Take a walk on the mild side with delicate, subtle, elegant Chervil.
Chervil is a herb for the connoisseur of fine flavours and fragrances. As you might expect from its refined appearance, chervil tastes mild and subtle; a little like parsley but with a sophisticated yet gentle aniseedy warmth.
Chervil 'Massa' is a dark green variety with smooth leaves and good plant vigour. With better cold tolerance it is used for autumn sowings, it bolts much later than standard Chervil.
Known and cultivated in France for centuries where it is known as Cerfeuil. It is often used with tarragon, chives and parsley, as one of the French fab four of flavour in a 'fines herbes' mixture.
Chervil is most often swirled, whisked and folded into classic French dishes, but it's much too good to leave to the other side of the Channel. Use it to flavour eggs, fish, chicken and light sauces and dressings. It complements scrambled eggs and omelettes, cream cheese and herb sandwiches, salads and even mashed potatoes and combines well with mild cheeses and is a tasty addition to herb butters.
Chervil's a great herb for summer, but it's often overlooked, no doubt in part because it can be hard to track down. No matter: it's one of the easiest herbs to grow. It grows quickly and is ready for harvesting after only six to eight weeks. It needs a cool, moist spot with dappled shade; when you've found that, simply scatter the seeds where you'd like them to grow. Sow more plants than you need and use the thinnings as a pretty, tasty addition to salads.
Chervil has to be one of the prettiest plants in the herb bed, a lacy, very dainty version of parsley. So pretty, in fact, that it would merit a place in the flowerbed, too. Often called the Herb of Joy, Chervil is said to inspire cheerfulness and sharp wits. It certainly brings a smile to my face whenever I chop, nibble or sprinkle it!
Sowing: February to September.
Chervil needs a cool, moist spot with dappled shade. It grows well in containers and can thrive indoors long into the winter provided it's out of strong, direct sunlight.
Cover the seed and keep moist at a temperature of 15 to 18°C (59 to 65°F). Germination should occur after 1 to 2 weeks; occasionally they can be erratic depending on temperature.
Chervil is one of the earliest herbs to come into season and you will have it available before Easter in most years.
Seeds can be sown into pots from February onwards. The plants have long taproots, so either transplant while the seedlings are still small or plant directly into containers which can be moved outdoors in May.
An autumn sowing can be made for production of fresh leaves through the winter if grown in a cool greenhouse. It’s an ideal autumn crop as it loves cool, damp conditions and dislikes bright sun.
Seeds can be sown directly where the plants are to grow from April onwards. Sow in shallow drills made approx 30cm (12in) apart. Thin the seedlings and use thinnings to add to salads.
The plant can also be treated as a biennial where soil is well-drained and sown in August.
Despite its delicate foliage, chervil will withstand most frosts, staying green throughout winter and producing extra leaves, before it finishes by flowering in spring.
Chervil goes to seed quickly in the heat, and in fact, unlike most other culinary herbs, prefers a cool, moist and shaded location. To promote growth and a longer season, pinch off the tops. It bolts with unseemly haste in hot weather, so resow every few weeks to ensure a steady supply. Maintain a constant level of moisture.
Harvest the plants frequently, cutting the outer leaves first to ensure you get a vigorous, bushy plant. As the plant matures, the leaves tend to turn a purple, bronze colour. At this stage they also lose the pungency of their taste, so use only the young green leaves.
Despite its fragile appearance, it keeps well. Kept in a zip lock bag, chervil will last up to a week in the refrigerator. Dried chervil should be dark-green and show no signs of yellowing due to exposure to light. Store in airtight packs and keep in a cool, dark place. One way to keep chervil's flavour is to preserve it in white wine vinegar.
Chervil is most frequently it is used to flavour eggs, fish, chicken and light sauces and dressings. It also combines well with mild cheeses and is a tasty addition to herb butters. It complements scrambled eggs and omelettes, cream cheese and herb sandwiches, salads and even mashed potatoes.
