Each year I am amazed at how little I know about what people ate before we had grocery stores to purchase all our food. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) dates back to biblical times. Some people say that the fragrance resembles the myrrh that was given to the baby Jesus by the wise men. This was the reason in early times it was a tradition to serve Chervil soup on Holy Thursday. During the Middle Ages, it was used for medicine and food. The Roman Scholar Pliny (Gaius Plinius Secundus AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) described the benefits of Chervil in his writing. Today you will find Chervil used in many Mediterranean dishes with it being associated more closely with French cooking. That does not surprise me since often many of my favorite vegetables, herbs, and flowers for smaller gardens that I grow have French names, for example, my favorite tomato is Jaune Flamme a French heirloom!
Chervil leaves are lacy and beautiful in the garden. This fantastic little herb got my attention this year when in early March it showed up right after the snow was melting. It was growing in my Urban Potager when nothing else was breaking the surface! It was up before sorrel and at the time of the crocus in my garden. Early spring I realized I needed to find more about this herb since it could be a useful edible when nothing else is growing. I usually count on corn salad/mache for spring eating but the seed failed last fall which meant there were no greens in my spring garden.
I am not a chef, but I love to watch them on tv. I am watching Chef’s Table on Netflix this spring, and I am so inspired by the “artistic” chefs that are on the program. Their approach to cooking is just as an artist. After watching a few episodes, I found they universally look for the best ingredients. This often means they know the farmer or grow their own ingredients. What inspired me most about watching these Chefs was that the food was their “medium” just as an artist may use paint, charcoal, or clay to create a masterpiece. The best part of their medium is you get to eat their final creation!
Chervil appears with herbs parsley, thyme, and tarragon in the fines herbes of French cooking. It has a light anise-scented flavor. It is not a herb that can tolerate heat, so it is added at the last moment when cooking stews, soups, and sauces. Chervil is rich in vitamins and minerals. This observation inspired me to grow an entire raised bed of it for myself. I have to admit that I was not accustomed to eating large quantities of this herb at first since it is not food I grew up eating. I am still experimenting with ways to utilize this herb in our daily eating other than a mixed salad green. I did find a recipe for Chervil Pesto, but my first attempt was a flop. I figure it is going to take a few years of trial and error with some recipes.
Chervil, when it flowers, provides for beneficial insects in late spring to early summer. It flowers from May to June and usually if your patch is in a sunny area will die back. It does get a bit tall towards the end of late spring, but I started some from seed in a raised bed where some had dropped seed from the previous fall. This will give me a continuous supply of Chervil until summer. I just let it re-seed where it pleases in our Urban Potager after it is done flowering this spring and by fall it returns again for fresh eating.
I will keep you posted as to what I learn about growing this perennial edible for your garden. If you would like to learn more please read some of the resources I provide at the end of this post. Chervil is a beautiful plant to add to your garden and to think it can provide nutrition for you + nature right in the heart of the city! If you have more information or have recipes, please share!!!!! We need to be growing this herb in our garden.
More resources for Chervil: