Considered "the world's most popular herb," parsley does much more than decorate your dinner plate. Ancient Greeks treated it as a sacred herb and wore crowns made of parsley to stimulate their appetites. Ancient Romans chewed on parsley leaves before drinking wine to prevent intoxication. From the Umbelliferae family, parsley, or Petroselinum crispum, comes in two varieties: curly and Italian flat-leaf.
Parsley -- especially the Italian flat-leaf variety -- packs a healthy range of vitamins and minerals: vitamins A, B-12, C and bone-building vitamin K, beta-carotene, folic acid, iron, protein and calcium. One-half cup fresh parsley fills 10 percent of your daily requirement of iron and has three times the vitamin C as an orange. The abundant chlorophyll in parsley heightens immunity, lowers inflammation, clears toxins, gets rid of mucus and freshens your breath. Parsley also contains alpha-linolenic acid, am omega-3 fatty acid that can also help prevent cardiovascular disease and arthritis.
Parsley contains a volatile oil called myristicin, which can inhibit tumor formation in the lungs according to a study published in the October 1992 issue of "Carcinogenesis." It also contains the flavonoid compound apigenin, which may stop the growth of breast cancer tumor cells, according to a University of Missouri study published in "Cancer Prevention Research." Salman Hyder, who led the study, found that apigenin -- also found in celery, apples, oranges and nuts -- blocked the formation of new blood vessels and reduced the overall number of tumors in rats.
A natural diuretic, parsley also helps eliminate wastes and lessen water retention, which can aid in weight loss. Its high enzyme content improves digestion of proteins and fats and absorption of nutrients. For women, parsley can also help PMS, regulate menstrual cycles and ease symptoms of menopause, such as irritability, depression, dry skin and hair loss.
To eat healthier and enhance your food's natural flavor, substitute parsley for traditional seasonings such as salt and sugar, suggests Suzanna Zick, N.D., M.P.H., a naturopathic physician and research investigator at University of Michigan. Chop parsley for your sandwiches and salads. Throw a few sprigs into your soup stock. Add chopped parsley to stews and sauces at the end of the cooking process. It's also an excellent ingredient for juicing.
Keep fresh parsley close at hand in a tall, narrow container of water; cover and place in refrigerator. Avoid dried parsley, which tastes nothing like the fresh variety. You can also plant your own parsley in the spring or summer in moist, rich soil -- either in your garden or in a container in your kitchen -- and let it grow in partial shade.
Avoid eating large amounts of parsley if you are pregnant or if you have gall bladder or kidney disease.