The parsley family (Apiaceae) is a large one: 3,700 species across 434 genera. It includes carrots, celery, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, hemlock, and parsley, among many others. What pulls the parsley family together is its pentamerous flowers: 5 petals, sepals, and stamens. Geitonogamy – pollination of one flower by pollen of a different flower on the same plant – is common.
The plant called garden parsley, or more simply parsley, originated in southern Europe. Though now a garnish, herb, and spice, parsley was for a long time solely medicinal.
The ancient Greeks associated parsley with death. Victors at funeral games – athletic contests honoring the dead – were crowned with parsley leaves.
The ancient Romans wore parsley wreaths at weddings to protect against evil spirits. They also wore parsley garlands to ward off intoxication while feasting.
Christian folklore put parsley as a plant of the Devil, as its seeds had low germination rates. The ungerminated seeds were the Devil’s reaping.
In less-than merry old England, parsley was also associated with death. The 1805 Gardener’s Dictionary by Phillip Miller put parsley as fatal to small birds. According to Miller’s book, consuming parsley could injure sight and provoke an epileptic seizure, or even cause epilepsy. This followed on ancient Roman rumor to keep parsley away from nursing mothers, from fear that it could cause epilepsy in their babies. Somewhat surprisingly, considering its supposed death dealing, parsley was used as an antidote against poisons.
Besides being rich in myth, parsley has vitamins A, B, C, and K, and numerous phytonutrients, including antioxidants.