A key ingredient in French cuisine, Chervil is a very useful herb to grow in home gardens for its lacy, anise-flavored foliage, health benefits, and as a companion plant to attract beneficial insects and get rid of aphids.
What is Chervil?
- Chervil is a member of the Celery, Carrot, or Parsley family, Apiaceae, which is one of the largest families of flowering plants with over 3,800 species.
- It is native to the Caucasus and has been used since Roman times. Chervil is now naturalized throughout Europe as well as North America.
- Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is an upright annual or biennial herb prized for its anise-flavored lacy leaves that resemble Parsley but are far more delicate.
- Loose umbels of tiny white flowers bloom above the foliage in summer and give way to aromatic fruits.
- This garden herb grows 12-24 inches tall (30-60 cm) and 12-18 inches wide (30-45 cm).
- Fast-growing, Chervil is an excellent addition to beds and borders, herb gardens, kitchen gardens, vegetable gardens, containers, or cottage gardens.
- Although most people only use the leaves for cooking, all parts of the plant are edible (leaves, flowers, seeds).
- Chervil is a popular ingredient in French cuisine and one of the four traditional French fines herbes, along with Chives, Tarragon, and Parsley.
- This delicate culinary herb is low care and relatively pest and disease-free.
Chervil versus Parsley
Although both herbs have green leaves of similar size and shape and are easily mistaken for each other, they have some differences.
- Botany: Both plants belong to the carrot family, Apiaceae, but Chervil is a member of the genus Anthriscus, while Parsley is a member of the genus Petroselinum.
- Leaves: Although Chervil and Parsley’s lacy leaves look alike, Chervil’s are more feathery and far more delicate.
- Color: Chervil tends to be a paler shade of green compared to the rich, deeper green leaves of both flat-leaf Parsley and curly Parsley.
- Flavor: Chervil has a milder flavor than Parsley, with notes of anise and licorice. Parsley has a slightly bitter, grassy taste.
- Availability: Chervil is a staple herb in France and parts of Europe but can be challenging to find elsewhere. Parsley is relatively easy to find everywhere.
- Uses: Chervil and Parsley are essential ingredients of Fines Herbes. They can be used in herb mixes, marinades, sauces, and garnish. Chervil can be used as a substitute for Parsley and vice versa – as a garnish. If intended to be an ingredient of the dish itself, the expected flavor will be off. A better option to replace Chervil is to combine Parsley with Tarragon to obtain the desired notes of licorice.
Chervil and Wildlife
- Chervil is known for attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, thanks to its flowers, which are rich in nectar and pollen.
- It also attracts a wide variety of beneficial insects, including ladybugs and hoverflies. These predatory insects will prey on your garden pests such as aphids.
- Chervil is also said to repel slugs.
Chervil Health Benefits
Chervil has historically served as a digestive aid, claimed to help lower high blood pressure, and was even infused for curing hiccups during the Middle Ages.
- It is an excellent source of vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
- Vitamin A: 10 grams of dried Chervil provide 11.5% of your daily needs. This vitamin is essential for your eyes, immune system, heart, and kidneys.
- Vitamin C: 10 grams provide 8.3% of your daily needs. Vitamin C helps make collagen and boosts your immune system.
- The leaves also contain antioxidants to reduce inflammation while protecting the cells against free radical damage.
- Fiber: 10 grams provide 5% of your daily needs. Fiber helps lower harmful cholesterol levels and improves your heart health. Fiber also helps regulate the digestive tract and keep your digestive system healthy.
- Iron: 10 grams provide 18.2% of your daily needs. Iron is essential for growth and development and improves mental and physical performance.
- Calcium: 10 grams provide 10.2% of your daily needs. Calcium is critical for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth.
- Potassium: 10 grams provide 13% of your daily needs. Potassium helps regulate fluid balance, nerve signals, and muscle contractions.
- Chervil is usually safe to consume in reasonable amounts. But pregnant women should avoid it.
