. The plant grows to a height of 30 to 90 cm (with rare heights of up to 100 cm). Every part of the plant is hairless.
Stems: The stems grow straight up and have a rounded to slightly grooved shape. They are green in colour, just like the rest of the plant. On the flower stalks, there are small and thin leaves.
Leaves: Parsley has curly or smooth leaves, depending on the type. The individual leaves have a dark green colour. Lower leaves are divided into two or three lobes and have a slightly smooth edge. The leaves are triangular at the base, and each leaflet is deeply serrated.
Flowers: This inflorescence consists of a double umbel. The arrangement has between 8 and 20 individual stems of similar length. Each flower sits within six to eight light green and linearly shaped bracts. The flower has five petals that are white to yellow in colour. It also has five stamens and a greenish stigma that is double. The time of the year when the flower blooms is from June to July.
Seeds / Fruits: Once the plant has flowered, the seeds develop from the two-capped stigma. Initially, they are greenish in colour and have a smooth surface, but they slowly become ridged and change to a brown shade as they mature. They are very small, measuring only 2 to 3 mm in length. The fruit itself matures between August and November.
Uses of the plant
Use of the plant: Parsley leaves are often used in the kitchen as a flavouring. The parsley’s leaves are commonly used as a seasoning herb in cooking. It’s rich in vitamin C, which is beneficial in preventing colds. The plant’s leaves can be consumed moderately.
The roots of root parsley (Petroselinum crispum subsp. tuberosum) can also be used for cooking. They have a strong parsley-like flavour with a slight sweetness, which is great for adding flavour to soups and vegetable stews. When using the root, remember to use a “normal amount” to avoid overpowering the dish.
Earlier use of the plant – not recommended for imitation: Leonhart Fuchs, in his new herbal book of 1543, said that the seeds and root were boiled in wine. The mixture created a diuretic effect and was used as a type of diuretic (dehydrating).
Origin of the botanical name
Origin of the botanical genus name: The botanical genus name “Petroselinum” is presumably derived from the ancient Greek words “πέτϱος” (Petros – alternatively: πέτρα / petra) – meaning “stone / rock / cliff” – and “σέλινον” (Selinon) – meaning “a kind of plant with umbrella-shaped flowers”. Nevertheless, the exact etymology is unclear. There are various theories that have been debated for a very long time.
Theory 1: The plant is named after its tendency to grow in rocky areas.
Theory 2: From the application against stone diseases / medicinal plant against kidney stones and bladder stones.
In Helmut Genaust’s ” Etymological Dictionary of Botanical Plant Names” from 2014, theory no. 1 is described as “against better botanical knowledge”. In his opinion, theory 2 – i.e. the use as a medicinal plant / officinal (here especially the varieties Petroselinum crispum convar. crispum and radicosum) – should have a higher significance in the origin of the name. Since its use against kidney and bladder stones was already known to the ancient physician Pedanios Dioskurides.
Note on my own behalf: It should be pointed out here that none of the above theories can be clearly proven. Therefore, I do not make any judgement on the validity of these theories.
Botanical species name origin: The botanical species name “crispum” can be translated into English as “curly”.
Origin of the german name
Origin of the German name: The German name “Petersilie (parsley)” is said to have developed from the Old High German word “petarseli” (10th century), via the Middle High German word “petersilje” and the Late Middle High German word “petersil”. An allusion to the proper name “Peter” occurred early on in German. Compare also the Old High German name “petirlīn” (Hs. 12th century), Middle High German name “pēterlīn”. It is assumed to be a borrowing from the Middle Latin word “petrosilium” or the Ancient Greek word “πετροσέλινον” (petrosélīnon). – Source: Etymological Dictionary of German by Wolfgang Pfeifer
Distribution codes: none (synthetic / garden plant)
The following section is not suitable for everyone. Please only read it if you are really interested.
Toxicity of the plant
Toxicity of the plant: It’s worth mentioning that parsley leaves are generally harmless. In normal amounts, consuming the leaves is safe as they contain minimal amounts of essential oil. If you want to use the root of parsley, it’s best to choose root parsley (Petroselinum crispum subsp. tuberosum), which can be purchased at supermarkets or garden centres.
Parsley root contains essential oil which contains ‘phenylpropanoids (especially apiol)’. Hence, eating parsley root in large quantities is not recommended. Consumption of normal amounts is considered safe. Celery roots contain a lesser amount of apiol. Major element of that essential oil is R(+)-limonene.
The seeds of parsley, which grow in the second year after the flowering, have toxins in them and are therefore considered dangerous. The phenylpropanoid “apiol” that’s stored in the seeds can be particularly harmful. It’s highly recommended to avoid products that contain large amounts of apiol. In any case, do not eat or consume the seeds.
Compounds found in the plant: apiol (with the isomer dillapiol), myristicin.
Effect of the compounds
Former use of parsley seeds / parsley oil: Formerly, people used parsley oil to treat menstrual disorders and as an abortifacient. However, its known toxicity has rendered it obsolete today.
Effect of apiol: At a high dosage, a labour-inducing effect occurs, which is why it used to be used as an abortifacient. Ingestion of the essential oil (main compound is apiol) may cause irritation of the renal epithelial cells. At high concentrations, kidney damage can occur (HagerROM). Apiol also has a hepatoxic (liver-damaging) effect. Individual allergic reactions have already been observed. The substance has the reputation of being intoxicating and aphrodisiac – self-experimentation is strongly discouraged!
Effect of myristicin: Myristicin is an element found in essential oil. It can trigger hallucinations when consumed in large amounts. It is also known to cause cancer and DNA damage.
Intoxication with parsley oil
First aid: In most situations, mild poisoning does not require treatment and can only be managed symptomatically to alleviate symptoms, as there is no known antidote for the toxins. However, severe poisoning necessitates in-patient hospital treatment.
LD50 of parsley fruit oil: rat 3300 mg/kg oral; mouse 1,520 mg/kg oral” (HagerROM). No LD50 is known for humans.