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5 Reasons to Grow this Delicious Italian Parsley Alternative

Hungarian parsley (Petroselinum Crispum) isn’t as common in American gardens as Italian parsley (Petroselinum Neapolitanum) is. What makes this parsley alternative different from Italian parsley is that it has a unique, subtle flavor, is cold hardy, adaptable to American style of cooking, just as easy to grow as Italian parsley, is more disease resistant and a biennial in many zones. Besides the mild taste, the Hungarian parsley leaf is rounder than Italian flat leaf parsley where the leaves are pointier. If you’re looking to add something new to your garden, Hungarian parsley is a great Italian parsley substitute for gardeners looking for a low maintenance herb.

Like everyone else, I grew flat leaf Italian parsley which is really easy to get as a plant and find the seeds locally. I treated it as an annual because here in Zone 6, it wouldn’t grow back like it can in other zones. It generally does well in Zones 6-9. I didn’t use it as much as I would’ve liked in cooking because the taste is so strong. My chickens liked it as a snack and so did my guinea pigs, Gigi and Nibbles.

Gigi, our Guinea Pig snacking on fresh parsley from the garden. We fed her and her sister Nibbles a handful of fresh parsley a few times a week.

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I enjoy the challenge of growing something new in my garden every year. I usually add one or two new varieties of fruit, vegetables and/or herbs when I am in the planning stages of designing my garden for the upcoming year. I love trying new things. This is how I continue to challenge and educate myself as a gardener. Sometimes, it’s a fail or not tasty enough to do again. But sometimes, it’s a wonderful surprise. Hungarian parsley was a surprise that impressed me so much so that I want to keep growing it year after year.

It all started with a suggestion from my 94 year old grandma who was visiting us. She mentioned how she missed cooking with Hungarian parsley that her family would grow in Slovakia. I went back to my Eastern European roots and promised her I would give it a try. I ordered the seeds and sowed them. I fell in love with this variety for the reasons I would like to share with you so you can determine if Hungarian Parsley would also be a parsley alternative in your garden too.

This Hungarian Parsley (Petroselinum Crispum) is already about 1 to 2 inches high after planting seed mid-May in Zone 6.

What does this Italian parsley alternative taste like?

Hungarian parsley has a unique flavor. When compared to flat leaf Italian parsley, this parsley substitute is more mild. It doesn’t have that sharp bite of flavor. The best way to describe it is that it’s close to a mild celery taste. Even though both varieties look similar, the Hungarian parsley leaf is more tender. I have dried it in a dehydrator so I can tell you that it holds its taste and color very well.

The easiest way to distinguish Hungarian parsley from Italian parsley is that the leaves have rounded edges.

1. Hungarian parsley is more than just garnish

Italian parsley’s sharp flavor often sidelines it as garnish. The lighter flavor of this Italian parsley alternative makes it versatile in Eastern European cooking. You can make simple, nutritious meals with fresh or dried Hungarian parsley. It makes baked or boiled potatoes taste amazing! I love using it in chicken stock soups. It’s mild taste can complement soups and stews where you would add celery which is pricey to buy in grocery stores.

2. This parsley alternative is cold hardy

Yes it is! Imagine my delight when I unexpectedly saw new growth in the same place as last year. Wow in Zone 6, Hungarian parsley is a biennial!

You’ll get an extra year of use. The first year usually yields more because the second year, the plant puts it’s energy in creating seeds which are easy to collect.

I was so accustomed to treating Italian flat leaf parsley as an annual and that gets expensive. This may vary from depending on the zone you are in. This discovery made me happy because it saves me money and time in planting new plants every year.

This the second year of growth of my Hungarian parsley emerging in early April.

3. Hungarian parsley is easy to grow

You can start it indoors on flats or direct sow it in the ground like I did. The only difference I noticed is that it had a slower start compared to the Italian parsley but it caught up by mid-summer. Just like the Italian variety, this parsley alternative also lasted well into November.

Over the summer, I harvested a lot of the leaves early in the morning. Harvesting parsley in the morning when the weather is colder keeps it from wilting before you preserve it.

Hey, it’s not the end of the world if you harvest it in the afternoon. You can wash it, put it in a salad spinner to get the extra water off and keep it refrigerated it to restore it’s crispness.

The easiest way I preserve my parsley is to either freeze it in a freezer bag or dry it in my dehydrator, then store in my dark spice cabinet.

4. It’s more disease resistant

There seems to be a consensus that Hungarian parsley is resistant to Xanthamonas, a common bacterial infection that seems to occur in greenhouses when parsley is overwintered. You can read more about their resistance here.

The parsley leaf of Hungarian parsley is also a host plant for Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars.

5. It’s also a butterfly host plant

As if you need one more reason to give Hungarian parsley a try this year, it is a host plant for Black Swallowtails and Anise Swallowtails. I don’t mind caterpillars nibbling on my plants. When I see a lot of them, then I know that I need to plant more parsley the following year. They are voracious eaters, but I still get a lot of parsley for what I need because Hungarian parsley grows vigorously so there’s plenty for everyone.

If you are interested in attracting more butterflies and caterpillars to your garden, I have a blog post that includes more plants you can add to your garden.

It only takes 3-4 Black Swallowtail Caterpillars to completely devour one established plant. With this in mind, I like to plant enough parsley for me and the caterpillars. There’s enough to go around.

How do I grow it?

Unlike Italian parsley which is sold in garden centers, starter plants of Hungarian parsley are hard to get locally but at least it’s easy to grow them from seed. Italian parsley seeds can be slow to germinate and it’s been my experience that Hungarian parsley took a little bit longer. By mid-summer it caught up with my Italian parsley. I grew them next to each other. Hungarian parsley grows in zones 6-9. They get about 9-12 inches tall. It needs full sun.

Hungarian parsley grow well in raised beds that have soft soil but I grow mine in the main garden in the ground. I have some rocks in my soil that we keep trying to pick out year after year but my soil is softer because we’ve been working organic compost every year. The soil should drain well. If you have clay soil that needs more work to make softer, I would grow Hungarian parsley in a planter or in a raised bed.

Water weekly when planted in the ground but if it’s in a planter, water it a couple of times a week so it doesn’t dry out. Fertilizer isn’t necessary but they could benefit from organic compost. Both Italian and Hungarian parsley can be planted next to each other. They are companion plants for asparagus, tomatoes, beans, roses, pepper plants and broccoli. They shouldn’t be planted near lettuce, mint and carrots.

Are you ready to give this parsley alternative a try?

Since starter plants are really hard to find locally, you can find Hungarian parsley from seed is pretty easy.

Here are a few places that sell it.

Farmacie Isolde

Wild Mountain Seeds

Wild Garden Seed

Richter’s

Summary

For these reasons, I think Hungarian parsley is a great new addition to include in your garden this year. With its mild celery taste, it can be easily used in your meals. If you have pet guinea pigs, it provides lots of nutrients. It’s cold hardy and can be grown the same way as the parsley you are used to. You can harvest the leaves which can be used fresh, frozen and dried for long term storage. Another important thing to note is that this variety can be overwintered in the greenhouse and is disease resistant. Best of all, Hungarian parsley comes back the next year saving you time and money. And who doesn’t love that?