How about a pinch o' parsley salt?

The other week a friend of mine picked a peck of parsley from his garden and sold it to a restaurant. He charged somewhat less than the going rate per bunch, and his bunches were on the generous side, too. Even so, he calculates that he received $3.27 a pound for those curly green leaves, which makes it about the most expensive vegetable around.

The restaurants, of course, use parsley almost exclusively as a garnish. But those of us who grow our own can use it more generously in a variety of ways. I recall a parsley sauce (a white sauce, to which finely chopped parsley is added) that my mother used with steamed fish. Many folks say chopped parsley also does good things for hamburgers, if it is mixed in with the meat before broiling.

It can also be used as a salt substitute. As a salt substitute? Well, yes, the principal part of it, anyway.

Over several years Anita Hirsch, a home economist with the Rodale organization, sought a herbal seasoning that might do for food much the same thing salt does, while being nutritionally acceptable as well. Here is her recipe:

Take one tablespoon of dried parsley flakes and add the following: 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. paprika, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and 1/2 tsp. marjoram. Mix well, and use as you would salt. Some suggest that the seasoning more closely resembles salt if 11/2 teaspoons of celery flakes are added, which is possible, because celery is naturally high in sodium.

Parsley grows well in average garden soil that is not highly alkaline (Western gardeners may need to check the pH of their soil) and that is well supplied with nitrogen. Well-rotted compost meets this need over an extended period. So do time-release chemical fertilizers. If not dug into the soil initially, compost can be spread around the plant as a mulch with good results, or compost tea can be applied at one-week intervals. Another option for boosting midsummer production is to apply a solution of fish emulsion.

Parsley is a biennial and will overwinter even in the far north, as long as it is protected by a mulch once temperatures start dipping into the teens. Come the next spring, parsley will quickly go to seed. But if you judiciously remove all seed stalks as they appear, you will be able to continue harvesting good parsley, at least until the new crop of seedlings grows large enough for harvesting.

Another option is to bring a bush or two of parsley indoors so that the harvest can continue all winter long. Be careful to dig up as much of the root system as possible and to place it in a generous size pot. Fill in around the roots with more soil or compost. Place near a sunny window, but not where it might get baked behind the glass (which is less likely in today's cooler homes). Feed the plants a dilute nutrient solution every two weeks, and you should have on your hands both a good-looking houseplant and all the garnish you might need.

Parsley seed can be sown now for an indoor winter harvest. Soak the seeds for up to 24 hours, and sow them 1/4-inch deep in a flat. Be patient; the seeds are slow to germinate.

Parsley is readily dried by placing the tender leaves on a screen in a shady, but dry and airy, location. The leaves are ready when brittle, and can be crushed and stored in a screw-top bottle.

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