(Anthriscus cerefolium – Umbelliferae / Apiaceae)
Chervil, a close relative of parsley, is sometimes referred to as French Parsley and Gourmet’s Parsley. There are smooth-leafed and curly-leafed (‘Crispum’) varieties, which are equal in their flavor and aroma. It has a delicate, spicy-sweet, mild aniseed, parsley-like taste and aroma. Only the leaves are used and their use now is limited primarily to culinary. Chervil was formerly used for medicinal purposes, as a diuretic and digestive aid.
"Unlike many herbs, chervil is generally not thought of as an herbal remedy. It was, however, mentioned by Pliny, who added it to his long list of plague preventatives. It also appears to have been used externally to soothe rheumatic pains and heal bruises. One traditional use which survives is chewing it for a case of hiccups. Primarily, chervil continues to be used to tempt the taste buds." –The Helix Herbal Album
"Chervil closely resembles the wild poison hemlock, so it’s important [to] be certain of your plant identification." –the northwest herb lover’s handbook
Chervil is considered to be a hardy annual, growing to a height of about 6" for the leaves and 18" for flowerheads with an 8" spread, suitable for growing in all USDA hardiness zones.
Thriving in cooler weather, chervil will often over-winter in milder climates if sown late or allowed to self-seed. It is an easy-to-grow herb and can be sown and grown in a windowbox or trough, in pot on a deck, or indoors on a windowsill as long as the container is deep enough to support its long taproot.
Seed must be fresh (within a year) to germinate. It is recommended to sow by direct seed as chervil has a long, delicate tap root and tends to bolt if disturbed. Choose a place with at least partial shade — under a bush or deciduous tree is ideal. Chervil plants have a tendency to bolt during high temperatures and if planted in dry, sunny positions. Sow in early spring and repeat every few weeks, or allow some plants to go to seed which they will do quickly, if a steady supply is desired. Press seeds into 1" deep furrows and keep moist. Germination time is 10 to 14 days. Thin to 6" to 8" apart when seedlings reach 1" in height.
Be sure to keep center stem trimmed to encourage new leaf growth. Soil should be moist, rich, and well-drained. Water regularly and well.
Chervil leaves turn reddish-brown as the plant matures, and the tiny white umbellifer flowers show up in mid-summer if permitted (flowering causes the plants to lose flavor and aroma).
Chervil is a companion plant to radishes and is said to enhance their flavor if planted next to them. It reportedly also protects lettuce from ants.
Pests include aphids, which can usually be remedied with insecticidal or horticultural soaps.
Chervil is usually ready to harvest within about 6 to 8 weeks after sowing. Harvest the green leaves, fresh as needed, before the plant has flowered and when young and tender. Use fresh from garden, avoiding cooking unless added at the very last minute.
Chervil does not dry well as it loses much of its flavor. If you wish to preserve it, freezing works best. To freeze, blanch stems in boiling water for one minute, then chill in ice water. Drain and dry, then chop the leaves and spread them out on a cookie sheet and place in freezer. Transfer to glass jar or freezer bag and place back in freezer.
Alternatively, you can purée fresh chervil with a little water and freeze in an ice cube tray. Remove cubes when frozen and place in glass jar or freezer bag.
With either method you choose when freezing chervil, be sure to record the harvest date on the storage container and use within about six months.
Adding the leaves to white wine vinegar is also a great way to preserve and use chervil.
To harvest the seeds for future plantings, gather them before they drop when their color changes from light to dark brown. Place on a surface to air-dry at room temperature for about a week or two, then store away from heat and moisture. Remember to use within a year.
Chervil tends to enhance the flavor of other herbs when combined in recipes and dishes. Chervil, known as cerfeuil in French cuisine, along with parsley, chives, and tarragon make up the fines herbes blend which is commonly used in French cooking to flavor egg dishes, such as omelets and soufflés, as well as fish, meats, and vegetables. It is also a key ingredient in ravigote and béarnaise sauces.
Like parsley, chervil makes a lovely garnish. Along with egg dishes, it is also good to use fresh with cheese and added to soft butter for grilled meats and poultry. The raw leaves are also nice in soups, salads, potatoes, and with vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, and green beans. Also good with wild rice, crab, and fish, such as salmon, trout, and most any white fish. Chervil can also be used when making home-made herbal flavored vinegars for using over cooked dishes, vegetables and as salad dressings.
"In many parts of Europe, especially Norway and France, bowls of minced fresh chervil leaves often accompany meals and are liberally sprinkled on salads, soups, and stews." –the good Herb
Other uses: Chervil, when infused in water, can be used as a skin freshener.
"An infusion of the [chervil] leaf can be used to cleanse the skin, maintain suppleness, and discourage wrinkles." –Herbs for the Home
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