Herb of the Month: Chervil

Chervil seems to have many fans with different ideas about its ancestry, personality and usefulness. One book says it’s pronounced ‘sher-vil’, but my dictionary says it’s pronounced ‘chur’-val’, and it’s from the Greek. The book says it’s defined as ‘an Eurasian herb with parsley-like leaves used as a seasoning or garnish.’ The other two sources don’t disagree about the parsley look, but having finally SEEN a chervil plant, I think of more lacy, small and delicate plants. I bought a chervil plant at our plant sale, and have come to the conclusion that I’ve not the personality to help it grow! It’s too picky and demanding for me.

I’d never seen or heard of the herb before Margaret (our Program Chair) invited me to change my herb report choice. So I selected Chervil as a new adventure in vocabulary and herbdom. Margaret is a grower and user, and I discovered Bob Wollenberg is as well, so we can get first hand info from them. Now for my resource findings: one book and three different views via the computer.

Chervil looks like flat Italian parsley though very small leaved. In bloom (Margaret brought one of her pots) it has tiny white blossoms. Supposedly it has a taste which seems a cross between tarragon and parsley….or a bit of anise or mint and licorice, but toned down. I didn’t find a flavor but I only tasted a sprig. It’s a spring herb, delicate and hard to find. Add it just before serving according to resource one.

Yes, said resource two—chervil is not common. It favors springtime and cool summers or is good in a small pot. Doesn’t dry well, but goes to seed. Chervil is part of the French fine herbes (parsley, tarragon and chives) used extensively in French cooking. It’s great with eggs. . .omelets or scrambled, good in lightly dressed salads. Nothing really tastes like chervil. Classical Bearnaise sauce and omelets use it fresh better than dry… both tarragon and chervil. The aroma is like myrrh. (And I’m not yet acquainted with myrrh except the biblical mention).

It’s native to Russia and part of the parsley family. One teaspoon dry equals one tablespoon of fresh. The most straight forward article I found was from Gardening Know How by Heather Rhoades on the Internet. Additional info from Heather is chervil’s family origin (Anthriscus cerefolium), an annual herb known as being a ‘sweet herb’. Grows best in the shade with moist soil…. like cilantro, will ‘bolt’ in heat so keep it away from
full sun. It prefers rich soil. It is very delicate and doesn’t like to be disturbed once it starts growing. Can tolerate some frost, but is best in cool season right after frost.

To keep it growing consistently, you need to do successive plantings. Start new seeds about every two weeks to ensure continuous harvest until the end of the season. My impression is that chervil is a “delicate princess of the parsley family”. It’s known in the selected kitchens of more northerly countries. It would be a lovely ‘spy’ in any taste wars among those who seek secret flavors, yet want a casual every-day look. I’m sorry to say that I did all the wrong things before I found Heather’s advice. I bought a chervil plant at our plant sale and moved it to a larger pot so I could show it to you today. I had it outdoors where it had to react to sun and rain and shade…. and when I saw it dying, brought it in the house,
where it died peacefully in a corner of my kitchen. So, talk to the experts and check out: for more guidance. Best wishes!

— Presented by Shirley Maly