Cooking with Chervil
- Both fresh and dried chervil leaves enhance the flavor of many dishes. However, dried Chervil tends to lose much of its flavor.
- A staple in French cuisine, Chervil is best used fresh as part of the fines herbes blend and works exceptionally well in fish, poultry, or egg dishes.
- It is also one of the key ingredients in French béarnaise sauce and ravigote sauce, both of which are traditionally served with fish and seafood.
- Its refined flavor is terrific in salads, soups, omelets, pasta, and creamy sauces.
- Because of how its volatile oils react to heat, Chervil should be added to culinary preparations at the very last minute to prevent it from becoming bitter.
- It can also be used in oil-based salad dressings, herb-infused oil, herb butter, or as an edible garnish.
- Fresh Chervil is delicate and does not keep as well as most herbs. Handle carefully and consume it within a few days.
- Unlike most herbs, Chervil prefers cooler temperatures and sheltered locations.
- This herb thrives in medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade. It prefers filtered shade in hot climates and full sun in cool climates. Partial shade can prevent bolting in hot summer climates.
- Choose a planting site carefully: this plant has a taproot and dislikes transplanting.
- Prepare the soil in advance by adding organic matter or compost.
- Start seeds indoors in individual pots or sow directly in the garden after the last spring frost date. The seeds can also be planted in the fall.
- This aromatic herb can also be grown in containers.
- The seeds will germinate faster if you soak them overnight because the seedlings need a lot of moisture.
- Sow seeds about ½ inch deep (1 cm) and 2 inches apart (5 cm). Water thoroughly after planting.
- Seedlings emerge in 14-28 days. The leaves should be ready for harvesting around 6-9 weeks after sowing.
- Sow seeds every three weeks up until six weeks before the starting frost date – if you want a steady supply of Chervil leaves.
- Gradually thin seedlings 6 inches apart (15 cm) when they reach a couple of inches to provide good airflow. If planted in rows, space them 12 inches apart (30 cm).
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Water plants regularly, especially during hot, dry summers. Do not over-water to prevent problems.
- Chervil tends to bolt in the summer heat. Flower stalks appear, and leaves stop growing and become bitter in flavor.
- Do not let your chervil flower. The leaves won’t be flavorful, and the plant will go to seed and die within a few days. To prevent bolting, plant this terrific herb in a cooler part of your garden with partial shade. You can also plant bolt-resistant Chervil varieties.
- Pinch plants to encourage better growth and snip off flower stems before flowering to prolong the harvest of Chervil leaves.
- Chervil is a prolific self-seeder. If you let your Chervil flower and do not harvest the seeds, it will come back every year.
- Mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.
- The plant is propagated by seed sown in spring and early summer.
Harvesting and Storing
- Chervil is ready to pick between 6-9 weeks after sowing, depending on weather conditions.
- Harvest Chervil as often as possible: once you pick the leaves, the plant will immediately produce new ones.
- Harvest the leaves early in the morning for the best taste.
- Harvest only the young leaves and avoid mature leaves as they taste bitter.
- Snip off an entire branch at the base with a sharp knife or scissors.
- Store in the refrigerator either in a plastic bag or loosely wrapped in plastic, standing up in a container filled with water.
- It can also be preserved for extended use by freezing it in water, butter, or oil in an ice tray.
Pests and Diseases
Chervil is not affected by serious pest or disease issues.
- Pests: Keep an eye out for slugs and snails
- Diseases: Powdery mildew.
Chervil is a good companion plant in the garden. It deters slugs and attracts beneficial insects that feast on garden pests affecting your flowers and vegetables.
- Broccoli: it improves the growth and flavor of your broccoli plants.
- Lettuce: it keeps aphids and ants off your lettuce plants and enhances their growth and flavor.
- Radishes: it improves the growth and taste of your radishes.
- Yarrows: You can plant yarrow near aromatic herbs to increase the yield of essential oils.
While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.