Chervil is one of the staples of classic French cooking. It is often used it to enhance the flavours of other herbs accompanying it in recipes. Along with chives, tarragon and parsley, it is used in the aromatic seasoning blend "Fines Herbes." And although quite delicious in this blend, the delicate lacy appearance, taste and texture of Chervil warrants a solo spotlight.
Chervil is what gives Béarnaise its distinctive taste. Chervil, being a spring time herb, has a natural affinity for other spring time foods: salmon, trout, young asparagus, new potatoes, baby green beans and carrots, salads of spring greens.
Its flavour is spoiled by heat, so add it at the end of cooking to ensure you enjoy its distinctive and subtle flavour.
The warmth of this herb suggested medicinal uses to many of history's herbalists. The first-century Roman scholar Pliny and the seventeenth-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper believed that chervil, as Culpeper put it, "does much please and warm old and cold stomach."
During the Middle Ages, chervil was used for a variety of ailments. It was used as an eyewash to refresh the eyes. Eating a whole plant reportedly relieved hiccups, a practice still tried by some people today.
Chervil is an aid for digestion and used to reduce blood pressure. Chervil is reputed to have a mild stimulating effect but its main use is in the kitchen.
Chervil reportedly repels slugs and it is said that planting it near your radishes allegedly makes them hotter.
When dried, chervil’s umbels of tiny white flowers make an attractive addition to arrangements of everlastings and the dried leaves add a delicate fragrance to potpourris.
A few plants allowed to run to seed will bear an abundance of seed, which will keep six to eight years.
Chervil vinegar can be made by putting ½ a cup of seeds into white wine vinegar and then allow to steep for up to three weeks.
Folklore has it that chervil makes one merry, sharpens the wit, bestows youth upon the aged and symbolises sincerity. Its flavour and fragrance resemble the myrrh brought by the wise men to the baby Jesus. Because of this and because chervil symbolised new life, it is linked to the Easter celebration in parts of Europe where its is traditional to serve chervil soup on Maundy Thursday.
Anthriscus cerefolium, Chervil is native to southern Russia and to Eastern Europe, it was spread by the Romans through most of Europe, where it is now naturalised.
Anthriscus is named after Theophrastus, a Greek native who was the successor of Aristotle. It was Theophrastus who first detected the process of germination and realised the importance of climate and soil to plants.
His two surviving botanical works, Enquiry into Plants and On the Causes of Plants, were an important influence on medieval science.
The species name cerefolium appears to mean "leaves like wax" (from Latin cereus for "waxy") and might refer to the bright green colour, but is more possibly a spelling mistake for cherifolium the name the Romans used for this plant.
Greeks called the plant chaerophyllon, (cheirei and phylum). Chairein means "to delight in" or “that which rejoices the heart”, phyllon means "leaf", referring to the pleasant aroma of the leaves.
Chervil was once called 'myrrhis' because the volatile oil extracted from chervil leaves bears a similar aroma to the biblical resinous substance 'myrrh'.
Most common names in the contemporary tongues of Western Europe derive from Latin cherifolium, e.g. Swedish körvel, Portuguese cerefolho and French cerfeuil. In Old English it was called cerfille which became chervil,
It is often called the Herb of Joy or Herb of Rejoicing or, less reverentially, the happy herb. It's a notion that spread beyond the ancient world, too: in European folklore, the eating of chervil was encouraged because it was said not only to aid digestion, but to inspire cheerfulness and sharp wits. It certainly brings a smile to my face whenever I chop, nibble or sprinkle it!
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2.5 grams Average Seed Count 1,000 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 425 seeds/gram Common Name Brusseler Winter Other Common Names Herb of Joy, Herb of Rejoicing Family Apiaceae Genus Anthriscus Species cerefolium Cultivar Massa Hardiness Hardy Annual Flowers White Natural Flower Time Summer Height 30 to 60cm (12 to 24in) Spread 15 to 30cm (6 to 12in). Soil Well drained. Time to Sow February to September. Germination 1 to 2 weeks at 15 to 18°C (59 to 65°F).