Chervil: Easy to Grow

Common chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), also known as French parsley or garden chervil, is a little-known vegetable in Canada. Yet it’s delicious and easy to grow. It’s available from several Canadian seed companies, but I’ve never seen chervil in a grocery store near me, whereas in Europe it’s a staple in fine cuisine and on country tables.

Common chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is easy to grow. Photo: Edith Smeesters.

An Edible and Medicinal Plant

Chervil is very similar to parsley, and can replace it in many recipes. But chervil has a delicate aniseed flavor that makes it unmistakable. You can use the leaves and stems to flavor sauces (like Béarnaise sauce), soups and omelettes, or add it raw to your salads. When I have an abundance, I freeze the surplus after chopping it and covering it with a little water in small individual containers. This way, it keeps its flavor all winter long.

Chervil is a diuretic plant that helps reduce water retention. It is also a depurative that rids the body of toxins and can calm coughs.

Growing Chervil

Chervil is a hardy biennial in Canada zone 3 (USDA zone 2). It is sown in spring from mid-May to mid-June and harvested from mid-August until frost. I leave the plants in place over winter, however, as they will sprout edible foliage early in the spring, then go to seed and germinate all around. It’s almost like a weed!

Since I have an abundance of them in my vegetable garden in spring, I make delicious soups from them before pulling out most of the plants that are just thinking about going to seed. I keep just a few to sow the following spring.

Chervil regrows edible foliage early in the spring of its second year, then goes to seed and sprouts all around. Photo: Edith Smeesters.

Watch Out for Similar Plants!

There’s also a wild chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris), also of European origin, which has a much stronger aniseed flavor than common chervil. But it’s considered an invasive plant, as it easily reseeds itself everywhere and dominates our native plants with its height of up to 170 cm (6 feet). What’s more, although the aerial part of this plant is edible, its root is toxic. In fact, it can be confused with lesser hemlock, all parts of which are toxic.

In short, it’s best to buy common chervil seed from a reliable seed merchant to avoid any confusion, and this species, which is much smaller (45 cm max., 18″) and less aggressive than wild chervil, is unlikely to spread in our natural environments.

Edith Smeesters is a biologist and a pioneer in ecological horticulture in Quebec. She has given countless conferences and workshops and written several books on the subject for over 20 years. She founded and has been president of several environmental organizations, such as Nature-Action Québec and the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. She was a key figure in the creation of the Pesticide Management Code of Quebec, which has been in effect since 2003. She has received several awards for her involvement in the environment and is a member of the prestigious "Cercle des Phénix".

1 comment on “Chervil: Easy to Grow

  1. Venetia

    Thank you for the very helpful information.
    You have convinced me to give Chervil a try!

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