Parsley root: how to grow Hamburg parsley at home
Parsley root is a unique crop that offers a double reward to those bold enough to try growing it. It has edible parsley-flavoured leaves as well as a tasty parsnip-like taproot. Plus, it is very easy to grow, so why not give it a go at home?
Parsley root (Petroselinum crispum var. tuberosum), also known as Hamburg parsley, is a winter vegetable that is grown for its large taproot. It has a sweet nutty flavour, can be used in many ways, and offers a wealth of nutrients and vitamins to see you through the colder months.
As well as its taproot, parsley root also boasts green leaves that are similar in flavour to common parsley and are perfect for adding flavour to soups and stews, or as a fresh garnish. Parsley root is also known by several other names, including Hamburg parsley, Dutch parsley, rooted parsley, turnip-rooted parsley, parsnip-rooted parsley and rock parsley.
Parsley root: origin and characteristics
Parsley roothails from Eastern and Northern Europe and has been a popular root vegetable for centuries. As one of its names suggests, it was supposedly first used for cooking in Hamburg, Germany, and has been grown in Northern Germany since the 16th century. It is commonly used in dishes to replace turnips (Brassica napus Rapifera group), carrots (Daucus carota), parsnips (Pastinaca sativa) and celeriac (Apium graveolens var. rapaceum) in many European countries, including Germany, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Holland, Russia and Croatia.
Parsley root produces a taproot similar to parsnip. This conical tapered taproot grows up to 15 to 20cm long with a diameter of around 5cm. The root’s skin is light-beige with brown rings, while the inner is completely white. The root also has green parsley-like leaves that, like the common leaf parsley of which it is a sub-species, can be used as a green garnish in a variety of cuisines. The aroma of the leaves is slightly sweet, sharp, spicy and strikingly similar to the herb parsley that its leaves strongly resemble.
This winter vegetable is a biennial herbaceous plant, meaning that it develops its taproot in the first year of planting. A hollow flower stalk follows in the second year. The flower stalk can be up to 90cm tall and blooms from June to July with small star-shaped white to yellowish flowers arranged in large umbels. Flies, bees and other pollinators happily flock to the parsley flowers and the double achene seeds form soon after. The plant will appear curved, brown and ridged once reaching maturity in the autumn of the second year. Once the seeds have formed, the Hamburg parsley plant will continue to grow brown and dry before dying when the seeds are fully ripe.
Are parsley roots and parsnips the same plant?
Parsley root is often confused with parsnip. They both belong to the Apiaceae family and have taproots, but there are certain differences that set them apart. The taproot differs in shape; the parsley root is more slender and paler than the parsnip. Parsnip root has a slightly sunken head just below the leaves and its head is also thicker than parsley root’s.
The leaf shape is another distinguishing feature. While Hamburg parsley leaves are very similar to parsley, parsnip’s leaves are more akin to celery (Apium graveolens). Parsnips have an earthy flavour whereas parsley roots are sweet and nutty. As for smell, parsnips smell like carrots whilst parsley roots smell like parsley.
Growing parsley root
Parsley root likes a sunny location and can be grown either outdoors or in a greenhouse. Plant parsley root seeds between March and early April, when the soil temperature outdoors is between 10 – 20 °C. It is a slow-growing root vegetable that can take at least four to five months to mature after sowing.
It prefers a loose humus-rich soil to grow in, so add well-rotted compost to the area before sowing. The added compost will provide good nutrients for the plants throughout the season. Parsley root grows well in fresh clay soils, but in very heavy soils, consider growing it in ridge beds. These slightly raised beds will improve drainage and allow the roots to grow deeper. Before sowing, weed the area and remove any big stones that could cause the roots to fork. Parsley root likes the soil to be kept consistently moist; heavy clay or dry soil can also result in root forking.
How to sow parsley root seeds directly in the bed
- Prepare the bed. Remove any weeds and stones.
- Sow seed densely about 1 – 2cm deep in rows, leaving 30cm between rows.
- Water regularly with lukewarm water to speed up germination.
- Germination can take as long as 3 – 4 weeks, but once seedlings reach 2 – 5cm in height, thin to one strong plant, leaving 8 – 10 cm space between each one.
- Given their long germination time, consider sowing a fast-growing crop like radishes (Raphanus sativus) at the end of the rows to mark where they are planted.
Starting parsley root seeds indoors
Start parsley root plants indoors five to six weeks before the last frost to give them a head start and get an earlier crop. Use biodegradable pots that can be directly planted in the garden as parsley root does not like being transplanted.
A period of cold stratification can speed up germination, so stratify seeds for a few days at roughly 0 °C. Then soak them in warm water for 12 hours before sowing. Harden off plants grown indoors before planting out in the garden. Plant out when they are 7.5cm tall, and the risk of frost has passed in your area.
Companion planting with parsley root
Parsley root is a great companion plant. It can provide improved vigour to those around it and help with protection against pests such as carrot root fly (Chamaepsila rosae) and rose beetles (Cetonia aurata). Grow it near roses (Rosa), carrots, tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), and asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) for best effect. Other good neighbours for parsley root include kale (Brassica oleracea var. sabellica), beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica), endive (Chichorium endivia) and calendula (Calendula officinalis).
Hamburg parsley: plant care
Water parsley root regularly as moist soil is essential for proper growth. Regular watering ensures a better texture and taste of the taproot; Watering is especially important in the early growth phase until mid-June. Regularly weed the area by hoeing in between the rows to remove competition for nutrients.
The crop is a medium feeder that requires a good level of nutrients throughout the growing season. Work a universal fertiliser into the soil at sowing. We recommend using our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food for this as it will provide all the nutrients to help the plants get off to a strong and healthy start. Its long-lasting effect will ensure the parsley roots continue to grow strong and healthy.
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Cut back the parsley root leaves during the growing season to stimulate fresh growth and broader leaves.
Harvest and uses
The parsley root will be ready to harvest from late autumn through winter, depending on when the seeds were sown. Harvesting of the root tends to start in August and continues to February. Harvest the roots when they are 12 – 15cm long and can be easily lifted with a fork. Pick the leaves throughout the growing season and use like leaf parsley. The roots can be stored in a cellar or somewhere dark and cold at 0 °C for several months. The roots will keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 weeks and can also be frozen.
Parsley root has many uses in the kitchen and is often boiled, roasted or pureed. It can be cooked with the skin on or peeled and added to stews, casseroles, and soups. Why not try cooking a lovely parsley root and pear soup? It is often used as a substitute for other root vegetables like parsnips, turnips and carrots. The roots can be eaten raw and added to salads for a spicy kick. Hamburg parsley roots are high in vitamin C, iron and sodium.
As mentioned earlier, parsley root is a subspecies of common parsley. Find out more about this common herb in our guide on growing and looking after parsley plants.