Chervil: growing the herb in the garden
Chervil is an easy-to-care-for, aromatic, culinary herb that is also used in natural medicine. Discover everything about growing and using chervil here.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) has been a popular herb for millennia. It thrives in our climate and is loved for its fresh, aromatic taste. Here is our guide to this ancient herb, along with our top tips on cultivating and using chervil at home.
History and characteristics of chervil
Chervil is thought to originate from southern Europe, into the Middle East as far as the Caucasus region. To distinguish between this herb and similar plants named chervil, it is sometimes called French parsley, sweet cicely or garden chervil. The ancient Romans brought chervil to the UK, but it only remained here sporadically until botanists began to cultivate the herb in England in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Chervil leaves resemble the foliage of carrot (Daucus carota) and parsley (Petroselinum crispum). Like them, chervil belongs to the umbelliferae family (Apiaceae). There are smooth-leaved and curly-leaved chervil varieties, all of which are annuals.
Caution: Smooth-leaved chervil is easy to confuse with the highly poisonous hemlock (Conium maculatum)!
Chervil flowers in its first year. However, it is only before flowering that the plant’s leaves have their aromatic flavour, which is reminiscent of anise (Pimpinella anisum), parsley and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). Old and dried chervil leaves lose their flavour – so always use fresh leaves.
Chervil grows very well in our climate and can be harvested continuously until it flowers. Here is our guide to growing and caring for chervil.
The right location for chervil
Chervil is best grown in moist, loose soil and partial shade. The shade extends the harvest time of chervil. This is because chervil will flower earlier in hot, sunny locations, and its leaves will then lose their flavour.
Chervil is a slow grower and only needs small amounts of nutrients other than potassium. As such, even nutrient-poor areas of your garden are suitable for growing chervil.
Sow your chervil seeds outdoors directly from March to August. Keep a distance of about 10 to 15cm between rows. Because your chervil will develop flowers after eight weeks, it is worth sowing several lots of chervil in succession. Chervil seedlings sown in June and July very quickly reach the flowering phase, as the plant is stimulated to flower by the long daylight hours. Therefore, it makes sense to take a break from growing the herb during these months.
Chervil plants are available in pots or as small seedlings, which can be transplanted into your garden. However, sowing chervil seeds often produces a better yield than transplanting, and is much cheaper.
Caring for chervil
Although fast-growing chervil needs few nutrients, it draws large amounts of potassium from the soil. A long-lasting fertiliser, such as our Plantura Tomato Food, prevents chervil from suffering a nutrient deficiency. It provides a long-term supply of nitrogen and potassium to the plant. For the weak grower, 40 g/m² of fertiliser is plenty. The fertiliser will be broken down evenly by soil organisms, and its nutrients released gradually.
Harvest your chervil about eight weeks after sowing, once it begins to flower. During this time, water regularly, because chervil loves moisture.
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Chervil can be infected with mildew and rust fungi; aphids and carrot fly. Companion planting with pest-repellent neighbours, such as leek (Alliaceae), can provide relief to chervil against the carrot fly.
Is chervil hardy?
Chervil is not winter-hardy. Usually, the herb flowers in its first year, develops seeds and dies shortly afterwards. As such, there is no way to overwinter chervil. Instead, it is best to sow chervil on a windowsill in autumn so that you still have a harvest in winter.
How to harvest chervil
Chervil’s green leaves can be cut off easily with scissors and harvested fresh, as and when required. Harvest up to 1.5kg/m² of leaves, and collect chervil seeds later in the year, once they turn brown on drying umbels. The seeds come off easily – so cut the whole umbels in the morning when it is dewy and leave them to dry indoors. The seeds germinate well for about two years.
Using and preserving chervil
Chervil is most often used as a culinary herb in salads and sauces, but is also delicious in soup. The herb is popular in a wide variety of spreads and dips and is the key ingredient in the famous Frankfurt green sauce.
In herbal medicine, chervil is used to flush out the body. It can stimulate the detoxification of the kidneys, liver and gallbladder. For this, prepare a tea from fresh chervil leaves several times a day. The daily dose is 5 grams. Pregnant women and kidney patients should not drink chervil tea.
If possible, eat chervil fresh to make the most of its flavour. If you do want to preserve the leaves, avoid drying them, as dried chervil loses its flavour. Instead, freeze them.
Extreme caution is advised because of the risk of confusing chervil with poisonous hemlock. Curly chervil varieties may provide a remedy here.
There are lots of aromatic herbs in the umbelliferae family, including coriander. Read our article on coriander to find out how to grow this Asian herb at home!