Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), sometimes called garden chervil to distinguish it from similar plants also called chervil, or French parsley, is a delicate annual herb related to parsley. It is commonly used to season mild-flavoured dishes and is a constituent of the French herb mixture fines herbes.
The plants grow to 40–70 cm (16–28 in), with tripinnate leaves that may be curly. The small white flowers form small umbels, 2.54–5 cm (1.00–1.97 in) across. The fruit is about 1 cm long, oblong-ovoid with a slender, ridged beak.
Sometimes referred to as "gourmet's parsley", chervil is used, particularly in France, to season poultry, seafood, young spring vegetables (such as carrots), soups, and sauces. More delicate than parsley, it has a faint taste of liquorice or aniseed.
As Fine Herb
Chervil is one of the four traditional French fines herbes, along with tarragon, chives, and parsley, which are essential to French cooking. Unlike the more pungent, robust herbs, thyme, rosemary, etc., which can take prolonged cooking, the fines herbes are added at the last minute, to salads, omelettes, and soups.
Chervil has had various uses in folk medicine. It was claimed to be useful as a digestive aid, for lowering high blood pressure, and, infused with vinegar, for curing hiccups. Besides its digestive properties, it is used as a mild stimulant.
Chervil has also been implicated in "strimmer dermatitis", or phytophotodermatitis, due to spray from weed trimmers and other forms of contact. Other plants in the family Apiaceae can have similar effects. Precise identification before picking is very necessary due to its similar appearance to Hemlock (Conium), to which it is related. Hemlock is highly toxic and confusion between the two plants could cause death.
Chervil is best grown seeded in place, as transplanting can be difficult, due to the long taproot. It prefers a cool and moist location, otherwise it rapidly goes to seed (also known as bolting). It is usually grown as a cool season crop, like lettuce and should be planted in early spring and late fall or in a winter greenhouse. Regular harvesting of leaves also helps to prevent bolting. If plants bolt despite precautions, the plant can be periodically re-sown throughout the growing season, thus producing fresh plants as older plants bolt and go out of production.
Chervil grows to a height of 12 to 24 inches (300 to 610 mm), and a width of 6 to 12 inches (150 to 300 mm).
Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend" contains the lines:
See, banks and brakes
Now, leaved how thick! laced they are again
With fretty chervil.
- Vaughan, J.G.; Geissler, C.A. (1997). The New Oxford Book of Food Plants. Oxford University Press.
- Gualtiero Simonetti (1990). Stanley Schuler, ed. Simon & Schuster's Guide to Herbs and Spices. Simon & Schuster, Inc. ISBN 0-671-73489-X.
- Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol. I p 18.
- Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis, Deborah L. Martin, "Chervil is irresistible to slugs" in The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease, Page 363.
- McGee, Rose Marie Nichols; Stuckey, Maggie (2002). The Bountiful Container. Workman Publishing.
- Drugge, Rhett; Dunn, Heather. "Botanical Dermatology Phytophotodermatitis". Electronic Textbook of Dermatology. The Internet Dermatology Society, Inc. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
- Howard, Michael. Traditional Folk Remedies (Century, 1987), p. 118.