Chervil (botanical name Anthriscus cerefolium) is an elegant annual herb that grows up to a height of anything between 30 cm and 45 cm (about 12 inches and 18 inches). This herb is indigenous to the southern regions of Russia, the Caucasus and possibly the Middle East.
When grown in appropriate conditions, chervil plants may possibly become expansive and grow to twice their normal height. This herb produces delicately desiccated leaves that have a resemblance to parsley, but in comparison, they have a pale green color and are more feathery. The leaves of chervil are wavy as well as even in forms. The foliage of chervil possesses an essence and aroma somewhat akin to anise, having a slight suggestion of pepper.
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This herb has slender, straight stems, but shallow roots. Chervil bears diminutive white flowers that appear in clusters, something akin to Queen Anne's lace. The flowers of this herb bloom during the early part of summer. Chervil grows excellently in pots/ containers and may be grown as indoor plant for use during the winter months.
The leaves, flowers and roots of chervil are all edible.
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While chervil was never employed extensively in the form of a remedial herb, it was definitely employed in folk herbal medicine in the form of a common stimulant or tonic and an expectorant. In addition, this herb was also used to cure eczema, lower blood pressure and alleviate stomach disorders.
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It may be noted here that chervil contains high amount of calcium and is an excellent natural source of this mineral.
Occasionally, chervil is used in the form of a spring tonic to purify the kidneys and the liver. In addition, chervil is an excellent remedy for easing digestive problems and is known to be valuable in the treatment of poor memory as well as mental depression. The herb is harvested immediately prior to its blossoming and the fresh plants are said to possess diuretic, stimulant and digestive properties. In addition, the fresh chervil plants may also be employed in the form of poultices. The juice extracted from the herb is used to treat arthritis, dropsy (edema) and even persistent skin problems. The leaves of chervil are crushed and employed in the form of a poultice to speed up healing of wounds that generally take a long time to cure, while a warm poultice prepared from the crushed leaves of the herb is applied to ease excruciating joints. On the other hand, an infusion prepared from the fresh chervil leaves is employed in the form of eyewash to cure tender or inflamed eyes.
Apart from its therapeutic uses, chervil is also employed for culinary purposes. For instance, the young leaves of this herb may be used in salads, soups, seafood, stews, and egg preparations as well as in béchamel and ravigote sauces. The leaves of chervil are basically essential in tabbouleh and taste scrumptious when used with chives in a warm potato salad. It is advisable that you should always add chervil leaves to your preferred recipe in the final stage of the cooking with a view to obtain the utmost essence and fragrance.
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Frequently, chervil is employed to strengthen the essence of other herbs and it is incorporated in the classic French fine herbes, together with herbs like chives, parsley and tarragon.
If you are preparing a delicious spread for fish, you may add the chopped leaves of chervil to enhance the flavour of the recipe. Use the chervil leaves in the form of a garnish while preparing vegetable dishes, particularly peas and beans as well as pork dishes. While preparing the stuffing, you may include the flowers and leaves of chervil to augment its flavour.
It is best to cook the roots of chervil and serve them hot or cold in the form of a vegetable. You may add essence to extra-virgin olive oil by adding fresh chervil leaves to it.
The leaves of chervil possess a gentle fragrant essence that reminds one of aniseed. Frequently, the leaves of this herb are used in the form of a flavouring and they form an essential ingredient while preparing 'bouquet garni'. It is important to note that chervil leaves ought to be employed fresh all the time, since the subtle taste is unable to endure drying or cooking for a long period. From the date of sowing the chervil seeds, it usually takes approximately eight weeks to avail the leaves. You may harvest the leaves in about 8 weeks' time. In fact, chervil plants respond excellently to cut and come up again following harvesting. The flowers of chervil are employed in the form of a seasoning.
Chervil thrives excellently in rich, loamy soils that have proper drainage and are somewhat acidic, neutral or to some extent alkaline. Chervil plants can tolerate a pH range of 5.0 to 8.2. The herb has a preference for semi-shaded locations.
