Italian Parsley: What It Is, How to Use It and Even Grow Your Own

Italian parsley
Italian parsley. Patricia Granlund / Getty Images

Italian parsley is a variety of the parsley plant with flat leaves which is used as an herb in a wide range of cuisines around the world.

Probably the most commonly used herb in the culinary arts, parsley comes in two types: Italian parsley and curly parsley. Curly parsley is less flavorful than Italian parsley and is mainly used as a garnish.

Italian parsley (which is also known as flat parsley or flat-leaf parsley) has dark flat leaves and slender stems, with a bright and slightly bitter flavor.

The stems have more flavor and aroma than the leaves.

Parsley stems are one of the traditional ingredients in the bouquet garni and sachet d'epices, which are used for flavoring stocks, soups and sauces.

Italian parsley is sometimes mistaken for cilantro, and they do indeed look similar. But Italian parsley has darker, shinier leaves than cilantro (which also known as coriander), and cilantro leaves are more delicate and fragrant.

Parsley has a ton of uses, and it usually comes in rather large bundles at the store. And unless you're using a massive amount of it at a time, like if you're making gremolata or pesto, it's difficult to use an entire bunch before it starts to wilt and go bad.

The solution: Grow your own!

Growing Your Own Italian Parsley

Even if you're not much of a gardener, herbs are a great thing to grow because they don't need much space — you can grow them in containers — and once they get going, you can snip off the amount you need for whatever dish you're preparing at the moment.

And without question, if you're only going to grow one herb, flat-leaf parsley should definitely be it.

Parsley is a biennial plant, which, means that it grows for two years — in the second year it flowers, produces seeds and then dies. The leaves are still edible into the early part of the second spring, but as soon as the flower shoots appear, the leaves will be bitter, so you may as well pull the plant at that point.

You can grow parsley from seeds or from starter plants, and the latter is your best bet if you're a beginner. Parsley does well in full and partial sun, and the flat-leaf variety does quite well in hot summers. 

One other benefit of planting parsley in your garden is that it's a favorite food of the the striped caterpillar (called a parsleyworm) that eventually becomes the black swallowtail butterfly. So by growing parsley, you'll basically be growing butterflies as well. Just be sure to plant enough parsley to share with the caterpillars.