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Chervil plants have an aversion to heat and will bolt (flower and set seed) during the arid and hot weather. This herb also cannot endure high levels of humidity, but has a preference for cool spring or fall growing conditions. In addition, chervil has the ability to endure light frosting.
Chervil plants are resilient to approximately -10°C. In many countries, especially in France, chervil is sometimes grown as a salad plant. There are some other named varieties of chervil. This plant has the ability to provide us with fresh leaves throughout the year owing to successive sowings, particularly if they are provided with some shelter during the winter months. While chervil is a biennial plant, it is frequently cultivated in the form of an annual plant. When the positions are suitable, more often than not, chervil self-sows. In case you are harvesting this plant from the wild, you need to be careful since it is apparently identical to a number of toxic species, for instance the young hemlock plants (Conium maculatum).
It may be noted that chervil is a scented plant having pleasantly aromatic leaves. Chervil is known to be an excellent companion plant that can be grown alongside carrots and radishes - when grown together, it makes the radishes hotter and crisper. In addition, chervil also grows excellently with coriander and dill. When chervil is cultivated alongside lettuces, it is known to protect the latter from ants and aphids. Moreover, chervil plants are also known to fend off slugs.
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Ideally, chervil seeds need to be sown outdoors approximately two weeks prior to the last frost date in your area. Since chervil plants have very fragile roots and they do not transplant properly, the seeds need to be sown in fine soil where the plants will be growing permanently. It is important that the seeds should be fresh because they are only workable for a brief period.
The seeds need to be sown at a depth of about 6 mm (or one-fourth inch). Generally, the seedlings take 7 to 14 days to germinate. Always maintain the soil uniformly damp till after the seeds have germinated. New seeds should be sown at intervals of few weeks to make certain that there is a continuous supply of fresh leaves all through the growing season of the plant. The plants should be grown at intervals of approximately 25 cm or 10 inches from one another.
Chervil plants have the propensity to develop leaf spots in hot and clammy weather conditions. They are also vulnerable to aphids and carrot weevils.
While you may grow chervil indoors, you need to ensure that the plants get about four to five hours of direct sunlight every day. Alternately, they should be provided with 12 hours of strong artificial light every day and a cool temperature that should not exceed 16°C (60°F). The seeds of chervil are viable for approximately a year's time after which they do not germinate.
While chervil is mostly grown in their permanent positions outdoors, this plant is also excellently suited to grow in containers placed in shady decks or mixed with spring pansies in the window boxes that are kept outside direct sunlight. When growing chervil in container you need to supply the plants with rich as well as organic planting mixtures with equivalent proportions of potting soil, composed manure and peat moss. You may add a little of perlite or sand to make certain that the drainage is proper.
When chervil is grown in pots indoors, it is most productive when placed on a breezy windowsill with exposure towards east or north. The plants should be grown in plastic pots or containers having a diameter of 8 inches to 10 inches (20 cm to 25 cm) as it will keep the soil damp. Mix packaged potting soil and soilless mix that are peat-based in equal proportions and fertilize the plants once every month during the winter months. It is also essential that you examine the containers two times every week to find out if the plants require water. This should be done more often if you are using clay pots. When you have done two or three succeeding sowings, you will be able to have fresh chervil leaves even during the cold months.
It is ideal to start picking the outside leaves of chervil when the plant has grown up to a height of 15 cm (about 6 inches). The harvesting of the chervil leaves may be continued all through the growing season, since recurrent harvesting of the leaves promotes the growth of new leaves.
It is advisable to collect the leaves of chervil immediately before you use them for they wither very rapidly and it is quite difficult to store them. Chop the leaves finely while they are fresh and freeze them. Prior to freezing them, put the tender leaves in some water in ice cube trays.
Never try to dry up the chervil leaves; it is strictly not advisable, since doing so deprives the leaves of their essence and fragrance.